Community Profiles

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).

American River Canyon, Part 5 – Riverton to Kyburz

Riverton

Riverton

Today’s Riverton is where Highway 50 crosses the South Fork of the American River and Ice House Road goes north towards the Crystal Basin. Records as far back as 1864 indicate the existence of a respectable inn, the Riverside House at this location. It was the first station east of Sportsman’s Hall to service the Central Overland Express and was the first Pony Express remount station east of Sportsman’s Hall.

From August 2, 1892 to May 31, 1898 a Post Office was located here with Charles Sandfoss serving as the first Postmaster. The Post Office was later closed and moved to Slippery Ford (Twin Bridges).

By the early 1900s a large hotel had been built over the river which even allowed guests to fish from their room if they wished.

The main building and several annexes could house upwards of seventy-five guests at one time, who were “lulled to sleep by the roar of the river,” according to one author.

Just west of the present bridge is a plaque designating Moore’s (Riverton) as a California State Historic Landmark (#705). The three remaining rock monuments were part of the four identifying the corners of the bridge over the river.

From Riverton, the main road (Highway 50) again starts its climb to the summit. At Pollock Pines, the elevation was around 4000 feet, but the road from there to Riverton has been downhill and that elevation will not be reached again until a point near Kyburz.

American River Canyon, Part 4 – Junction House to Riverton

Pacific House

Pacific House

Staying on the main route, the next station east of Junction House, so named because it is also near the junction of Johnson’s Cut-off, Ogilsby Grade and other roads, is Bob Blair’s House.

Bob Blair was one of four Blair brothers who emigrated to California from Scotland. The family owned and operated several lumber mills and lumber sales yards throughout the county. The first brother to leave Scotland for California, John Blair, was an early owner of Sportsman’s Hall.

Next along the road is Fresh Pond, or Fresh Pond House, a place where the Blair family had a mill and mill pond in 1911.

There is not a lot of early information about Fresh Pond. It is believed by some to be the “Fish Pond” that shows up in early emigrant journals. It is also believed that there was a natural pond at this location, before the Blair’s built one there around 1911.

The Fresh Pond school, originally built by the Blairs for the children of their mill workers, was here from 1911 through 1945.  In 1919, the building was torn down and replaced with the Sly Park School building that was moved here. Because the building came with its sign, after that it was called the Sly Park School.

A business of one sort or another has been at Fresh Pond since the 1860s, with a few voids due to fires.

In the 1930s Fresh Pond was known as Mealy’s Fresh Pond Tavern, featuring steak and chicken dinners and very popular dances on weekends.

The next station to the east of Fresh Pond is Pacific House.

American River Canyon, Part 3 – Placerville to Junction House

Sportsman's Hall, 1866

Sportsman’s Hall, 1866

Up until the late 1880s much of the road from Pollock Pines to Johnson’s (Echo) Summit was a privately owned toll road. Thus, entrepreneurs took advantage of this and often created new bypasses or realigned sections in order to collect the tolls for themselves.

Because of this, the toll houses, stables, way stations and roadhouses that existed at approximately mile intervals sprung up and died over night as the alignment of the road changed.

The inns, which were located about ten to fifteen miles apart, were more long lasting, since they were usually operated by families, and provided the best food and lodging.

Many of these stations were known as “mile houses”, a measurement of their distance from Placerville.

In the mid 1900s, Placerville distance markers were hand hewn from granite slabs by Folsom Prison’s convict labor and then placed each mile along the road, helping to identify the general location of those no longer in existence.

Over the years, some of the stations have grown into communities and others are only old buildings or the remains of foundations. Unfortunately, most of the stations have disappeared completely from our maps and even our memories.

Our starting point, Placerville, had many hotels, among which were the El Dorado Hotel, on the site of today’s Cary House and the Placer Hotel (also known as the Jackass Saloon) on the site of the Herrick Building.

The first stop east of Placerville was the Three Mile House, better known today as the Smith Flat House. It was built in Smith Flat in 1853 over the Blue Lead Mining Channel. It originally consisted of a general store, post office, living room, bedroom, dining room, dance hall, rooms for rent, and a full attic and basement. There was also a separate toll house and a barn large enough for 40 horses.

In the 1890s, wings were added to the original building to accommodate a kitchen, pantry, saloon, card room and additional rooms to rent.