Mary A. Fulton: 1871-1893

David Fulton died in the fall of 1871, two weeks prior to the grape harvest. The operation was now left in the hands of David’s wife, Mary Albino (Lyon) Fulton. A gutsy woman in her own right, she traveled alone from Pennsylvania, crossing the Panama by foot and arriving in Napa in 1860. Here she met and married David in 1863. Their wedding took place on the front porch of the Kellogg residence (today called the Lyman House), and in 1864 they built their home 80 feet to the south of the already completed winery. After his death, Mary tried her best to continue running all her husband’s businesses. However, the task of having to care for two young daughters, both at or under the age of nine, made it difficult to carry the full load. She did not allow the winery to lie idle as we previously thought. A small reference in the August 1, 1874 issue of the Star indicated that “…Mrs. Fulton’s cellar is being prepared for the coming grape season.” Although short in length, the statement does show that Mary kept the vineyard and cellar active after David’s passing and until she found an experienced vintner.

In January 1876, she hired winemaker William Scheffler to take the helm. Mr. Scheffler worked for a year and a half retooling the old wine cellar. Later, in 1876, as reported in the Star’s reprint of the local organization minutes, Scheffler encouraged the St. Helena Viticultural Club to back him in trying to get the town to build a road. The road was to extend from the railroad loading station near the corner of Hunt and Church to Fulton’s lane. Once constructed the road allowed easier access to the loading dock without having to traverse Main Street. The proposed street was later named Railroad Avenue. Scheffler was able to bring production up to current standards by the fall of 1877 and doing so with enough momentum to carry the operation into the next decade. Listings on 1880 county maps identified the Fulton Lane cellar as the “M. A. Fulton Winery.” Other listings of agricultural surveys, however, began to identify the cellar under the collective name of Mr. Scheffler, given his growing capacity to run wineries.

Alone for several years and exhausted maintaining control over the family business while caring for her young daughters, Mary’s health began to fail. At the same time, Scheffler was fast becoming a noted Napa Valley vintner in his own right. He expanded to take on the operation of the Monongo Winery around year 1880. Just before this, Scheffler and associates purchased Edge Hill Winery. Running all these facilities quickly consumed most all his energy. He began to expand and focus almost entirely on Edge Hill until he finally decided to let the other wineries go. Consequently, the Fulton Family decided to let go of commercial wine making at the old cellar and concentrate solely on the vineyard.

The transformation took place sometime during the 1880 decade and none too late. Poor weather, over-planting, Phylloxera, wars, depression, and Prohibition, these were events on the horizon. As the result of the shift in concentration, the vineyard grew in strength under Mary’s leadership. One might say that Fulton’s death and Mary’s abandonment of the cellar saved the family legacy. The vineyard continued to flourish under the ownership of descendants of the Fulton Family well into the next century and beyond. In the paraphrased words of historian John Wichels, Mary was a pioneer herself as she helped transform a rather primitive section of California into the garden spot of the State.

Be Sociable, Share!