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Goodman Library Centenary

Napa, Calif.
May 2, 2001

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One hundred years ago, my great, great, great grandfather, George E. Goodman, built a library in Napa, and gave it to the city. For more than half the century, it was the town's main library. My mom worked there when she was a teenager. Sometime later, the city moved its library to a larger and newer building, and the Goodman Library became the home of the local historical society.

This week, the historical society invited some of his descendants to a ceremony marking the centenary of the laying of the cornerstone. It was pretty fun, with about 30 folks there, including the mayor of Napa, who said it was the oldest library in California still being used as a library.

George E. Goodman was one of my ancestors who came to California during the Gold Rush of the 1850s. He didn't get rich in the gold fields, but did pretty well in the decades afterwards as a banker, treasurer of Napa County (no connection there!), and a principal of a water company that brought water to San Francisco.

A recent book, History of Napa Valley, casually tossed out an assertion that George E. and his brother were Jewish, even though it also said they were prominent members of the Presbyterian Church in Napa. I was excited about this, as it may mean that I'm at least 1/32 chosen, or perhaps 1/16, if George E. married a good Jewish girl. An uncle of mine, Jim Wickens, says he's looked into the matter and found that George E. couldn't be Jewish because he was born in Rochester, N.Y. in 1825 and the first Jewish male wasn't born in Rochester until the 1840s. But I countered with the observation that George E. had placed the words, "God and My Mother" on the first archway in the library. That settles it for me: what goy would do such a nice thing for his mother?