Resting in eternal peace, adjacent to Mariano Vallejo, lies the grave of Capt. Henry Ernest Boyes. Boyes could trace his roots to Du Bois, who fought with William the Conqueror in 1066. Boyes was born in Hull, Yorkshire, England in 1844, and was born into a well-to-do family with strong political connections to the crown. Young Henry Boyes had two brothers, both of which died in childhood. As the sole heir to family’s extensive land holdings, he sold his estate for a whopping $250,000 before heading to the land of plenty. He carved out his own piece of heaven on earth right here in Sonoma Valley, building the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel.
Captain Boyes was educated at Queen Mary’s grammar school in Ripon, Yorkshire. In 1858 he entered the Indian Navy and was stationed in Bombay for about four years. He retired from the Navy in 1872 and became the manager of an Indigo plantation owned by the Nickle Fleming & Co. He eventually returned to England and while visiting friends in Switzerland, met the women of his dreams.
The saying goes “Behind every great man there’s a great women.” This was certainly true for Capt. Boyes. He married Antoinette Charlotte Edwards, who could trace her family roots back to the time of William the Conqueror. She was born in Bangalore, Madras, India where she lived as the eldest of twelve siblings. Most of her young life was spent in India and England. The two were married in merry old England in 1883. Her role in developing the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel was widely recognized.
Immediately after their marriage, the two moved to San Francisco. They had heard about the grand beauty of Sonoma Valley, eventually purchasing 75 acres of land. Mariano Vallejo had spoken to them about the hot springs bubbling from the earth not far from his home. In 1888, they dug two wells down to 200 feet, piping the curative waters into a single tub. Eventually, they built more tubs to accommodate the huge crowds making their way from San Francisco.
By the turn of the 20th century, their establishment was known as the finest mineral hot springs in California. They were keenly aware of the natural beauty of their surroundings and constructed the hotel, bath houses, cottages, and campgrounds accordingly. Trees were planted along the small streets in order to provide shade and they left large oak trees in place. They did not “pave paradise to put up a parking lot.”
When the Boyes purchased the property, it came with a small home built in 1849 by T.M. Leavenworth, the last alcalde of San Francisco. They lived in the old house for a number of years, before building a new home affectionately called “El Mirador”, which translates to “The Lookout.” The 15-acre property was well wooded and provided beautiful views of the valley. Their home included paths leading to intimate gardens with a large variety of plants imported from around the world.
Mrs. Boyes was an avid birder, but instead of using binoculars, she used her guns. While living in India, she shot and mounted hundreds of birds, which were proudly displayed at “El Mirador.” In 1902, Capt. Boyes incorporated the Boyes’ Hot Mineral Springs Co., actively managing the business for another two years. In 1923, a fire erased any record of the magnificent hotel. The property was renovated in 1980 and 2000 and is known today as the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.
I have visited the grave site of Capt. Boyes many times up in Mt. Cemetery, though I never really knew much about him. There are so many names etched upon gravestones. Every one of them represents some aspect of Sonoma’s past.
George McKale is a practicing archaeologist and Sonoma’s City Historian. He has excavated throughout California ranging from Native American sites thousands of years old to Gold Rush era locations. His passion and specialty in archaeology is the study of human remains.