Jimtown honors ‘colorful character’ who founded Alexander Valley store

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Jimtown, on Highway 128 in Alexander Valley, is about 8 miles from Healdsburg on the way to Calistoga. It was named after James “Jim” Patrick, who founded a general store there in 1893. Though he called it the Patrick Store, the place soon became known as Jimtown. The Healdsburg Tribune described the proprietor as a “colorful character.”

The residents of Alexander Valley were so eager for a store that people came from all around to lend a hand in its construction, just like an old- fashioned barn raising. Once it was open, it was common to see a half-dozen horses tied up in front of the place. Most of the business was done on weekends as farm families came in for their weekly shopping. It was a true general store, carrying “everything from perfume to bicycles.”

Jim Patrick had been born in Indiana in 1854 and moved with his family to Iowa the following year. In 1856, when Jim was 2, his parents hitched three yoke of oxen to a covered wagon and headed for California. Jim’s 4-year-old brother, John, and a heifer, or young female cow, also accompanied them. The journey west took many months and probably seemed endless to the two young boys. It makes you wonder how many times they asked, “Are we there yet?”

By the time the family arrived in Santa Rosa, five oxen had died and the “prairie schooner” was being pulled by one ox and the heifer.

After growing up on a farm in Alexander Valley and attending public school, Jim became a farmer and also worked as the road overseer for Knights Valley, keeping roads passable for horse and foot traffic. The newspaper wrote that “these roads from Alexander Valley to Healdsburg are hell,” with deep and treacherous chuckholes that could knock you clean out of your buggy.

Jim’s store became the nucleus for a small community; within a few years it boasted a post office, a blacksmith and wagon shop, a church, hop yards, orchards, vineyards, wineries and six or eight homes.

Around 1913, Jim added a gas pump in front of his store to service the occasional automobile venturing over the rough road.

While still a young farmer, Jim married Harriet “Hattie” Matthews, who had been born to a family who’d also immigrated by wagon train. Jim and Hattie’s first child was named James after his father; their second was given her mother’s name.

Next came Lottie, Ernest and Lena. Ernest worked as a clerk at the store for a while before becoming a carpenter.

After 40 years, Jim retired from running the store in his namesake village.

By the time he died a few years later, the road to Jimtown was paved. And you could drive all the way from Iowa without worrying if the oxen were going to make it or if you’d need to yoke up the heifer to the wagon.

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