Some of my photos are now for sale at ImageKind.

Nature Index
(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)

Culture Index
(NorCal cities, highways, restaurants, museums, architecture, historic attractions, vintage neon signs, roadside attractions, etc.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Napa's Old Man Rock on Monticello Road

20101119 Old Man Rock, 3

Recently at the Friends of the Sacramento Library's Book Den I picked up several local history history books on the cheap, and in one, There's a Little Spot I Know (by Jim Babcock, published by the Sacramento Bee in 1985), there is a photo of a “well-known Napa County landmark” described as being “10 miles east of Napa” on Monticello Road. It's a rock formation overhanging that highway that resembles an old man. To add to the resemblance, a piece of metal in the shape of a pipe has been added.

Having moved to Napa five months earlier, I wondered about not having seen or heard anything of the supposedly well-known landmark. I did several searches on Flickr, but didn't find any photos of it. Google searches turned up several references, but mostly historical. It has been referred to variously as Old Man with a Pipe, Old Man Rock, and the Old Irishman. One piece from the Napa Valley Register on a postcard collector in September of 2008 mentioned that he had a card with a photo of the rock formation “back when the stone nose was longer,” the only indication I had that the rock formation could still be seen along Monticello Road.

As soon as I had a decent opportunity, I set off in search of Old Man Rock, as I have chosen to call it. Monticello Road apparently originally led from Napa to the town of Monticello. The original town site now lies beneath the waters of Lake Berryessa, formed by the construction of the Monticello Dam beginning in 1953. Apparently photographers Dorothy Lange and Pirkle Jones documented the abandonment of the town in the book Death of a Valley (thanks Wikipedia, looking forward to checking it out).

Ten miles outside of Napa was a vague reference to go on, considering that I don't know what the border of the city was at the time that reference was made, but luckily the rock formation proved easy to spot. Monticello Road begins at the junction of Trancas Street, a main east-west thoroughfare on the north end of town, and the Silverado Trail, one of the two highways that runs north-south through Napa Valley. Heading out (northwest) on Monticello Rd., CA-121, Old Man Rock is to be found just 2.5 miles past the stoplight at the junction with Atlas Peak Road (the turn off for the Silverado Country Club).

There is a turnout immediately before Old Man Rock, but it is to allow faster vehicles to pass only, and there are “no parking” signs. There are several private drives nearby. I managed to park my subcompact off the edge of the road just past one of those. There's not much room for walking along the side of the road, or setting up a tripod either. My tripod seemed in constant danger of being swiped by cars coming down around the curve behind the Old Man, but I felt like I would safely be able to scramble out of the way. The best place to photograph the rock from would be the middle of the road, but that would be absurdly dangerous.

According to the Napa County book in the Postcard History Series from Arcadia Publishing, the pipe was added in 1911. No word on who added it.

20101118 Old Man Rock, 1

20101118 Old Man Rock, 2

20101119 Old Man Rock, 4

14 comments:

Gretchen said...

Outstanding! I bet the Old Man was glad to have a visitor

larry1960 said...

excellent detective work and story telling Tom.

Anonymous said...

To us the landmark is referred to as "The Man With the Pipe in the Mouth". The pipe was originally wooden and the kids from Napa High School would set it on fire as a prank. Later it was replaced with the metal pipe. The pipe was stolen in the 60's and recovered in a field close to Moscovite Corner near Lake Berryessa. It was returned and has been there since. Someone used to always keep the pipe painted red. We never knew who.

Anonymous said...

The landmark was also popular enough to be placed on the front cover of the Pacific Bell telephone book.

Jery Kilker said...

My father, A. G. (Andy) Kilker, told me when we lived in Napa during the 1940s and 1950s that a fellow workman of his with the Great Western Power Company (eventually taken over by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company about 1930) that 'The Old Man of the Mountain' was named by his friend. I knew only of a steel pipe, painted red, as I recall. The name came from the formation's similarity to a profile near Franconia, New Hampshire. I was a high school and junior college student in Napa at the time and heard nothing about the activities of other students 'elaborating' on the figure. Maybe this was a local country thing done by the kids living along Monticello Road. Jery Kilker, Napa High '49; Napa College '51.

Sky farley said...

The pipe was added by my great grand father and firends when they lived in the town of monticelo As my grandmother tells it his last name was Wing. And my great aunt use to tell us of the story of her uncles Idea while sharing a bottle wisky with his brother and firends. And it was wood at one time.

Anonymous said...

Anybody know who does the up keep (painting maintance)on The Pipe Man.
The Napa Historical Society referred me to The Napa Building and Maintenance ,who referred me to Cal Trans.

Nobody seems to know anything about it..Hence my post does anyone on board know who maintains this?

Anonymous said...

Mist of these are correct stories except it was my Great Grand Father. We own the land and have for over a 100 years.

Anonymous said...

Whoever takes care of him should go fix the pipe cause I think someone hit it. Cause it's bent over.

Anonymous said...

The Pipe Man has made The 10 endangered treasures of (2014)from The Napa Historical Society. They'e been give a generous donation in a effort to fix it up. They haven't done it as of this date..

Lynnie Adams said...

There is a stone teepee on wild horse ranch property. It used to be call Castle View Ranch. You should drive up there and see if they will let you see it. Local Indians used to live in it. It has a fire pit and a natural smoke hole.

Lynnie Adams said...

There is a stone teepee on wild horse ranch property. It used to be call Castle View Ranch. You should drive up there and see if they will let you see it. Local Indians used to live in it. It has a fire pit and a natural smoke hole.

Bryan La Dow said...

Yeah, so my uncle was keeping it up. Him and his buddies replaced it with the metal one in the early mid 50s or early 60s. When he moved up to Circle Oaks, a few min drive from the Old Man with the Pipe, he was the logical one to keep it looking good. Paul Donovan passed away several ears ago, I'm sad to see it in such poor shape.

Klepsie said...

Scan of a 1920s magazine photo of the rock here (scroll down to last page but one):

http://www.friardale.co.uk/Magnet/1928/Magnet%201068-A.pdf

About Me

My photo

I love to learn about, visit, photograph, research, and write about everything that is interesting, unique, and historical about Northern California, and wherever else I should be fortunate enough to find myself.  I've spent many years scouring the roadside in my little car for interesting subjects and walking down hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast to get to know the wonder that is Northern California.  I share most of this via photos on Flickr, and as much as time permits me to on my blog, the NorCal Explorer.  Fine art prints of my photos are for sale on Imagekind.