The vineyards and surrounding property at Lytton Springs are named after Captain William H. Litton. The captain was a colorful figure in early Sonoma County history. He dabbled in land speculation, making and losing several fortunes, Lytton Springs being his last major enterprise. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1816. At the age of 12 he went to sea and by the age of 18 he carried the rank of captain. A superior mariner, he was selected as one of the several American sea captains to carry provisions to Ireland, during the infamous “Potato Famine” of 1846. His was among one of the few ships to actually reach Ireland with its cargo intact, as many of the ships in the rescue effort were sunk in a storm at sea. The Captain eventually arrived in the port city of San Francisco in 1849, where he worked as a ship’s pilot in the San Francisco Bay.
In 1860, he acquired a large tract of land straddling Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys that extended from the southernmost boundaries of Geyserville to the northern limits of the fledgling town of Healdsburg, with the Russian River serving as its eastern boundary. It appears that this property was originally part of the Rancho Sotoyome land grant of the 1840’s. By 1867, Captain Litton was considered the fourth largest property holder in Sonoma County. Then in 1872, Colonel James M. Donahue built the San Francisco and Northern Pacific Railroad which linked Healdsburg and points north with the Bay area. Eager to attract tourists, Captain Litton and three partners built a plush resort hotel on the site in 1875, at a cost of $80,000. Able to accommodate approximately 150 guests, the resort soon became known as “Litton Springs”. The popular name of “Litton Springs” refers to the two naturally occurring springs that were located on the original property. The soda springs were located half a mile uphill from the original hotel site, while the naturally carbonated seltzer, or sweetwater, springs lie on the north side of the property. Both were considered of medicinal value for their mineral properties. These springs still exist today and their presence was one of the primary reasons we opted not to build caves underneath the winery. In an area along the main wagon road between Geyserville and Healdsburg, known on old maps as “The Plaines,” there developed a small community centered around the hot springs resort.
In 1878, Captain Litton sold the 2700 acre property, including the hotel, to a local business man named B.G. Lathrop. Years later in 1887, while living in San Francisco, he was thrown from a buggy and died of head injuries. The resort property passed through various owners who broke it down into smaller parcels. It was around this time that the vineyards were established on the property. The hillside vineyard blocks on the eastern portion of Lytton Springs were planted in 1901. The vineyard blocks on the flats were planted in 1910. Between that time, in 1904, the main property adjacent to our vineyards where the original resort was located was purchased by the Salvation Army.
Long after the death of Captain Litton, controversy continued in regards to the change from “i” to “y”, as the accepted spelling of the Litton property. According to the text of Once Upon a Time by Julius Myron Alexander, the spelling was changed “because it was proper”. Then, in a 1969 Press Democrat article, Healdsburg City Clerk and local historian, Edwin Langhart, offered a different opinion, “It appears the name was changed in error by a draftsman or some other official, and it has stayed ‘Lytton’ ever since:’ Whatever the reason, records show that by 1896, most official documents had adopted the ‘Lytton’ spelling.
To learn more about our modern day Lytton Springs Winery, click here.
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