American River Canyon, Part 7 – Lover’s Leap to the Summit

North American HouseBecause the present Highway 50 is north of the original route through Strawberry Valley, it bypasses three stations that were along the old road that passed between the two halves of Lover’s Leap: Baker’s Place, Devil’s Gap (Section House) and Slippery Ford House (Swan’s Upper Toll House).

Before two bridges (Twin Bridges) were built near Slippery Ford (also Slipperyford), travelers had to cross the river on an inclined, smooth granite surface. Many horses and mules lost their footing here and, along with wagons and their contents, were swept down the river and over the falls.

The list of Post Offices in El Dorado County includes one at Slippery Ford that existed from November 21, 1861 until January 13, 1911, with Powell Crosley serving as the first Postmaster. However, this Slippery Ford is reported to have been only 33 miles east of Placerville, 11 miles west of this Slippery Ford, which would place it near Kyburz (which received a Post Office on the day this one closed, January 13, 1911).

The eastern Slippery Ford was ultimately bypassed by the two bridges at Twin Bridges, and later, by the new bridge on the highway, a distance to the north. Twin Bridges received a Post Office on October 1, 1947, with Mrs. Lesta H. King as the first postmaster.

From Slippery Ford, the road steepens and continues uphill through Sayle’s Canyon, passing Hermit’s and reaching Sayle’s Flat House. At Sayle’s Flat is Camp Sacramento, which had a Post Office from June 17, 1929 until October 31, 1940, Pearl Chapell serving as the first Postmaster. From here, the road climbs past Van Sickle’s Station, Swan’s Toll House and Snowslide House to Phillips Station.

Phillips Station was settled by the Phillips family in 1862. In 1871, after the traffic on the road had been reduced to a trickle by the completion of the railroad from Sacramento to Reno, Joseph Wells Davis Phillips leased the station to John J. Sweeney. The original two and one-half story station burned in 1873 and later was replaced by a new, larger building.

The Phillips’ daughter, Sierra Nevada Phillips, who was six years old at the time the family settled here, grew up and became a well known businesswoman, establishing the Rubicon Mineral Springs Hotel and Resort and managing resorts at Tahoe City and Meeks Bay.

She tried to get a Post Office in Phillips and was told that name was taken. Consequently, when the post office was established on September 3, 1912, it was named Vade – her nickname. Appropriately, she was the first postmaster.

On September 2, 1961, the post office was moved three miles east and renamed Little Norway.

Phillips, also casually known as Pow Wow, after the restaurant and gas station located there (“Eat at Pow Wow and get gas” the sign used to say), is the location of the access to Sierra at Tahoe (formerly Sierra Ski Ranch).

Between Phillips and Johnson’s Summit (later moved and renamed Echo Summit), were only two more stations, Audrain’s (at Lake Audrain) and the North American House. Little is known about them, however, the North American House exists in numerous photographs.

Most of the stations mentioned are now gone and only remembered by a few signs and the granite mile posts set in the early part of the 20th century. One can only imagine what it was like in the 1860s when all of these stations, and perhaps many more that have been long forgotten, supplied the tens if not hundreds of thousands of pioneers, travelers and teamsters that passed along the road each year.

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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