ContentsPutah and Cache: Winters

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Main Street and Railroad Avenue

Robert Thayer

Continuing westward and upstream takes us through typical farm and orchard country en route to our next stop at the city of Winters. As we approach the city on Route 128, the picturesque sign of Winters captures the sense of place quite well: the orchards, water tank, foothills, and dam in the background.

Originally home to the "Liwai-toi", or "people of the stream", Liwai (Winters) was one of the more substantial settlements of Patwin people. One of the earliest white settlers was John Wolfskill, who negotiated a grant of land from Commandante Mariano Vallejo in 1842. His land grant, entitled "Rancho Rio de los Putos", extended a great distance eastward and westward along both sides of the stream. Wolfskill began to experiment with varieties of vines and fruit trees, giving rise to Winters' reputation as a center for tree crops. The highway we just traveled followed the boundaries of Wolfskill's Mexican land grant.

Wagon roads, then railroads, connected Winters to Benecia and the San Francisco Bay, and as the area's fruit and crop production grew, rail lines brought local crops to eastern U.S. and southern California markets. Winters prospered and Main Street developed in a pattern still recognizable today. The old Winters Hotel, at the corner of Railroad and Main, suffered some damage in the Winters Earthquake of 1892, and cracks in the facade can still be seen today. Across the street from the Winters Hotel is the Putah Creek Café, a favorite breakfast and lunch spot of a wide variety of customers, including ranchers, cyclists, business people, farm hands, retirees, politicians, and professors. Friendly service, great food, and local art—including a huge photo of most of Winters celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the earthquake—create a unique sense of place.

The old railroad bridge at the south end of Railroad Avenue is now unsafe for travel, but marks the site of volunteer creek clean-ups and, eventually, a new public park.

Winters is on the cusp between valley and low foothill ecosystems, and is the gateway to the recreation area of Lake Berryessa. The drive across Putah Creek and along the road upstream follows the boundaries of Wolfskill's original land grant.

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