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Gaye
LeBaron

Published on February 10, 2002
The Press Democrat

Once-sleepy Geyserville poised to be the next Wine Country village

Harry Bosworth, third-generation owner of Bosworth and Son general store in Geyserville, on Saturday talks with Terry Edwards, a regular customer since the days when Harry's father, Obed, owned the store.
The rental car pulled to the curb and four people climbed out - a man and woman from the front seat, a toddler and her nanny from the back. There was a map lying unfolded on top of the dashboard. It was apparent they were traveling.

The first thought was that they had come to dine. Geyserville restaurants get good notices from the food critics.

But that was not their mission. The quartet stood at the edge of the road, stretched, pointed, looked both ways and walked across to Bosworth's store.

That would be Bosworth and Son General Merchandise, established 93 years ago in a 1902 building, which; once housed a painterof horse buggies (there are still paint streaks on the floor) and a tinsmith. George Bosworth, son of farmer Calvin who arrived in the 1870s, bought it in 1908 for a general store and undertaking parlor. His son, Obed, took over in 1918, sold the undertaking business to Healdsburg mortician Fred Young, and started the collection of merchandise and memorabilia that is now presided over by his son, Harry.Bosworth's has always been something of a wonder to its Sonoma County neighbors. Now, it's obvious the word has spread.

If I was surprised that a tourist family would drive off the freeway and follow their maps to Bosworth's, Harry Bosworth was not.
He maintained his station behind the counter at the back while the family wandered through the store, the toddler exchanging pleasantries and kisses with Buster, Harry's black lab, as the adults leafed through the books on the table, shopped the racks of western wear, exclaimed over bandanas and tractor caps, breathed in the old-timey, small-town atmosphere, returned to their rental car and drove on south. They hadn't come to buy, but to visit, to say they had been there, the way one visits a landmark, a historical site.

Visitors have long been welcome at Bosworth's, but they've been more frequent since fall, when the October issue of Travel & Leisure magazine did a cover story on Sonoma and Napa, focusing its cameras on Geyserville, Healdsburg, Yountville and St. Helena.

The weekend after the magazine was published, Bosworth's did more credit card business than ever in its history. People from all over the country stopped in to take a piece of clothing or just a souvenir from California's Wine Country back to Wisconsin or Indiana or Florida. They've been dropping in ever since.

In the magazine photos, the old store and its annex, which was once a blacksmith shop, offered the same patina of authenticity and charm a traveler would find in a little village in Tuscany, just off the A-1. Throw in the grapevines that crowd in on the town, put the smell of the crush in the air, the pickers in the vineyards, a tractor chugging along the edge of the road through town and, presto! You've got a Wine Country "destination."
If Harry, at age 63 a storyteller like his late father, is not surprised by the changes in his hometown, he is a little bemused by the new clientele. "When I was a kid," he said, "I swear I could tell the customers by smell. The Indians (who camped out to pick prunes in the harvest season) smelled of wood smoke, the Italians of those little Toscanelli cigars."

The change in traffic patterns is also worth a comment. People can now stroll across the road that was once busy Highway 101.

For Geyserville, teetering on the brink of "discovery," Bosworth's provides not only overalls and fancy riding duds, hardware, plumbing supplies, livestock feed and saddles, but also a firm link with the town that once was.

Jeff Mall, owner of the new Smokehouse restaurant across the street, says that Bosworth's is "a museum where we go for plumbing advice and nuts and bolts." Since Harry Bosworth also owns the cemetery and runs the water company, it may be the closest thing that Geyserville has to a city hall.

ONLY A YEAR or two ago, a visitor might have said that Geyserville, which had its tourist beginnings in the 1850s with a hotel accommodating visitors en route to the Big Geysers, had seen its better days. Now residents and business owners will tell you that it's redefining itself.

"It's on the cusp," said Cosette Scheiber, who, with her husband, Ron, owns the town's two wellestablished bed and breakfast inns, Hope-Merrill House, an Eastlake stick-style Victorian built in 1885, and Hope-Bosworth House, a 1904 Queen Anne craftsman-style beauty.

In addition to these popular B&Bs, there is the Geyserville Inn at the north end of town, which has attracted a clientele that "does" the wineries, brings bicycles to ride the country lanes or simply walks out into the vineyard behind to soak up the ambience. The adjacent Hoffman House enjoys a reputation as one of the best delis in the county.

It was the promise of things to come that brought Mall, owner of Healdsburg's popular Zin restaurant, to open his ribs and brisket bistro on Geyserville's main drag several months ago. "We kind of figured it was going to be the next outpost," he said.

When you consider Geyserville's geographical position -- on the banks of the Russian River, squished between the Dry Creek and Alexander valleys, surrounded by some of the world's best wineries, just north of Healdsburg, just south of Asti, where Beringer plans to reopen the famous tasting room - it seems, like the prunes that once grew all around it, just ripe for the plucking.

IN THE LATE 1870s, when J. P. Munro-Fraser descended on Sonoma County to compile his 1880 volume of history, he gave Geyserville short shrift - nothing more than a paragraph, really.
While he conceded that the soil and the climate was suited to "the production of the best varieties of grapes, stone and seed fruits," he was generally dismissive of the settlement. It was, he said, a "hamlet" comprising one store, one post and express office, one saloon, one

hotel and one blacksmith shop. "Geyserville," he wrote, "is not so much a place as it is these establishments."

Louise Davis, who is Harry Bosworth's sister and a member of the staff at Geyserville High School, does much better by Geyserville's history. She has collected it, preserved it and written it through the years and, even now, takes school bus loads of teen-agers on a historical tour of the town, pointing to a past that sometimes seems hard for the kids to believe.

Certainly it has enjoyed its time as a full-fledged town, replete with a bank, two hotels (one at the intersection, another at the railroad depot), two grocery stores, a dry goods store and its own newspaper, a doctor, an undertaker, a butcher, two bakeries and, in the words of the Geyserville Gazette (1899-1920) "two popular medicinal springs in close proximity, one fraternal order . . . one constable, one painter, two paper-hangers" and "at least two poets."

Now, there seems to be little doubt that Geyserville is at a crossroads. Of course, it has always been at a crossroads -well, maybe a T-intersection, where Highway 128 wound its way from Alexander Valley, across the river and the railroad tracks to meet 101, before the freeway took it up the hill.

But once Healdsburg tumbled into the heady pool of Wine Country resort towns, becoming a cozier, more compact version of Sonoma, which was the first of the county's towns to go upscale. (Don't you hate that word?) Geyserville's fate seemed sealed.

"Healdsburg is pretty much maxed out as far as restaurants are concerned," said Mall, who has been pleased with the reception his Smokehouse has received. His landlord is the Odd Fellows Lodge, which is down to half a dozen members who meet upstairs in a lodge room designed for several hundred. The restaurant has drawn the winery crowd and families, which is just what he was looking for, he said.

The town already benefits from the wineries close by, like Geyser Peak, which has one of the busiest tasting rooms in the north county. "Silver Oak had a release party in town last week, Mall said, "And you should have seen it. The streets were full of Porsches and Mercedes."

That's a sight guaranteed to gladden the heart of a restaurant owner, just as Cosette Scheiber's report that both her inns are filled this coming weekend with travel writers from all over the United States is the happiest kind of news.
Tom Oden is one of the owners of Santi, the fanciest place in town, a Northern California/ Italy style restaurant on the site where the bar at the Rex, owned by Santi and Virginia Catelli and then their son, Richard, served as the gathering place for neighbors, and the restaurant, with Virginia's famous ravioli and minestrone, brought businessmen for lunch and families for dinner from 100 miles around.

Oden likes the suggestion that Geyserville is the next in line to be a Wine Country village. "We hope so, don't we?" he said, adding that such a . transition "looked like a pipe dream" when he and Franco Dunn opened 18 months ago. "Things were closing," he said. "We like to think our presence helped turn things around, like a foundation stone, you know. Somebody did something good."

Now there's a new rumor nearly every day of what's coming. "Locals" is the name of a second tasting room, joining Meeker Cellars' facility down the street. Locals is due to open soon as a cooperative venture of five Dry Creek wineries, although no one will say just which ones as yet.

And the Charlie Trotter rumor has become almost legend. Everybody has heard "at least four times," said one businessman, that the famed Chicago restaurateur was about to open a resort in Geyserville. The rumor is fading, as time passes, but all agree that just one sizeable resort is all it would take to make dreams come true.

Mark Carter, owner of Eureka's Carter House, may provide some help in that area. Carter says he has reached an agreement with Lora Vigne, owner of Isis Oasis, the 10 acres at the south end of town that was a Ba'hai summer school for nearly 50 years, until the freeway took the largest part of the property.

Carter, an innkeeper for 20 years, has plans that call for a resort and restaurant there to be called, after Lora, Auberge d'Vigne. He had hoped, he said, to start with 24 units and expand to 50, but the tourism slump since 9/11 has changed plans. Now, he said, he's thinking that phase one will be four units on the hillside. "I want an Italian feeling," he said, `'since this is the heart of the wine country."

If you check the Web site (Geyservillecc.com - Ron Scheiber is the Web master) you'll find that the current talk of the town is the possibility of a visitors' center, right next to Bosworth's. There's a meeting coming up soon with Supervisor Paul Kelley. Geyserville is looking for its share of the TOT (transient occupancy tax, or "bed tax") that the county collects to promote tourism.

"We'll never be as big as Healdsburg," said Cosette, "which is a good thing. And we'll never be anything like Napa, which is a better thing."

But there's no question, when you see them coming, maps in hand, that Geyserville is, as Mall suggests, "the next outpost."
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Hope-Merrill House Bed & Breakfast Inn
21253 Geyserville Ave.

P.O. Box 42,  Geyserville, CA  95441
Phone: 800-825-4233 or 707-857-3356