General Erasmus Darwin Keyes - Creator of the Edge Hill Estate
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(by John M. Olney)
General Erasmus Darwin Keyes
Because of the 1849 gold rush many of his men, officer and enlisted alike, deserted the Army to seek their fortune in the Gold Country. The costs of goods had risen so quickly during this frenzied period, that the Army allowed its officers and enlisted men to hold outside jobs. Keyes began “surveying and a real estate business and was soon was receiving $1,000 a month in rentals” (source: Presidio Military Museum which was a substantial amount of money in those times. Keyes was the leader of the team that set out the boundaries of what would become Presidio grounds as we know them today consisting of about 1,543 acres.)
During the civil war, Keyes quickly rising to Major General, however he ran afoul of the senior Generals and was relegated to desks jobs. Quickly disappointed, in 1864, Keyes resigned from the service and returned to San Francisco where he became involved in the savings and loan business and was a Vice President in a Mexican gold mine He also became a gentleman farmer in Napa Valley with the creation of what became the Edge Hill vineyard, winery, and distillery estate. He hired a local, James Dowdell, as foreman of his estate. (Dowdell would later move on and operate his own winery in St. Helena.) Keyes served as vice president of the California vine-culture society from 1868 to 1872. General Keyes died in France at the age of 85 in 1895.
(Photo by John M. Olney taken of artist rendition of estate. The rendition is inside the distillery building and shows the Edge Hill winery in the foreground and the residential building at the top of the picture)
The next owner was William Scheffler. He too served during the Civil War time. While he was in the employment of the David Fulton winery family and operating another St. Helena winery, Monongo (owned by John Weaks), in the early 1880’s, Scheffler purchased the Edge Hill estate, to which he added numerous buildings.
Scheffler also leased vineyards from the very wealthy William B. Bourne family who had constructed “Greystone” (now Culinary Institute of America), owned the Crystal Springs water supply for all of San Francisco, and owned the very rich strike called “Empire Gold Mines.” Scheffler was obviously a sought after winemaker and manager as he continually expanded his holding. He became a Director in the Napa Valley Wine Company (founded by the likes of Tubbs of Chateau Montelena, Charles Krug and many other significant players of the times).
Scheffler knew that the wealthy of San Francisco frequently visited the beautiful soda springs resorts of Napa Valley and he apparently sought this market for his wines. He purchased the White Sulphur Springs Resort in the mid-1880s in the hopes he could market the guests to purchase his wines. However, this purchase proved his undoing as he had become way overextended and in 1887 he was forced to bankruptcy.
Leslie Rudd arrived on-scene to resurrect the former fame of the Edge Hill Estate. Rudd is a very successful businessman and developer who is CEO and principal owner of the Kansas-based wine and liquor distributor Standard Beverage Corp., luxury foods purveyor Dean and DeLuca, Rudd Winery (located at the intersection of Oakville Crossroad and Silverado Trail) and Edge Hill Estate. The distillery building is in process of being converted into a rather attractive hospitality center. The winery building has undergone major renovation and refurbishment while the caves are currently undergoing massive reconstruction. Rudd produces “Distillery No. 209” gin at his property located in San Francisco along the piers adjacent to McCovey Cove/China Basin
(Photo by John M. Olney. This is the distillery building which is being refurbished into a hospitality center.)
Rudd most recently purchased the Oakville Grocery Store chain (based in Oakville, Napa County) and Gordon’s Cafe and Wine Bar (located in Yountville, Napa County).