Visit Dates: May 31 AND July 23, 2021
Sometimes (often?) I run into problems finding these old buildings. Despite the picture in Geologic Guidebook, use of old maps, internet searches, and the like, I just can't always find the old structure. Usually this happens when searching out in the countryside, where the survey authors might describe the location as a half-buried stone house that sits just past a grove of oak trees about a mile and half north of town sitting on the left side of some long ago re-routed side road. The buildings in town are almost always easier to find. That said, I didn't think I would have such a problem finding the Wilcox Warehouse in Placerville.
Surprisingly, despite there being photos of over 100 buildings in the 1948 Building Structures Survey, there is only one image for Placerville. In the authors' description of Placerville, they mention the town's many fine brick buildings and houses, a quarry, and they even call out the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce building which was an excellent structure "made of dressed blocks of rhyolite tuff." However they judged the Wilcox Warehouse as "the nicest of the old buildings...built of carefully selected blocks of andesite conglomerate and schist." Sounds like a really great building, however I'll never know. It seems to have been torn down in the late 1980s or 1990s, to make way for a super great office/retail building, which you can see above. A building that I am sure people will be writing about 100 years from now.
Unfortunately the inventory was just the start of my confusion about where to find the warehouse. The City of Placerville was probably too busy trying to work out that whole "Old Hangtown" issue to notice that the Wilcox Warehouse was on the south side of Hangtown Creek (approximately where "Takeout Delivery" appears on map below) and near where the lost marker had been placed. And the Blair Lumber Company was at a completely different location altogether. On the map below, I believed the Wilcox Warehouse was located at corner of Washington and Spanish Ravine, kitty corner from the Placerville Police Station, while the Thai restaurant is at the corner of Broadway and Mosquito.
Anyway I took my photo of the location that the city told was correct and assumed the building was destroyed and at the location was where they said. However in putting together the post, I did a little more research on the building and found out I was in error about my discovery, as well as confirming that the City had bad info about the location of the building noted in their inventory. But I was just as wrong as the City. Trying to place the building by using an 1910 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, it just did not make sense. The building at the inventory's location was made of brick (red) and used for fuel wood storage. The white building above I figured out was facing completely the wrong direction. Through more digging, I determined that the Wilcox building was south of my incorrect location, across Hangtown Creek. It was at that time identified as a vacant stone building (blue), as seen in the maps below.
The exact location of the Wilcox Warehouse is difficult to precisely identify. Comparing the Sanborn (below) with current days maps it appears that the old Washington Street has been re-routed and is now known as Mosquito Road. Assuming the current-day Washington Street that runs south from the intersection of Main and Spanish Ravine is still located that in the same location as in 1910, then the Wilcox Warehouse was actually sited northeast of the Police Station and the second the two new business buildings. All that said, this image is of that building and was taken while coming back from vacation at South Lake Tahoe, just so I could correct my mistake. Why couldn't they have just picked the Chamber of Commerce building?!?
Visit Date: May 1, 2021
The one thing that always gives me joy is to drive through the California foothills in the spring. The green hills with all of the different blooming wildflowers though can make me a danger on the road. I have tendency to swivel my heads trying to identify as many of the flowers and shrubs as I drive these backroads. This was what made my trip to Fiddletown in Amador County doubly enjoyable. Tons of wildflowers as well as a number of historic stone buildings, including the Schallhorn Blacksmith and Wagon Shop.
For historic structures, Fiddletown is certainly more well-known for its buildings associated with the Chinese, in particular the Chew Kee herbalist shop (which we will eventually get to). These Chinese buildings are at the western end of town. The Schallhorn building thought sits at the eastern end, amongst a number of other beautiful historic buildings. The building is exceptional in its solid construction and integrity. As much as any of the buildings I've visited, it looks like it last for generations to come.
According to the marque on the front of the building, it was constructed in 1870 for C. Schallhorn as a blacksmith and wagon shop. After a little searching, it's not surprising that Christopher Schallhorn invested in building such a fine structure. He seems to have been a true innovator. Enough so that shortly after having the building constructed, he filed for and received two patents. With his partner Frederick Knapp, in 1876 they received a patent for a safety-guards or cock-eyes for a harness. He was really big on safety.
The following year, they again put their heads together and came up with a better way. This time they patented a way better Buckle and Snap-Hook. Don't believe me, check this out.
According to the authors of the Bulletin 141 Building Survey, the blacksmith shop was constructed "of rectangular hewn blocks (measuring 12 by 18 by 10 inches) of Valley Springs rhyolite tuff which is easily worked when first quarried but hardens after exposure." I've left myself some work to do in the future since they also wrote that it was taken from a quarry "about 1.5 miles east of Fiddletown (that) may be seen across a field to the south of the road." I didn't take the time to track the quarry down on this trip so I need to return and do my best to find it with just that sketchy description. (Maybe this is it!) Hopefully it'll a beautiful spring day.
Visit Date: May 16, 2020
The Covid pandemic has been awful. Truly awful. Not good for anyone. Like many others, our family really hunkered down at the start. Limited trips to stores. Short or no visiting with family and friends. One personal small casualty was the aim of the blog, finding buildings featured in the 1949 Division of Mines Geological Guidebook along Highway 49. After two months of staying at home, I finally had enough and headed back to the Gold County. The destination was Murphys in Calaveras County and its bounty of freakin' awesome buildings.
The Victorene Compere Store is no longer a store but instead serves as a very nice personal residence. It seems that few of the other stone buildings in the guidebook have been treated as well. Too often they are in extreme need of repair, if they still exist. Murphys has many nearly as well preserved buildings that could have been featured.
Like the Volcano photo from a previous post, the authors used an existing image of the Compere Store instead of taking their own photograph. The problem with them using that photo is that it was taken during the Depression and not on their building survey in 1948. The photo below was probably taken in 1934, as part of a New Deal work projects. The benefit for me though is that the Library of Congress collection contains these photos and the quality is better than the scan of the image in the Guidebook.
Main Street Murphys is one of the best spots to visit if you want to go back to the Gold Rush Days. Many, many fine old buildings, quite a few of them stone, line the street. The town retains a sense of history while still feeling evolved. The Compere Store sits on the north side of Main Street as you enter Murphys along the old road from Altaville. In its day it must have been a striking site as you arrived in Murphys.
In the upper corners of the Compere Store are decorative metal work flourishes. I don't think that they provide any structural help but they really finish off the building. They aren't all of the stone and brick buildings, but I have seen a few, probably because you had to pay extra for this detail work. The examples below are from Copperopolis (left) and Plymouth (right).
Visit Date: August 8, 2020
Most of this hunt to find these old buildings has been a solo quest. Get up early on a Sunday morning, down a cup of coffee, load a good podcast like All Night with the Living Geeks, and head to the Gold Country before anyone else is out of bed. I love the lone pursuit, where I can take all the time needed to find the building, set up the correct angle for the repeat photography, and explore any of the back roads I might across. This site visit though was different, I tricked my family into coming with me.
With a promises of stopping for burgers on the way home my wife and kids all headed for Amador County on this morning. The first stop and supposed reason for the trip was to hike at Indian Grinding Rock State Park. After recovering from heat sickness from hiking in the August heat, I sprung the real reason for the trip on them. A "quick" side trip to Volcano, which is only like a mile from the park. (Don't check my math, it might be a little longer if you ask my wife .
Volcano is a beautiful town though. (Probably nicer when the temperature is under 100 degrees!) The authors of Bulletin 141 (see the About for more info) even refer to it as "the most picturesque of all the Mother Lode towns." After a quick walking tours of all the sites, we set out to take some pictures. The scene above was easy enough to find but I wish I stepped a couple feet to the left for a better angle. I also wish I had re-made the actual shot. The photo used in Bulletin 141 wasn't actually taken in 1948 during the Building Survey, but was instead used from a HABS report, probably from the mid-1930s. The Library of Congress has made many of these HABS photos in their digital collecitons. The original image downloaded from the Library of Congress is below.
The HABS image is so much clearer than the Bulletin 141 version, as well as uncropped. The Bulletin authors relied upon many of these HABS photos for their publication. I had assumed they traveled to these towns but all of the images from Volcano come from HABS surveys, so....
If I would have known at the time about this photo, I would have made my sons stand next to that post, just like these two old boys, with their drink and pipe.
In doing a little research, you learn that Volcano in the mid-1850s was a going concern. As many as 5000 people lived there, it had the state first lending library, and first astronomical observatory in California. And like many of the major Gold Rush towns, it attracted the CIRCUS. These ads, from the Amador Ledger Dispatch, for circuses at Volcano are just amazing. The two following were from the Rowe & Co. Pioneer Circus, which visited in May and September of 1856. The graphics are unbelievable! In July of the following year, the Shephard & Adams South American Circus came to town.
I'm sure my family would have had a more memorable trip to Volcano if we gone to see a circus. Maybe next time it comes to Volcano, we'll go.
Visit Date: March 31, 2021
Fortunately the State Legislature in their great wisdom have blessed state employees with the best possibly holiday, Cesar Chavez Day. Why the best holiday? Because my kids don't get it off, so its like a free day just for me, usually in middle of the week. This year I decided to honor the great labor leader with a visit Sonora in Tuolumne County. I was able to find many buildings from Bulletin 141 on this day, but I started with the Italia House, which is currently known as the Gunn House Hotel (286 S Washington St, Sonora).
I was able to quickly find the building. No problem there. Today the Gunn House Hotel is a notable inn in Sonora with a nice website, although with I think a somewhat suggestive history in their "About Us". My problem that day came with trying to get the right angle for the repeat photography. (Thanks Waste Management!) I needed to be about 3 steps to the left, which would have put me in the middle of the dumpster that was set up in the parking lot of the motel next to the Gunn House. Did I consider climbing in to see if I would get the right angle? Maybe, but I had a long day ahead so decided to just keep it clean, keep it classy. The image below though works as a fairly accurate repeat photograph. I don't think I'll need to visit again to capture that exact spot I always want.
After walking the Streets of Sonora, I find it hard to understand why the authors of Bulletin 141 selected this structure to include when there are so many great stone buildings in Sonora. (See the City Hotel just up the street.) The building doesn't look like one of the classic brick or stone structures. Bulletin 141 notes that the then Italia Hotel "contains at least one interior adobe wall of the original structure." But this was not the photo that they gave us. I wonder if maybe they were comped a dinner or room by the owners in trade for inclusion in the publication? [Note to Sonora restaurant owners, I'll add your building to this blog if you buy me a drink.]
In addition to their description of the building, the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps don't indicate that it was stone or brick structure. The image below is from the 1890 Sonora Sanborn maps and shows the hotel as a boarding house (This is part of the sketchy past that I think the current owners are maybe just a little misrepresenting. They haven't always been a nice traditional hotel.) Because it is shown as colored yellow, the building was recorded as having a wood frame construction, not brick (red) or stone (blue). The key to the Sanborn map is at right.
In 1908 the Sanborn people returned and conducted a much more thorough survey of Sonora. During those 18 years, the Italia House (in lower right of image below) expanded slightly, but more importantly, added a bar. They probably needed the bar in order to complete with the new Europa Hotel and bocce ball court that had opened across the street.
I think a future project may be to eat (or have a drink) at as many of these buildings that serve as I can. Possibly starting next Cesar Chavez Day!
Trip Date: Sunday, September 3, 2018
I guess a good place to start this blog would be with my first attempt to document one of the structures from Bulletin 141. So, after years of talking about it I finally grabbed my camera, got in the car, and headed out to the Mother Lode to find one of the cool old buildings. The closest one to my home was in Plymouth in Amador County, so that's where I set my course. Besides, I like the idea of trying to find a rock building in Plymouth. It seems so pilgrim-y.
This building was easy to find. It sits at the western edge of Plymouth, on the south side of old road into town from Sacramento. As with all of these sites, before leaving I did a google map search to see if I could find it. I like checking google maps before any trip but especially when going to the Gold Country for this project. I try to not just find the building but also a good place to park and where to stand to get the photo.
This building has stood up really well over the years, although there were no clues as to the current use. According to the guidebook, this was "an old and curiously constructed building with a brick front and rear walls which merge step-like into the side walls constructed of undressed fieldstone of meta-andesite agglomerate." And as everyone knows, undressed fieldstone of meta-andesite agglomerate is way better than dressed fieldstone of meta-andesite agglomerate.
Taking the photo was the first of a number of uncomfortable experiences I have had while visiting these buildings. It's like the residents have never seen a flatlander get out of his Toyota Camry, set up a tri pod and DSLR, run into the street between traffic, and take photos of random stone buildings. Seems like that would be old hat, but apparently not based on the looks from the Plymouthians. I have since switched to mainly taking photos with my phone since its quicker, less conspicuous, and the photos are usually really good quality.
Thanks for following my hunt up and down the Mother Lode Highway .