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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."