American River Canyon, Part 6 – Kyburz to Lover’s Leap

Strawberry Valley Station c: 1866

Strawberry Valley Station c: 1866

There is not much known about the next few stations along the Placerville Road east of Kyburz: (another) Riverside House, Old Mother Welty’s (Leon’s Station), Poster’s Halt and the Chamberlain House, which is later became known as Fred’s Place.

True’s Place, another obscure station is east of Fred’s Place, followed then by Georgetown Junction House, where there was also a toll house.

At this location, near today’s Wright’s Lake Road, is where Johnson’s Cut-off and the road to Georgetown made their connection with the main route. Speculating landowners in the Georgetown area attempted to encourage emigrants entering California to leave the main road at this point and proceed north to the Georgetown Road. From there they were directed along the Georgetown Road through Union (Onion) Valley and then to Georgetown by what is now generally Wentworth Springs Road.

Between Georgetown Junction House and the next major stop, Strawberry Valley House, were three more lesser known stations: San Francisco House, What Cheer House and Log Cabin No. 2 (Was there a No 1?). Interestingly, there was also a What Cheer House along Green Valley Road near what is now Cameron Park.

Strawberry Valley House was very important stop along the Placerville-Carson Road. A traveler in the spring of 1861 gave us the following description: “in a long, narrow plain hemmed in by bare mountains of granite…is a commodious hotel, where I dined”.

The hotel was built near Lover’s Leap in 1856 by Swift and Watson. In 1859 the owners were Irad Fuller Berry and George W. Swan, who not only ran the hotel but worked tirelessly on improving their portion of the toll road.

It became a remount station for the Pony Express on April 4, 1860, when division superintendent Bolivar Roberts waited with a string of mules to help Pony rider Warren Upson through the snowstorm on the summit.

There is a plaque on the north side of the highway designating Strawberry Valley House as a California State Historic Landmark (#707).

How the valley got its name has been a constant argument since the 1850s. Some say owner Berry stuffed the guest’s pillows and mattresses with straw rather than goose down, which resulted in them calling out derisively: “Do you have any more straw, Berry?”

Some also say Berry mixed straw in with the very expensive feed for the teamster’s mules and “Straw” Berry was what he was called (because of the high cost of feed along the route, many teamsters hauled a second, smaller wagon full of feed for their animals).

The most reliable story about the naming of Strawberry Valley points out that the valley was full of wild strawberry plants and that in 1853, five years before Mr. Berry owned the place, William Bartlett’s “Guide to California” refers to the location as Strawberry Valley.

The Strawberry Valley House would be replaced by Berry’s Strawberry Station and the Strawberry Lodge, which was later rebuilt at its present site further west, when the highway was relocated.

At the base of Lover’s Leap, a rock that rises a sheer 1,285 feet above the American River at the eastern end of Strawberry Valley, was located the Lover’s Leap Post Office with Annie M. Scherrer serving as the first postmaster. It was first opened on October 30, 1919 and remained to until July 31, 1929 when it was moved to Camp Sacramento. There is a romantic legend that the place was named for an Indian girl who plunged from the top of the rock because her love was unrequited.

Sources for this story include: “History of California”, by Theodore Hittell (1897); “California Gold Camps”, by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names”, by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “The Wrights Lake Story” by the Historical Committee of the Wrights Lake Summer Home Association (revised 1994); “The Saga of Lake Tahoe”, Volumes I and II, by E. B. Scott (1973); “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976”, researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “Mother Lode of Learning – One Room Schools of El Dorado County” by the Retired Teachers Association of El Dorado County (1990); “I Remember…, Stories and pictures of El Dorado County pioneer families”, researched and written by Betty Yohalem (1977); “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the archives of the Mountain Democrat (1854-Present); and the wonderful people at the reference desk of the El Dorado County Main Library.

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