By Lauren Chevlan
The story of the Crowey family is one of achievement and lost potential. George Washington “Wash” Crowey was said to have been left on the doorstep of his adopted parents, John and Susannah Hall Garner of Granville, North Carolina in 1812. However, there is speculation that the foundling was actually the child of one of John and Susannah’s daughters. Whatever the origin of his birth, the Garners accepted the child into their lives and raised him as one of their own, equal to their other children but bearing the Crowey name.
In 1816, the Garners migrated to Wilson County, Tennessee, then eventually to Marion County, Illinois, where John, Susannah and their daughter Nancy, and son Jeremiah all died from cholera. At age 22, Wash decided to strike out on his own and moved to Missouri. In 1820, Missouri had been admitted to the Union as a slave state and saw an influx of settlers eager to take advantage of the state’s rich farmland. Families typically moved to the region and ever more westward not as solitary units but as elements of large kin-based networks that maintained geographic integrity by purchasing clustered tracts of land.
In Pulaski County, Missouri, Wash found work on a wheat farm owned by James and Nancy Scott Eddington (later, Edington). Their daughter Jane, born in 1819, and Wash married in 1839. By 1840 the Crowey’s first child, Louisa, was born followed by Nancy and Carrol. In 1850, Jane’s parents had traveled with the Grigsby-Ide Wagon Train to California. A year later the Crowey brood followed suit, settling alongside Jane’s parents in Yountville Township. More Crowey children were born: James, Martha, William, John and Sarah.
In a few short years, Wash was able to purchase land from Mr. Burns at eight dollars an acre located off the Silverado Trail a few miles north of Soda Canyon. Over the years, Wash added to his holdings until the “Crowey Ranch” would encompass nearly 2,000 acres covering the present day Stag’s Leap District. Wheat was the main crop grown but as the ranch grew in size Wash planted a vineyard and began farming oats for his several hundred head of cattle.
As the Croweys’ wealth increased, so did their prestige. In 1857, Louisa married Pulaski D. Grigsby, eldest son of Napa pioneers Jessie and Margaret Alexander Grigsby and the nephew of Bear Flagger John Grigsby. She died 13 years later in childbirth. In 1866 Wash’s eldest daughter, Nancy, married Peter A. Hogan, brother of John Hogan who owned the Napa Hotel as well as the entire block that the Napa Opera House would be built upon.
Prosperity led to social and political associations with the upper class. In 1876 Wash joined other prominent Napa citizens to form the Mechanics Club which sought to elevate the newly built city. A few years earlier, Jessie Grigsby, his daughter Louisa’s father-in-law, had built a theatre on Second Street but an explosion and subsequent fire in 1874 had destroyed the hall as well as surrounding buildings. The Mechanics Club then had their mission: to build a theatre for their new town. But political as well as financial maneuverings delayed the project until 1879 when it was announced that Wash and the widow Ellen Hogan made a deal to build what would be briefly referred to as the Crowey Opera House.
By 1879 Wash and Jane had already buried five of their eight children. The Crowey boys, already infamous for their drinking and rowdiness, would cause their parents further undue heartache. In 1872 James Crowey and his brother-in-law, Peter Hogan, who were business partners in the Farmers’ Store on First Street east of the bridge, engaged in an argument that resulted in James Crowey attempting to shoot him. The two men tussled and the gun discharged leaving the tip of Crowey’s nose lying on the ground. Attempts to reattach the appendage were unsuccessful. A few short months later, James Crowey would meet his end. An article in the Marin Journal dated December 28, 1872, details the event:
On Thursday last Joseph Gschwend of Anderson Valley together with his family, among whom was a daughter aged 16 or 17 years, started for Texas. After traveling a short distance he was overtaken by two young men, one named Wm. Addington [ed. Note: most likely Edington] the other George Cleveland, who managed to abduct he daughter and bring her back, it is said, for the purpose of marrying the former. The affair created some excitement in the valley, and on Sunday night Cleveland was approached by a young man, James Crowey, a resident of Napa and a distant relative of Miss Gschwend, who inquired what the matter was. Cleveland immediately raised his pistol and fired, killing Crowey almost instantly. Some say that Crowey approached Cleveland with a pistol drawn, others that he was unarmed.
In 1879 just months before the opening of the Opera House, another tragedy befell the family, this time involving the Crowey boys John and William and Wash himself. On October 25, John Crowey, typically inebriated, attempted to start a fight with Louis Stochini, proprietor of the William Tell Hotel. The day before, John’s brother, William, had an altercation with Stochini which now John intended to finish. During this time, Wash and his son William became involved in the argument with Stochini as did William Tell employee August Ruesch. A fight ensued that left Ruesch dead. All three Croweys were arrested. As the facts came to light, George and William were released and John held over for trial. The trial had to be delayed due to the “disappearance” of witnesses, including Stochini. Either through bribery or intimidation, George Crowey tried to ensure his son stayed out of prison. The trial ended in a guilty verdict which was immediately appealed by the Crowey’s army of lawyers. A second trial in 1880 resulted in a hung jury.
The injuries caused by the altercation coupled with the stress of his son’s trial probably led to the death of George just two years later at age 70. His wife, Jane Edington Crowey died in 1900. A death notice in the Napa Daily Journal dated June 13 read:
Mrs. Jane Crowey, widow of the late GW Crowey, died at 10:45 Monday night at her home near Napa from old age. She had been gradually growing weaker for several months, and her death therefore was not unexpected. Mrs. Crowey was a native of Roane County, Tennessee, where she was born April 20th, 1819. She was therefore 81 years of age. She moved to Wright County, Missouri in 1833, and in 1852 came across the Plains to California…Mrs. Crowey was a typical western pioneer lady, vigorous to a ripe old age, kind, gentle, and unassuming, endowed with that warm hospitality characteristic of that sturdy race and which is disappearing with them. The funeral will be held Thursday afternoon at 1 o’clock from the Christian church in Napa, the cortege leaving the home place about 11:30.
Fortunately for Jane, she did not live to see her son John’s continued downward spiral.
In 1901, John Garner (aka Crowey), living a vagrant’s life in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. He married a drinking companion, Alice Loretta Bailey, almost 20 years his junior. Having been left a stake in the Crowey Ranch along with his sister, Nancy Hogan, John began selling off pieces of the large property. Unbeknownst to him, his nephew, Ed Hogan, Nancy’s son, would buy back these parcels. The passing of John in 1903 from “exhaustion” and his young wife two years later marked the end of the Crowey name. Nancy died in 1932 and left the ranch to her three children, Ed, Flora and Willis. Ed Hogan then changed the name of the Crowey Ranch to the Hogan Ranch which he ran profitably until his death in 1958.
Most of the Crowey family is buried in the Tulocay Cemetery in Napa. As for the Crowey/Hogan Ranch, upon his death in 1958, Ed Hogan dispersed his vast holdings to a multitude of beneficiaries including St. John’s Catholic Church which became the new owners of the Opera House.