This and That

Placerville’s Living Christmas Tree

 

Corner of Bedford and Main c. 1925. Tom Moyle’s saloon has become a church.

Each year the City of Placerville installs lights on the tall redwood tree that stands on the northeast corner of Bedford Avenue and Main Streets, next to a building that was the post office and then the the District Attorney’s office. Over the years this tree has been damaged by wind and weather several times and even had its top cut off because the fire department’s equipment could not reach above that height to decorate, but it gallantly survives. It has apparently been at this location for 70 or more years, but how it got there is somewhat a mystery.

The story starts just before Christmas in 1918 when the American Forestry Association began to encourage the use of living trees for community Christmas trees, instead of the normal routine of cutting down a large tree each year for that purpose. Over the next few years the campaign began to gain supporters and in December of 1924 the Association donated a 35-foot, nursery grown Norway Spruce to President Calvin Coolidge.

The donated tree was planted in Sherman Plaza, south of the Treasury Building and close to the east entrance of the White House. On December 24, 1924 President Calvin Coolidge, known to be a man of few words, stood before a microphone and said, “I accept this tree and I will now light it.” He then flipped a switch and 1,200 red, amber and green incandescent lights, installed by the Society for Electrical Development and the Electric League of Washington, brightly lit up the tree. This was the first use of a living tree as our “National Community Christmas Tree.”

In 1926 the late Charles E. Lee, then secretary of the Sanger (CA) Chamber of Commerce, wrote President Calvin Coolidge requesting that the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park be officially designated as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.” Lee had visited the majestic 267 foot tall sequoia in 1924 and when standing in front of it heard a little girl exclaim, “What a wonderful Christmas Tree it would be.”

Remembering the little girl’s comments, the next year he organized a Christmas program in front of the General Grant Tree at noon on Christmas Day.

Excited by the success of the program, he and the president of the Sanger Chamber, Mr. R. J. Senior, came up with the idea of an annual Christmas ceremony at the tree. To give it more significance is why Lee wrote President Coolidge and on April 28, 1926 the General Grant tree was officially designated the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.”

As time went on, more and more places around the nation, and especially in California, began to plant and use living trees as community Christmas trees and in a December 1, 1928 article in the “Placerville Republican and Nugget,” Placerville Fire Chief O. N. Hirst announced his intention to ask the Placerville City Council for permission to plant a living Christmas tree on the Moyle lot, which is where the present tree stands. In the event this permission was granted, he indicated that the Shakespeare Club, Parent Teachers’ Association, Lions’ Club, 20-30 Club, American Legion and other local organizations would be asked to assist in financing the decorations and lighting of the tree.

According to the same article the idea of a living community Christmas tree in Placerville was not new. A similar idea had been rejected by the Lions’ Club the previous year, and the 20-30 Club earlier in 1928, but it was hoped that with community support a living Christmas tree could be planted at this location. After all, it was pointed out, Grace Moyle had transferred this parcel of land to the city specifically for public use and that was exactly what was being proposed.

The City Council agreed to allow Hirst to plant the tree and on December 7, 1928 he announced in the Republican that the State of California had donated a seven foot “Giant of the Forest” to the City and that he would be going to Sacramento to pick it up. At the same time it was announced that the American Legion had endorsed the idea of the tree being planted at the designated site and strung with lights as the Community Christmas tree.

On the same day a story in the “Mountain Democrat” also indicated that a tree had been approved. It was not a redwood, but a 20 foot high fir tree that the volunteer firemen were going into the forest to get and plant in the Moyle lot. “We’ll have to move approximately a ton of dirt with the tree in the transplanting,” Hirst said. “It will take three or four days to get the tree out and it will be a real job to move it.” Apparently there was some confusion between the newspapers as to what tree the fire chief wanted to be the “Community Christmas tree.”

The December 12, 1928 issue of the Republican stated that the sequoia for the Moyle lot had been picked up in Sacramento and brought to Placerville. The details of the planting had not been worked out and would be announced shortly. The same article indicated that the Placerville Lions had pledged aid to the tree and the upcoming Christmas program at the site.

Everything seemed to be in order at this point and the Republican indicated that the sequoia would probably be planted before or during the Christmas program. When the program was held at the court house on December 20, 1928 the 20 foot fir tree was there and decorated, but there is no mention of the sequoia that the state had donated.

The January 9, 1929 edition of the Mountain Democrat adds a bit of clarity to this confusing issue with a story titled, “Sequoia Washingtoniana ‘Resident’ of Placerville.” It then goes on to say, “Miss Sequoia Washingtoniana has been a Placerville resident since Christmas Day. Her presence has been noted but it seemed that other matters assumed greater importance in our memory and Miss Sequoia Washingtoniana arrived unheralded. The redwood, gift of the state, was planted on the Moyle lot by Fire Chief O. N. Hirst.”

Now the story could stop there, but “Sequoia washingtoniana” is an old name for a Giant sequoia and, according to people who should know, the present tree is not a Giant sequoia, but a Coast Redwood “Sequoia sempervirens.”

Possibly earliest picture of the Christmas Tree

Adding new light to the mystery, in 1953 an article appeared in a still unidentified local newspaper. Authored by a Gene Macel, and titled “City Landmark Glows Again with Yule Spirit,” it placed the year of planting as 1926 and said that “the tiny redwood was planted by Mrs. Lena Rantz in memory of her husband, Dr. Stephen H. Rantz, a beloved country doctor…” The story then traces much of the history of the property from its original mining claim up through its purchase by Thomas Moyle.

Moyle owned a saloon on the property for many years and, according to the story, “There was an old wine cellar below where beer was stored and served ice-cold to customers.” The saloon was torn down after a group of citizens raised the money to buy the property with the intention of widening Bedford Avenue. The story then adds, “[Mayor] Albert Simons acquired title to the property for the City of Placerville on April 9, 1926 and the redwood tree was planted in the same year.”

The story then points out that in 1937 one Ernie Oppenheimer decided that the tree had acquired enough stature and beauty to deserve Christmas decorations. “Oppenheimer bought a good supply of lights and Andy Anderson and his helpers from the city hall, strung them that year and every year since.”

This 1953 story seems quite reasonable and confirms another story that appeared in the September 9, 1940 issue of the Mountain Democrat. It states, “[The City] Council voted $50 to be donated to the businessmen for Xmas decorations and voted to place an appropriate marker by the Dr. S. H. Ranzt memorial tree, planted a dozen years ago in the city park at the junction of Main and Bedford.”

As to the “appropriate marker,” there is neither a marker nor any indication there was ever a marker on or near the tree regarding Dr. Ranzt. There are other markers nearby, but nothing makes reference to the tree or Dr. Ranzt.

A few years ago the Placerville Department of Recreation was cleaning up around the tree and uncovered a loose plaque that stated, “Presented by the American Legion Auxiliary, 1934.” There seems to be no connection between this plaque and the tree and nothing in the park seems to be missing a plaque. However, there is the remains of a base of an old flagpole a dozen feet to the east of the tree where the plaque may have been placed.

Probably mid-1940s

If all this isn’t confusing enough, there are other stories around Placerville regarding the tree. One story is that the tree was planted by hotel owner Lloyd Raffetto and local government official John Winkleman in honor of the former Moyle’s saloon. Former El Dorado County Supervisor and county native, Joe Flynn, said that his mother, Alice Flynn, owned the Hangtown Café, near the hotel, and was involved with the planting, but often remarked that she thought it was planted too close to the building.

A second story is that the tree may be one of the small redwood trees that a member of the Blair family brought back from Santa Cruz where he and his new bride had spent their honeymoon. Apparently they were planted not only on the Blair property, but other places around Placerville.

There are no exact dates for the above stories, but they were in the correct era and could both be referring to the “Ranzt” tree, supposedly planted in 1926.

If today’s tree is the 1926 Ranzt Memorial Tree, the tree obtained by Fire Chief Hirst or another tree, nobody seems to know. But, as interesting as it is, it probably doesn’t matter. It is a magnificent tree and when lit each Christmas season, adds even more beauty to the city.

As a final note, if you are wondering what happened to the 20 foot fir tree planted for the 1928 Christmas ceremony and supposedly intended to be the “Community Christmas tree,” the May 21, 1929 issue of the Mountain Democrat clears that up. “Lost! One fir tree, which last Christmas served as a community Christmas tree, has disappeared from the Moyle lot. Who removed it? Nobody knows. However, the tree had died and ceased to be the beautiful city ornament it was intended to be, so that its removal constitutes somewhat the same improvement on the corner that was made when the tree was planted.”

Gekkeikan Sake – they tested the water

Over the past centuries California has lured people to it for its many assets: its climate, its farm lands and, most of all its gold. Today the gold is still here, not only in the ground but also in the water.

In 1989 Gekkeikan Sake (USA) , Inc. was established in Folsom, California, the first Gekkeikan sake brewing facility outside of Japan. And what would bring them here, two things, the first being obvious since Folsom is near a major rice growing area and rice is needed to make sake . The second and most important to them was the water.

The company had been looking at a location in Louisiana, but Folsom won out because of the water. Remove the chemicals and minerals from the public water, put back everything but the chlorine and you have water with many of the qualities of the water found in Fushimi, Japan, where Gekkeikan originated, just what they were looking to find.

Japan’s tradition of sake brewing began more than 2,000 years ago shortly after rice cultivation was introduced from China. Though the first few centuries yielded a beverage quite unlike that of today, years of experience perfected brewing techniques and increased sake’s overall appeal and popularity.

In 1637, Gekkeikan’s founder, Jiemon Okura established his sake brewery in the town of Fushimi, a location well-known for its high quality of water. Access to the ideal ingredients combined with a convenient location enabled Okura and his successors’ business to thrive in the years that followed.

In 1905, the brand name Gekkeikan (meaning “crown of laurel”) was adopted as the company’s formal pledge to excellence. Through this commitment, the company became a true leader in the industry and pioneered a number of research and development efforts. The successful results of these endeavors have enabled Gekkeikan to become their nation’s most popular brand in 1953.

With a greater world wide appreciation of Japanese cuisine over the last decades, Gekkeikan sake has been experiencing a tremendous growth in popularity. To meet this increase in demand is why Gekkeikan Sake (USA) , Inc. was established in Folsom. And, in reply to the increased demand for their product, the Folsom facility is in the process of expanding.

Sake is a naturally fermented alcoholic beverage classified in the same general category with wine and beer. Made from the simple ingredients of rice and water, it goes through a fermentation process which, essentially converts starch into sugar and sugar into alcohol through the work of koji (a fungi enzyme) and yeast.

To start the process, the rice, short-grained Japonica, is first polished to remove the outer layers. The starch in rice in in the middle, so the amount of polishing determines the quality of the sake. Depending upon the type of sake being made, 30 or 40 percent of the outer layer is removed and two either used independently or blended.

The Folsom plant makes only five of Gekkeikan’s many types of sake: Haiku (premium), Silver, Black and Gold, Traditional, which is also available in in Traditional Light and Draft, a sake that is not pasteurized, but cold filtered and meant to be served cold.

Using simple terms to describe this 2000 year old process, the polished rice, which arrives in one-ton bags, is cleaned, steeped and steamed. To a portion of the rice is then added the koji enzyme and to the other portion, the yeast and water. Then everything is combined in a fermentation tank where the starch is ultimately converted to alcohol. After 30 days, the fermented mixture, now called Moromi, is pressed through filters to remove the liquid which is then pasturized. The Draft Sake is not pasteurized, but instead undergoes ultra filtration to achieve this same result, protecting its smooth, fresh flavor. The remaining solids, or sake cake, are recycled as cattle food.
Then the sake is transferred to aging tanks where it rests for several months and acquires its mild and smooth taste. Finally, about a year after starting, the sake is bottled.

The sterile bottles are filled on a bottling line similar to one used to bottle wine. While rapidly moving through the line the bottles are filled, capped and labeled, after which they are boxed for shipment. A bottle from each batch is kept for testing purposes should there be a comment or complaint from a consumer.

Although most is, not all sake is bottled. Some is put into 18 liter cubes for restaurant use and even a1000 liter “tote” for shipment to other places, such as Brazil, where it will be later bottled.

Not all sake that leaves the Folsom facility is the same. Sake can have an alcohol content of from five to 20 percent and certain countries and even states have regulations on the maximum amount of alcohol it can legally contain. To insure that the sake meets the high standards of Gekkeikan and any government regulations, all batches of sake made are tested for quality and alcohol content at a lab in the facility.

To Gekkeikan, consistency in all the aspects of the process is most important. That is why Gekkeikan sake is the number one selling sake in the world.

In addition to sake, the Folsom facility also makes a Kobai Plum wine, which is California white wine to which the essence of the Sonoma plums is added.

At the tasting room you can taste Gekkeikan sake and plum wine and purchase them. All are available in bottles of different sizes, while the Traditional sake is also available in the 1.8 liter “taru,” a smaller version of the large ceremonial Japanese barrel, which makes an excellent gift. In addition to the sake made at the Folsom facility, they also have other Gekkeikan sakes, imported from Japan to taste and for sale.

The pleasant tasting room personnel are delighted to teach you about sake, the proper serving containers (porcelain for warm sake, glass for cold sake and bamboo or lacquer boxes for either) and the proper temperature at which it should be served, depending upon the type. This is especially important as the present trend is to drink sake at colder temperatures, rather than as traditionally warmed. They will also explain to you that each kind of sake, like different kinds of wine, has a slightly different aroma and taste. To complete your education on sake they will also tell you how sake can be used to prepare unique and delicious mixed drinks and will even provide you with a brochure of delicious recipes. And, don’t miss the beautiful shirts, hats and accessories for sale in the tasting room.

The tasting room also periodically hosts informative hands-on introductory sushi making classes taught by local sushi chefs as they share inside secrets and techniques from the exotic world of Japanese cuisine. Called Simply Sushi the classes focus on three specific elements of sushi making: preparing sushi rice, selecting fish and making California and hand rolls.

Classes are held on three levels: Children, adults and advanced. the next series of classes starts in February. Call for more information.

The tasting room at Gekkeikan Sake in Folsom is in a beautiful building with a large Koi pond on three sides. It is open from10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. In addition, self guided tours of the facility can be enjoyed by groups of less than eight, while guided tours are available for larger groups by appointment.

Gekkeikan Sake is located at 1136 Sibley St., in Folsom. For more information, call (916) 985-3111.

Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part V

Coupon from Placerville Railroad Stock

Coupon from Placerville Railroad Stock

By June, 1865 the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad had only reached Shingle Springs and, although it is now connected to the main road that carried nearly all of the freight and passenger traffic to and from the silver mines in Nevada’s Comstock, it was obvious that the railroad would not reach Virginia City by the 1866 Federal deadline.

The line had progressed only four miles in ten months while the toiling Chinese laborers of the Central Pacific were blasting out a mile a week over the “impassible” route towards Donner Summit.

Even in light of this lack of progress, the owners of the Central Pacific still feared that the rails of the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad could still be extended over the Sierra and become a competing line, so they took steps to completely eliminate this problem.

In a questionable move, the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s President George F. Bragg finally convinced Lester Robinson and the bankers who held most of the railroad’s stock, that their problems were real and insurmountable. Though they were bringing in substantial income, there was no way additional financing could be obtained for construction or payment of their bonds. The railroad was on the verge of bankruptcy, Bragg told them.

On August 1, 1865, President Bragg purchased the entire stock interests of three other directors. Shortly thereafter, and in spite of the protests and claims of corruption in the press, he sold all of his stock to the principal stockholders of the Central Pacific. The Central Pacific took over control of the Sacramento Valley Railroad on August 16, 1865. The sizeable shops of the Sacramento Valley Railroad at Folsom were immediately dismantled and the equipment moved to Sacramento. In a final blow, Leland Stanford ordered the suspension of all passenger traffic to and from Freeport.

The 26.2 mile Placerville &Sacramento Valley Railroad, from Folsom Junction to Shingle Springs, had operated as its own company since 1864. Due to financial problems, on May 21, 1869 the railroad was foreclosed upon and on July 21, 1871 title was conveyed to William Alvord who, on the same day conveyed the title to the Central Pacific.

With the sale of the railroad the $500,000 in bonds that El Dorado County and the City of Placerville had issued passed to the purchasers, and they became a serious financial burden their citizens.

With the rapid loss in freight traffic through the County, due to the completion of the Central Pacific rails as far as Reno and a general reduction in all mining, the County and City were in a life and death struggle just to exist, let alone pay off the bonds which would mature in 1876.

In 1873, the holders of the bonds sued the County of El Dorado and the City of Placerville, to recover the entire amount due in principal and interest. The County defended the suit but lost in lower court. After much negotiation they were able to surrender the existing bonds for the sum of $200,000, which was paid in new bonds running twenty years, but only bearing five percent interest.

The City of Placerville had a simpler solution to the problem. When the telegraphed news of the bondholders winning the suit reached the City Council, they all simply resigned, leaving no one in charge or responsible for the payment.

The pages of the minute books of the City Council of the City of Placerville are empty from that point into the 1900s, when the whole problem had become forgotten history and the City Council thought it safe to return.

The last 11.6 miles of track to Placerville were completed March 29, 1888. The first passenger train arrived on April 9, 1888, while the first freight reached the depot on April 18, 1888.

The occasion of the arrival of the first passenger train brought out nearly all the residents of Placerville and the surrounding towns. With only five days advance notice, the city was cleaned up and preparations for the celebration had been made. As the 500 excursion passengers pulled into the station, they were greeted by the boom of cannon, the blare of brass bands, and the cheers of the thousands assembled there.

A large group of local citizens delivered welcome statements which were followed by an extended oration by Governor Waterman. Festivities continued with a large parade and finally concluded with a huge banquet.

Unfortunately, Colonel Charles Lincoln Wilson, the man whose dream created the Sacramento Valley Railroad, was not a part of the railroad when it finally reached Placerville. Way before the Central Pacific and then Southern Pacific took over the route, he had lost his seat on the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, along with much of his investment, when in 1855 Lester Robinson attached the railroad through court action.

Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part IV

Steamboat Chrysopolis

Steamboat Chrysopolis

The agreement to bring the railroad to Placerville happened just a few months after Leland Stanford, now Governor of California, had lifted the first shovelful of dirt to start the building of the Central Pacific Railroad east from Sacramento. Unfortunately, what he did that day, October 10, 1863, would affect things seriously.

The Central Pacific’s rails were laid along side and crossed the earlier excavation and short trackage of Judah’s California Central near Roseville. The Central Pacific then continued its route on to Rocklin and Auburn.

It became apparent that the “Big Four,” Stanford, Hopkins, Huntington and Crocker, had gained the upper hand in the power play for the Pacific Railway financing, and they would be hard to stop.

By 1864 the rails of what had now become the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad had only reached the small town of Latrobe, in southwestern El Dorado County.

Lester Robinson, now not only the engineer for the railroad but also a board member and major stockholder, along with the people of Placerville, still believed this route was a much better way over the Sierra Nevada than that proposed by the Central Pacific and set out to prove it.

Robinson challenged the owners of the Central Pacific to a contest of speed which they accepted.

On the day of the race, the steamer Chrysopolis would bring two bundles of San Francisco papers up the river to the terminus of each railroad. From there the challenge would be to see who could get them delivered to Virginia City, Nevada in the shortest period of time.
The Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad would pick up its papers in at its new terminus at Freeport and carry them by rail to Latrobe, there transferring them to the Pioneer Stage for the rest of the journey.

The Central Pacific would collect its papers in Sacramento, carry them to its end of track at Applegate, where they would be tossed onto the California Stage.

The owners of the Central Pacific knew that there was a possibility that the Chrysopolis might not be able to steam into the port at Sacramento, since the river was too shallow except at high tide, which would not occur at the correct time. In an openly dishonest move, the Central Pacific had a horseman waiting at Freeport to take their papers to Sacramento and save precious hours.

On August 22, 1864, at 11:15 P.M. the Sacramento Valley Railroad locomotive C. K. Garrison, pulling its normal complement of freight, mail and passengers, left Freeport and an hour and a thirty-seven minutes later arrived in Latrobe, 37 miles away. The Central Pacific’s locomotive Atlantic, bare except for its tender, crew and a Pony Express rider, left Sacramento at 12:04 A.M. on August 23 and made its 31 mile run to Applegate in only 42 minutes, setting the stage for the remainder of the race.

At one o’clock the next afternoon, the California Stage arrived in Virginia City with a total time of twenty-one hours for the papers from San Francisco. There was a very strong rumor that the Pony Express rider had carried the papers nearly to Virginia City and, at the last moment, hooked up with the California Stage. Nine hours later the challenging Pioneer Stage arrived at the same point, the exhausted driver explaining that the road from Latrobe had never been so crowded and that at every curve the road had been blocked by at least one big freight wagon.

The “Big Four” were known for not leaving things to chance, and the stakes here were too big for them to be defeated.

Viewing this as only a temporary set-back, the optimistic Robinson and his Placerville supporters formed the San Francisco & Washoe Railroad to build eastward to Virginia City, and sought legislation to financially assist them. The Federal Government agreed to give them aid, on the same basis as the Central Pacific received it, provided they could complete the line into Nevada by 1866. The Nevada Constitutional Convention also offered a subsidy to the first railroad to cross the state line.

Robinson argued to no avail before the Nevada Legislature that the Central Pacific did not intend to build a railroad to their State but only a wagon road, since their route was impassible for trains. He referred to their concept as the “Dutch Flat Swindle.” All of his arguing really made no difference, since the young State of Nevada had no money to give anyone, no matter what they promised.

TO BE CONTINUED