Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Past Is Present In Placerville #6: Gutenberger's Corner

As much as I love Victorian homes dripping with gingerbread and with tall towers and bay windows, there is something about an old farm house with wrap-around porches, nestled in the oaks, that tugs at my heart... Perhaps it is because of this place, probably my very favorite of any of Placerville's old homes, that I have loved since I was six years old, traveling by on the school bus, turning the corner from Pleasant Valley Road onto Bucks Bar Road, on the way to first grade at Summit School. In my younger years, the porch you see here was enclosed and Mr. Carl Gutenberger, a pharmacist, had a store inside. There was a long counter and a few of the old refrigerator boxes, holding milk and juice, and there must have been food, but I don't really remember that. I remember he had candy, though. I don't remember ever being in the rest of the house, but I guess it is possible that we may have visited there, since my Mom was on the school board and was acquainted with Mrs. Gutenberger.
Although it was against the rules, occasionally when I was older, we would talk the bus driver into letting us off the bus at the store. We would purchase some candy and then walk home, up to Pleasant Valley to Cedar Ravine to Woodland Drive, then up Woodland Drive and across the high hill to the west and down to my friends rented farm house. It was a long walk, but the bus ride was even longer, so we could make it home before the bus would have dropped us off, and my mom would be none-the-wiser.

What we now know as Gutenbergers Corners was once a 430 acre ranch known as the Bartram Sandfoss place. This house was built in approximately 1858 by Wheeler Bartram, who also owned the Pacific House Ranch, and operated the Pacific Sawmill. The lumber for the house and for the barns which used to stand nearby was cut and milled from timber on the ranch. Later it was owned by Charles Sandfoss, who sold it to Jack Bell in 1885. The Carson Emigrant trail, which ran next to the house, was heavily traveled in those days, and as many as seventy-five teams a night would be put up at the house. Although the house served a a stage coach house, it was constructed for gracious family living rather than for overnight convenience, with lots of closets and even servants quarters.

Squaw Creek and Willow Creek, which run through the property, were the scene of early mining activities, which included Spaniards and the Chinese. A Native American settlement once flourished on the ranch. A prison break from Folsom prison was once foiled when the escapees were captured on the Bell Ranch. It is possible that President Grant was a guest at the home back in the days it was owned by W. Bartram.

This is a copy of an old photograph that accompanied an article which was in the Mountain Democrat in Placerville in the 1940s. It was a column by Ann Comfort called "the Early California Homes" series. The caption read "The Bell Place, at the junction of Pleasant Valley and Buck's Bar Roads".

This is a small pencil sketch of the Gutenberger place by Marguerite Flint, who was a good friend of my mother's. She signed the back of the frame in 1992 and wrote "Gutenberger's Place (corner of Pleasant Valley Rd and Bucks Bar) Original sketch M. Flint". I was lucky enough to find this little gem on ebay, but the Gold Country Girls also have a few of her watercolors. In this sketch you can see how the porch has been enclosed. For many years, after Mr. and Mrs. Gutenberger had passed away, the house sat sadly vacant, needing paint, losing its porch rails, seeming to sink a little closer to the ground every year. Luckily the heirs finally spruced it up, painting it white and replacing the porch rails. Although still vacant, it now appears to sit tall with pride in its place in history.

This watercolor was painted by one of my favorite local artists, Jac Turner, in June 1990, and was printed in his 1991 calendar. Mr. Turner, who we lost at the age of 88 years in 2004, was very interested in El Dorado County history and painted many of our old structures. This is what he had to say about the Gutenburger house:

"Gutenberger Corners - 1856. A familiar site to thousands...this great ol' crumbling slowly into the earth...was built 132 yrs. ago by W. Bartram who had a sawmill... across the road on Mill Creek. Over the's had many owners...The last, Henry Gutenberger, purchased it in 1912 for the sum of $5000...! It's still owned by his heirs..."

This view of the Gutenberger home was painted by Jac Turner in October, 1988, and printed on a note card which I found and bought at the El Dorado County museum just this month. The information on the card reads "The Gutenberger House. Neglect and time is taking its toll on this 135 yr. old mansion!... Off limits to all for many yrs... it was once the social center of the area..It's been a roadhouse, post office, boarding house, drug'..a haven for ghosts! Alas, it's leaving the scene!"
Sometime in the early 60s Mr. Gutenberger built a new pharmacy across the street and moved the store out of his home into this structure. It is now operated as a convenience store. Pleasant Valley Road is a heavily traveled road, people on their way to work and school during the week, and tourists and wine aficionados on the weekends, so it must see a lot of business.
This is the gas station and the shop directly across the street from the home. When I was growing up, I believe this was a Richfield station. They used to give out dishes with purchases, they were white with blue daisies. I collected them in my cedar chest and used the set for a long time after I got married.
I occasionally visit the Gutenberger house in my dreams. Usually in those dreams the gas station is located on the North side of the house, away from the road, not across the street on the South. I don't have any idea why my subconscious places it there, or why I find it in my dreams so often.
This is one of my favorite shots, and I actually took this picture while I was driving (slowly!) by, through the front windshield. Vinca covers the yard surrounding the home, there are a few daffodils here and there, perhaps some naked ladies bloom here in the fall? Once long ago, in the early 20th century, a large weeping willow stood near the road.
As we drive away, East down Pleasant Valley Road toward our old elementary school, one last look through the trees at a piece of history and a place which holds fond memories. The Gutenberger Place has been owned by the same family now for over a hundred years, and I hope it continues to stand here for at least a hundred more!

Come out for a spring drive and check it out.


Jennifer D said...

You GC Girls sure know how to pick 'em. I love this house and such a wonderful story to go along with it.It is reassuring that the same family owns it after all these years. Thanks for the tour.

What mom doesn't know won't hurt her, right Tina? ;0)

moonshinejunkyard said...

Oh I love that old place soooo much! My husband has tons of memories about it and the surrounding area as well, having grown up in Pleasant Valley. I loved hearing more about the history, thank you so much. You always make me proud to live in Placerville and be so familiar with these beauties you're exploring!

High Country Artist said...

Tina...I love you, I have loved this place for as long as I can remember and always looked forward to driving by it! Do you remember the old Cadillac that used to sit in the yard for years...I had been told that Mr. Gutenberger would just go out and sit in it when he was no longer able to drive it! Jonni

Heidi Ann said...

I love that old place so much Tina - I know we all do.
I do have a memory of being inside, while mother picked up a prescription or something. And I swear just once, we may have also gone into the room to the right as you stood at the store counter to see the Mrs. - can't recall anything of the room itself, though. Probably just sat there behaving myself, as we girls were taught to do!
This may well be my very favorite post you have done thus far, and I thank you for it!

farmlady said...

What a beautiful old house.... and such wonderful memories. This was so interesting. The history of a place is important.
I don't like to see an old house with no one living in it but at least the family is taking care of it.
What a landmark. Thanks.

yosemite faith said...

amazing how many have chosen to sketch or paint this house. reflects the importance of this place to the community as you have related. another wonderful post tina. you have a way with history!

Lori said...

Oh my, I talked our Bus Driver into letting myself and girlfriend and neighbor off there, bought candy and walked home. The Bus Driver stopped at our house, got off the bus and told our Mom, and Boy! was I grounded for a while!! How did you get away with it, Tina!! Of course, I was the middle child, trouble, I guess!!

Anonymous said...

There was no buses when I went to Summit so we were able to stop there every day walking home to Cedar ravine rd. So many good memories !!

Epic Audio Arts said...

Hello Golden Girls I grew up in Pleasant Valley and absolutely love the history of the area, Mr Peabody used to tell us stories of the native americans in the area and their folklore. I always wondered about this beautiful house and who owned it now. If you know how to get a hold of the current owners "the heirs" I would love to talk to them about restoring it as a bed and breakfast and meeting place. I think that this house could be the go to wedding hall for all of el dorado county with some gardens and a pavilion and a ballroom on the main floor, Any info that would help me get in touch with the heirs would be greatly appreciated. thank you!

Chris said...

Thanks for the trip back in time to this place. I had no idea this house, that I've driven by every day for that last 20 years, had such a colorful past.

Sue Q said...

I just ran across your blog. I spent 7th grade at Gold Oak, and took the bus home up the other direction past Pleasant Valley. We too could sometimes get the bus driver to stop at the little market, but he would wait and we got back on the bus. I guess some parents complained because later you had to have a note from a parent to get off the bus. My parents bought property up Clear Creek Road off of Sly Park Road in 1959. I would love it if you had a source of information for that area. There is a story that was passed down, that the cabin that was on the property was originally a dance floor, with the walls added later. We don't know if it was for a mining or logging camp or something else. I would love to find out if the story is true. I remember doing a 4H community service where we met next to the Gutenberger house and picked up trash along Pleasant Valley.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!! I live out in Grizzly and love driving by this beautiful house!!! I'd love to see it restored with gardens instead of cows around it!!! I'd even volunteer labor too!!!

Rosemarie Caddel said...

Thank you for the article! fairly new out here and enjoyed the history. Do you know anything about what looks like an old schoolhouse on the corner of Bucks Bar and Springer Road? I do know that a decendent of Gutenberger lives there. Love to hear about the schoolhouse.


Rosemarie Caddel

Elizabeth said...

Thank you so much for this post. I grew up at the end of Woodland Drive from 1960 through 1968 and rode the bus to Gold Oak elementary first through fourth grade. We knew Gutenberger's corner well and did business there. This morning I was thinking about the corner. Couldn't get it out of my mind, the memory coming up so fresh and so went searching if perhaps there were something on it. Thank you again for writing this and the photos. What a blessing! ~ Elizabeth (Burgard) Fulgaro

Anonymous said...

My mom and dad live right around the corner on woodland drive. Love this place it is part of our history in placerville. I love my home town

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I grew up in Eldorado county I past by this place so many times from age 5 to 37 and then moved away. I enjoyed the read and pics very much.
Thanks again,

Carol Hamilton Stedman

Anonymous said...

I grew up driving past this house on my way to school in elementary and eventually in jounior high it was always a beautiful house and I would never be lost if I knew where the house was this piece of history will be in my memory forever I miss California now that I'm not there and seeing this makes me want to show my kids where I certainly from soon we shall have to go back for a visit

Steve said...

G,day , i live in Melbourne Australia, and had the pleasure of visiting your area a couple of times , and let me tell you that you live in a beautiful area and I do think of it a fair bit and I will be back love the buildings and your history , I,ll be back again, no worries , Steve.

Suzi said...

In the 1970's the Gutenberger family ( son of the parents that lived in the old house) lived in the old schoolhouse.