Monthly Archives: November 2013

American River Canyon, Part 2 – Early Improvements to the Road

Feeding the Teams Along the Road c: 1865

Feeding the Teams Along the Road c: 1865

Due to its extreme steepness, the eastern portion of Johnson’s Cut-off from Echo Summit to lower Lake Valley was not suitable for most uses. Asa H. Hawley solved this problem in 1855 by constructing a new road – Hawley’s Grade – from Echo Summit to upper Lake Valley, which then continued south along the same route taken by Charpenning and Woodward.

On June 11, 1857, J. B. Crandall climbed aboard a stage coach owned by the Pioneer Stage Line and hauled seven passengers from John Blair’s Sportsman’s Hall over the Brockless Grade. There, two additional passengers were picked up: William D. Keyser and Theodore F. Tracy. The coach then continued to Genoa by way of Johnson’s Cut-off Grade and Luther Pass, then through Hope Valley and Hawley’s Grade.

Thus was established the first passenger service over the summit of the Sierra Nevada, which caused the citizens of Placerville to celebrate loudly with a one-hundred gun salute.

One month later a connection was established at Genoa with a stage line to and from Salt Lake City. What this trip did show that due to its extreme steepness the eastern portion of Johnson’s Cut-off from Johnson’s Summit to lower Lake Valley was not suitable for most uses.

In 1857, using money allocated by Sacramento, Yolo and El Dorado Counties, a new “two mile road not to exceed five percent grade” was constructed from Johnson’s Cut-off into Lake Valley. Because Asa H. Hawley had a roadhouse nearby, this bypass of Johnson’s Grade became known as Hawley’s Grade.

American River Canyon, Part 1, The Road

Georgetown Junction

Georgetown Junction

In the early days of California, there were more than forty stations or travelers stops located along the portion of what would ultimately become Highway 50 between Placerville and Echo Summit. Some were large structures and some as small as one roadhouse, toll house, blacksmith shop or simply a cabin or shack with meals and a room to rent.

Many of these were originally established to provide badly needed supplies and services to the exhausted emigrants arriving in California during the early years of the Gold Rush.

Even more were added a few years later when the road became crowded with the endless line of coaches and wagons hauling freight and passengers over the summit to the mines at Virginia City. In fact, it is reported that within days of the discovery of silver in Nevada, there was a shack, tent or bench at every wide place in the road, from which people were selling all kinds of goods.

Over the years most of these places, and even their locations, have disappeared from maps and memories, leaving only a few with names like Fresh Pond, Pacific House, Whitehall, Kyburz, Strawberry and Phillips.

To understand the history behind the rapid appearance and disappearance of these stations along this historic road, one must first take the time to look at the complex history of the road itself. A road which, in a relatively short period of time, went from being not much more than a trail to the major highway it is today, connecting Sacramento to the southern end of Lake Tahoe and points east.

Along Green Valley Road, Part 3 – Skinner Winery to Lotus Road

Rose Springs Literacy Society Building

Rose Springs Literacy Society Building

Only a short distance to the east of the Skinner Winery, on the western end of White Oak Flat, was a large red brick store built by George D. H. Meyers, a miner from Tennessee Creek. Years later John Wing purchased the property and, after his death, his widow Louisa ran a roadhouse in conjunction with the store, which was commonly known as Wing’s Store. Nearby, James Wing, her son, operated a toll road paralleling the county road.

One mile to the east, on the north side of the road, stood the White Oak Springs Hotel. Opened in 1852, it was purchased by Arthur Litten in 1859.  Across from it was a brick house that was originally owned by Constantine Hicks (New York House owner) and later, Louisa Wing’s brother, Aylmer Pelton.

Much of the history of the White Oak Springs Hotel is lost except for an April 28, 1852 altercation between an employee of the hotel, James Hewlett and a man named Abner Spencer. Hewlett is said to have stabbed Spencer, who died the next day. On the spot of the crime, a citizens’ committee tried Hewlett and convicted him of murder. Within an hour of the crime he was hanged from a nearby oak tree.

Just beyond the White Oak Springs Hotel was the original location of the town of Rescue (later moved to Rose Springs), where Mrs. Pearle Wing managed a later version of Wing’s Store.

A little over a quarter mile to the east, on the south side of the road and on the east bank of Kelly Creek (just west of the future location of the Tennessee Schoolhouse) was the Kelly Creek House. It was owned by an immigrant from Scotland named William Harriett.

Mr. Harriett operated the business for over fourteen years. When he died, his wife Agnes married August Baring (also known as Frederick Riemer) and the couple ran the business for several more years.

Along Green Valley Road, Part 2 – New York House to Skinner Winery

skinner winery bwJust to the east of the New York House was the beginning of the Hopkin’s Toll Road, which was a mile and a quarter long and better maintained than the county road. Along it, on the north side of the road was a log cabin in which a Mrs. Powell kept a roadside hotel. It is close to where the Live Oak Schoolhouse was later built. Just to the east of it, on the south side of the road was large two-story frame building knows as the Wakasha or Walkershaw House.

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Taylor, the aunt and uncle of Austin Taylor Leachman (Leachman House), operated the Wakasha House, which was one of the main stops for travelers going to the Mother Lode. It, like many early hotels in the Mother Lode, was built and assembled on the east coast, disassembled and shipped around the Horn to California. It was the Taylors who offered a job to young Mary Sullivan, who soon thereafter, met Austin and married him.

The origin of the name is unknown, but some say it strangely commemorates the Paiute chief called Walker-aw, who misdirected a group of the Bennett-Arcane party (also known as the Sand Walking Company or Jayhawkers) through Death Valley to the gold fields. The Jayhawkers ended up a few miles to the east, near Rescue.

About a mile further along the trail, on the eastern edge of Green Valley was the Green Springs House.

Located on the south side of the road, the Green Springs House was built by Rufus Hitchcock, who had been connected with the Sutter’s Fort Hotel. He would run the place until 1851, when he died from smallpox. It was then purchased by William Dormody, who ran it until he died in 1876. His widow, Sarah F. Dormody then took over what would become a favorite location for wedding parties.