The Hatt Building and the Napa Mill Complex, constructed between 1884 and 1887, are Napa’s oldest large brick industrial buildings and have long been considered among the most haunted places in all of Napa County.
Captain Alfred E. Hatt was born in Frankfurt, Germany on May 3, 1841. From a young age Hatt lived the life of a seafarer, eventually becoming a boat captain on the Sacramento River after his immigration in 1859. Hatt settled in Napa and in 1884 he began construction on the buildings that would make his mark on Napa history. The Hatt Buildings, from which the Captain sold coal, grain, and vegetables, are actually two closely linked large warehouses built of native brick. Due to Hatt’s initial success, the complex expanded during 1886-87 to include a government bonded warehouse where wines and spirits were housed.
Beyond being a cornerstone of Napa’s commercial industries, the Hatt complex was also a center for community activity. The second floor of the building once served as a skating rink and hosted numerous celebrations replete with bands, dances, and even obstacle courses. The Napa Register from Feb 13, 1885 describes one such event:
"The obstacle race at Cleveland's [the rink’s manager] rink last Saturday evening was attended by a large gathering and the entertainment which the race afforded was rich, rare and racy. The skaters were required to crawl through barrels, climb over ropes and scantlings and walk between the rounds of ladders laid flat upon the floor. The audience roared itself hoarse with laughter at the hasty and ludicrous gyrations of the racers."
In the early twentieth century the former skating rink was used by the Napa Lookout Athletic Club as a basketball court and gym. Today the hotel rooms located on the second floor of the main building of the Napa River Inn feature prominently the original rock maple wood plank flooring on which revelers skated, danced, and even dribbled in years past.
The second floor of Hatt’s bonded warehouse was likewise used for community functions. Known as Hatt Hall it was utilized for secret society meetings and banquets. For a time, it was even used as a National Guard Armory. The site included a library, an anteroom, and a dining area. In its current configuration as part of the Napa River Inn, Hatt Hall is still used for meetings and gatherings to this day.
The initial success of the Hatt family did not hold. In fact by the later part of the nineteenth century, the family seemed cursed with misfortune and death. In 1887 Hatt’s son William died aboard the ship the Iroquois en route to New York. Shortly afterward the couple lost their youngest daughter to diphtheria. 1898 brought the death of Hatt’s wife, Alma, causing Hatt to leave day to day operations of the business to his eldest son, Albert Hatt Jr. Albert Jr.'s spouse Margaret met with an untimely end, dying of cancer in 1906. Albert Jr. was never the same after his wife’s death. On April 1, 1912, in ill health, beset with financial woes, and concerns about caring for his five children, Alfred Hatt Jr. took his own life.
While in fact, the young Hatt hung himself at his residence, not in the warehouse complex, local legend still has it that he haunts the site to this day. Many of these reports have centered on the bakery Sweetie Pies where customers have reported strange visual experiences including apparitions of men bagging grain using the old granary apparatus which sits in the dining area. The ghost of Alfred Hatt Jr. has also been spotted hanging from the roof beams. Other visitors have encountered ghostly granary trucks.
The elder Hatt passed in 1913, not long after his son’s death, but not before selling his warehouse holdings to the Keig Family. The Keigs established the long running Napa Milling, which eventually was bought out by one brother, Robert Edward Keig. This granary and mill produced agricultural feed and sold farm supplies, and even developed vegetarian feed and mash products for Napa County’s sizable Seventh Day Adventist community. The Mill closed in 1974 after Keig’s son retired from the business, ushering in a long period of vacancy.
Though placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the fate of the Hatt/Mill complex was uncertain for many years. An initial remodel proposal for the complex first surfaced in 1986 and included plans for such amenities as an arcade, a supper club specializing in “California haute cuisine,” and a nautical memorabilia store. Renovation led by current owner Harry Price got underway in 1992. The remodel sought to preserve many of the historic features of the building such as the silo towering above Napa’s waterfront and the milling equipment that can be found in Sweetie Pies. Elegant tinwork and flooring can be found in Hatt Hall and many of the Napa River Inn’s hotel rooms as well. The cornerstone of the renovated complex, The Napa River Inn, opened for business June 9, 2000. Along with the other shops and eateries, the hotel’s presence helped usher in the revitalization which has transformed Napa’s downtown in recent years.