What’s the origin of the name, “Kawana Springs?” It’s far easier to say where it didn’t come from than to pinpoint its source or meaning. For example, if you think “Kawana” is an Indian word, you may be right – except the Indians who coined it were 3,000 miles away.
Let’s start with the simple part: “Springs” is part of the name because it once was a mineral spring resort, with a hotel and bathhouse. A 49er named John S. Taylor had poor luck gold hunting but found his fortune here, homesteading 1,400 acres at the base of that mountain which came to have his name. John was quite the entrepreneur; he planted a large vineyard, raised livestock, and mined a small vein of coal that was discovered on his land. He saw the opportunity to cash in on the harness racing craze and built “Taylor’s Driving Park” at his place, where the 1861 Sonoma County fair was also held. He owned most of the downtown block between Fourth and Fifth streets directly across from Courthouse Square. John Taylor was a rich and interesting guy about whom more should be written.
Taylor also saw $$$ in the stinky creek on his property. Mineral spas and resorts were a big deal on the East Coast and in Europe; people believed the water relieved arthritis and aches if you bathed in the stuff, and even that it could cure kidney disease and other ailments if you drank lots of it. He built a small hotel for guests and when that one burned in 1870, Taylor built a grander, two-story place with hot and cold running boy-does-that-smell-awful.
It’s unclear what ambitions John Taylor held for his mineral water resort. He rarely advertised in the Northern California newspapers (at least, judging from the healthy sample of 19th century papers available online through the Library of Congress) and was leasing the operation out as early as the 1880s. Unlike owners of some other local hot spring retreats he didn’t bottle his “curative” waters for sale. Then there was the potential problem with name confusion: Taylor called his place “White Sulphur Springs,” and when he started there were already “White Sulphur Springs” in Solano (Vallejo) and Napa (St. Helena).
Why was everyone naming their place “White Sulphur Springs?” Because the original W.S.S. in West Virginia was recognized as the standard of excellence for resorts in the latter 19th century. It was the playground for the Washington D.C. elite; presidents took the waters there and Euro royalty, too. “White” apparently was intended to indicate the sulphurous water was clear and not sickly yellow, and it provided an opportunity for other West Virginia hot springs to exploit the name with sound-similars; there were nearby Blue Sulphur Springs, Green Sulphur Springs, Red Sulphur Spring and Salt Sulphur Springs. The water was apparently identical, or nearly so. (A 1870s analysis of Taylor’s water found it contained bicarbonate, iron, magnesia, and, of course, sulphur.)
By the turn of the century, whatever days of sun Taylor’s hotel enjoyed were certainly past. No ads can be found beyond 1899, although we know it remained open because it was still mentioned in the schedules for stage stops. When the 1906 earthquake hit, Taylor’s White Sulphur Springs hadn’t yet opened for the summer season. The hotel and bathhouse apparently escaped without serious damage, but not so the creek – the mineral water stopped flowing after the earth shifted. The place opened again for the 1906-1907 winter season, but that was it.
Come 1910 and the Press Democrat announced a pair of local men were going to reopen the resort, but not as White Sulphur Springs:
It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places.
The article and ads pointed to a new direction for the spa. It was promoted as the “Headquarters for automobilists and traveling men,” and a clubhouse building was added. The ads also promised “Its waters are unsurpassed,” but without the natural mineral spring working they had to be trucking the water in, or dousing the plain well water with chemicals. Two years later, ads announced “Kawana” (no Sulphur, no Springs mentioned) was under new management.
Kawana-anything disappears from the newspapers until 1927, when a Santa Rosa paper reported the “old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs…has been untenanted for several years” as part of a news story about its very interesting recent tenants. It seems a professional bootlegging outfit had gutted the inside of the old hotel and constructed a three-story, 1,400 gallon still for making hootch. Police found the operation only after it was ready to move on, with a hapless steamfitter on the premises to dismantle the enormous rig. Officers were quoted as saying it was the largest bootlegging plant ever found in Northern California.
Old John Taylor was 99 years-old by that time, and the news about his old place must have been quite a shock. He died less than three weeks later and according to Gaye LeBaron’s columns, his daughter, Zana, had the hollowed-out building demolished rather than attempt to repair the heart-breaking damage. In 1931 the ranch became a game reserve stocked with quail, deer and pheasant under a deal with the Sonoma County Sportsmen’s Club. Zana fixed up the old bathhouse and lived there until her death in 1970. The year before, however, she discovered that the 1969 earthquake had jogged loose the creek’s plug, and up to 1,000 gallons/day of mineral water was again filling the creek. An AP wire service story about this appeared in newspapers nationwide. Alas, the water soon again stopped.
Back to Burbank and “Kawana:” Note that the article stated Burbank “chose” the Kawana name “selection,” which strongly implies someone else – the new tenants or John Taylor, probably – gave him a list of possibles after they couldn’t get rights to use “Burbank Springs.” But where did Kawana come from? First, Kawana is a family name in Japan, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the Pacific, and the Taylors had a Hawaiian connection because John Jr. was living there at the time. Maybe John Sr. heard the name and liked it.
Could Kawana be Native American? Some writers have claimed so, explaining it meant “healing waters” or similar. An anthropologist thought it possible it had Native roots, but “it sounded more like a fake Indian word that a PR person would invent.”
If it were an Indian word, it doesn’t come from the Southern Pomo dialect, where kawana means “turtle” (Barrett, 1908) and there are no turtles to be found in that section. And besides, Pomo locations weren’t even named like that; a place would be called something like kawanakawi (turtle-water-place). Further, the “healing waters” nonsense is put to rest by the Taylor Mountain Park master plan, which determined “no sacred sites are known to be located on the property.”
A final option will seem like a stretch, but hear me out. Recall John Taylor named his place White Sulphur Springs after the classy resort in West Virginia. The route taken to reach that famous place in the 19th century was the road known as the Kanawha Turnpike, which followed old Indian trails from Richmond to the Kanawha River Valley. (Believe it or not! Kanawha was considered in 1861 for the name of the new state that would be West Virginia.) Note that Kawana and Kanawha have only the second and third syllables flipped. How likely was it that Taylor would want another name very closely linked to the original resort? And would Taylor have even known about the White Sulphur Springs-Kanawha connection? Of the latter we can be certain: He was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which is at its farthest fifty miles from the old Kanawha Turnpike. He must have traveled it at least once during his boyhood, and certainly knew well the Kanawha name.
So there you have it: “Kawana” was a clever variation – or perhaps, the slight misremembering of an 82 year-old man – of a name created by the Piscataway, Delaware, or Shawnee tribes of modern-day West Virginia. Or it’s Hawaiian. Or maybe it was mashed-up mumble of vowel sounds created by a marketing whiz who also dreamed up the phony “healing waters” legend. But this much is certain: You can search every inch around Kawana Springs and not find a single kawana.
Obl. Comstock House connection: Daughter Zana Taylor, who returned to the ranch and remodeled the old bathhouse, was a close friend of Anna May Bell, the young woman who was something of a godchild to Mattie and James Wyatt Oates. The Taylors threw more than one party in Bell’s honor at their home at 512 Mendocino Ave (currently the Trek Bicycle Store). Zana’s many doings at the Oates house can be found in our archives.
|Detail of White Sulphur Springs postcard, c.1896. Courtesy Sonoma County Library
UPDATE: There isn’t much left of the old White Sulphur Springs/Kawana resort, so it’s no great loss at the present time (2013) there is no public access to it without special permission. No sign of the hotel remains at all except for a few low stone retaining walls which terraced the grounds, as seen in the1896 postcard above.
The original gazebo, shown at right, still has the cradle-sized fountain basin from which the mineral water bubbled to the surface. The decorative icicles and fish scale shingles are typical of the Carpenter Gothic style popular in the 1880s. Note the railing is low enough to serve as a seat; those who believed drinking the warm mineral water was healthful would sip as much of it as they could bear over the course of a day.
The bathhouse shown below is believed to have been built in 1876 and is surprisingly small, about 1200 ft. in a “T” floor plan. In front is a raised concrete fountain that probably offered another chance to drink the foul-smelling water before it was piped inside. Not shown to the left of the bathhouse is a stone-lined catchment with a rough pile of cemented stones in the center. The size and shape suggest a hot tub although its original use is unknown. Near the bathhouse is a dilapidated structure that may have been an automobile barn built around the 1930s which will not be preserved.
The county’s plan for the area includes plans to convert the bathhouse into a small visitor center and possibly build a facsimile of the hotel as a bed and breakfast inn/hotel. Plans for the surrounding Taylor Mountain Park include an outdoor classroom/amphitheater, large picnic areas, camping grounds, a dog park, Frisbee golf park, and more.
TO REOPEN SPRINGS NEAR SANTA ROSAUnder Name of “Kawana Springs” the Old White Sulphur Springs Resort to Be Made Popular Place
Under Name of “Kawana Springs,” the well known summer resort known for years as “White Sulphur Springs,” owned by John S. Taylor, and which has been closed for a long time, is to be reopened and an endeavor made to regain the old time popularity the place once had and to add to its attractiveness.
The springs property, with the addition of twenty acres of fine timbered woodland, making the grounds forty acres, instead of twenty, has been taken over by “The Kawana Springs, Incorporated,” headed by M. N. Winans and Thornton P. Preston. Mr. Winans is a well known insurance manager, who has made his home in Santa Rosa for some time, and enjoys an extensive acquaintance throughout the state, and Mr. Preston needs no introduction, as the former proprietor of the Hotels Lebanon and Overton in Santa Rosa, with a legion of friends among the traveling public.
Messrs. Winans and Preston have been negotiating for the acquisition of the Springs property for several weeks and have finally arranged the details. The big hotel building will be refurnished throughout and the grounds will be made most attractive. Another building in close proximity to the hotel will be fitted up as a clubhouse, and the bathhouses will all be remodeled and improved. In fact the gentlemen mean to have everything as neat and comfortable as possible for the accommodation of the large number of patrons they expect to entertain their this summer [sic]. Already they have a good-sized list of applications for accommodations and they expect to be ready to open the Kawana Springs resort on May 2.
Nature has been lavish and the place affords so many possibilities for the spending of a delightful vacation outing there, as well as its offering in the way of medicinal springs whose waters have been found to contain excellent curing qualities for various ailments. The analysis made by Dr. Winslow Anderson shows the Springs to be very valuable in the treatment of kidney diseases.
In addition [illegible microfilm] will also cater to the people of Santa Rosa and their friends by providing an excellent cuisine and other attractions. The Springs are located about two miles from the Court House and are of easy access over a well kept road, just a nice spin in an automobile or drive by carriage.
It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places. It is needless to say that everybody wishes Messrs. Winans and Preston the greatest possible success in their big undertaking, and they mean to leave nothing undone to achieve success and make their place deservedly popular. The resort will be open winter and summer.– Press Democrat, April 13, 1910KAWANA HOTEL RAIDED: GIVES UP BIG STILL
A plant for the manufacture of illicit liquor, declared to be the largest ever uncovered in the north Bay region, was seized in a raid conducted by County Detective Pemberton and members of the sheriff’s office late Tuesday, when the old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs on Taylor mountain, was raided.
A still with 1400-gallon capacity was discovered in the place, along with 50 gallons of “jack,” and boilers, mash tanks, cooling coils and other equipment. Two smaller stills were also taken in the same raid–one with a 250-gallon capacity and the other with a 150-gallon capacity.
George Darnell, 50, the only man at the place, was seized as operator. Darnell claimed that he was a steamfitter from San Francisco, and had been hired to clean up the works and dismantle the place. The mash tanks bore out his testimony, as they were clean and the still was not in operation.Threaten Tear Bomb
Darnell at first barricaded himself in the attic and was only forced to come down when the officers threatened to throw tear bombs into his hiding place. Although they had no bombs with them, the ruse worked.
The main still was three stories high, and the seven 200-mash tanks were so connected up that the fermented mash could be pumped directly into the still. The plant was estimated to be worth $10,000.
In the opinion of the officers, the place belonged to a group of wholesale San Francisco bootleggers, who made the pure alcohol in the plant and turned it into gin for the San Francisco trade.Short Time Only
Officers also believed that the plant was set up for only a short time in each place, a quantity of alcohol made and the plant dismantled and moved to another place before officers found it.
Pemberton has had the place under surveillance for some time, spending several nights in the vicinity in order to make sure of the activities before he staged the raid.
Kawana Springs was a well-known resort in the old days, but has been untenanted for several years, except for two or three short openings by minor companies, who could not make the place pay.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 2, 1927