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Stories from the valley

Valley History from Afar: Grapes and Victorians

Crunched into a green grape lately?  Thompson Seedless Grapes got their start right here in our Sacramento Valley.   There’s even a landmark to prove it and while visiting historic hotspots isn’t possible in these unprecedented social and physical distancing times, we are bringing history to you.  Read on to learn about the origins of this seedless grape and then take a trip through Red Bluff’s Victorian district, where history and beauty collide.  


Got Grapes and Raisins?  Thank This Guy

Englishman William Thompson and his family settled in the Marysville area in 1863. A vineyard owner by trade, Thompson was eager to plant a seedless grape, at the time all grapes contained seeds, and removing seeds was time consuming and costly.  Thompson turned to Almira & Barry nursery in Rochester, New York, where he purchased three seedless producing cuttings called Lady De Coverly.  Only one survived the trek west. One was enough, by 1875 Thompson’s cutting, grafted onto existing rootstock, yielded 50 lbs. of sweet, seedless grapes.  He generously shared his subsequent cuttings with other growers and the first 200-acre vineyard of newly named Thompson Seedless grape was planted by fellow grower  J.P. Onstott.

Ninety-five percent of California raisins come from Thompson seedless grapes.  We even have them on our backyard in Davis. I’m thanking William Thompson as we speak.  

The town of Red Bluff, CA., Thursday, November 6, 2014.
Photo Brian Baer

Valley Victorians

Why so many Victorian homes in Red Bluff? Look no further than the Sacramento River and San Francisco.   In the 1850s steamships started venturing from Red Bluff (aptly named for the exposed red bluffs on the west bank of the river) to San Francisco and residents became exposed to San Francisco’s Victorian architecture.  People liked what they saw and started replicating the style in Red Bluff homes. By the 1880s beautiful gingerbread trimmed homes began to dot the now tree lined streets of Red Bluff. Perhaps a f trip to the Kelly Griggs Museum, nestled in this historic part of our valley is something we can all look forward to in the future.