Monday, July 23, 2012


My friend Kay is not only a wonderful host, she's a great tour guide and she wanted to show me all the major places of interest in the historical town of Auburn.  Next on our agenda was a charming white washed house surrounded by grapevines that now serves as a museum showing a slice of life in the early days of the Wild West gold rush.

Bernhard House
On the heels of the miners in their frenzied rush to make their fortune in gold, came the merchants and business men who saw that their fortunes were going to be made from the miners.  Two of these enterprising men where George Bishop and John Long.  Together they built the Traveler's Rest Hotel in 1851 right beside the old Auburn Folsom Road.  It couldn't be missed and was a welcome place for miners, teamsters, and pony express riders to hang their hats and water their horses on their way to and from the mines in nearby Rich Flat.  A few years later in 1868, the hotel, now a home, and 30 acres of fertile land were sold to another enterprising man, Benjamin Bernhard.  The industrious immigrant from Germany immediately built a parlor and kitchen addition for his growing family and acquired 10 more acres, planting all 40 acres in wine grapes.  He then built a handsome stone storage building right on the road and a wine making barn behind the house and ingeniously connected the two with an underground tunnel under the house.

Stone wine cellar

Daphne Lake was our gracious docent on the day that Kay and I toured the beautifully restored home that the Bernhard's owned for almost 100 years. She formally welcomed us in her pleasant South African accent, dressed as a respectable Victorian lady.  But, as she lead us from parlor to kitchen to nursery pointing out the latest in Victorian comforts, her formality faded away and she became more animated and warm as if she were Mrs. Bernhard herself and we were her special guests.  With pride, she pointed out that the house had the latest in lighting fixtures, adapted for both gas and electricity saying, "Electricity was unreliable then, you know."

Daphne showing us the latest in Victorian lighting.
What a modern Victorian gentleman's room may have looked like.
A typical Victorian child's room.  The concept of childhood was
first introduced in the Victorian era.
A thoroughly equipped Victorian kitchen.

Daphne and fellow docent.

And it was with special pride that she showed us the large brick barn where Mr. Bernhard made his wines and wine barrels.  She pointed out the cellar doors behind the house which leads to a tunnel that connects the barn with the stone storage building.  Mr. Bernhard was influential enough that he had the road moved from in front of the house to the front of the storage building, where he could then cleverly roll his barrels under the house, down the slope into storage, and out the iron doors in front to mule driven wagons.  Perhaps it was because of the exceptional quality of his Claret, Sherry, Port, Zinfandel and Brandy he supplied to the area.

The wine making barn behind the house.

Barrel and wine making equipment.

Looking toward the house from the barn we see the doors of the tunnel.
It connected the barn with the stone winery.

Winery and storage building across the old road from the house.

Entrance to the winery from the "new" Auburn Folsom Road.

The home fell into disrepair in the 1960's and was abandoned.  Residents concerned with preserving Auburn's history stepped in and restored it and it is now part of the Placer County Historical Museum Foundation.  The old stone storage building is as cool as the day it was built and is now used as a commercial winery and tasting room from grapes still grown on the property.

View of the house and adjacent winery.  What is now a walkway
between them used to be the old Auburn Folsom Road.

View of house and winery from the "new" Auburn Folsom Road.

Next time:  The Govenor's Mansion and the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Like many bay area people, my friends Kay and Tom bought a retirement home not too far outside of the old gold mining town of Auburn, California. Every time I visit, which is often, I like the place more and more.  Maybe it's because it reminds me of Reno, my hometown, which is just on the other side of the mountains.  Reno, like Auburn, cuddles up to the Sierra's and is about an hour's drive to Lake Tahoe.  Each has four seasons with a bit of snow in the winter.  Reno has a mining town close by, Virginia City, however, unlike Auburn, its Mother Lode was silver.  So much silver in fact, that it's said that the money from those mines built San Francisco.  Ah, but that's another blog...

Auburn, being on the western side of the mountains, is close to Sacramento, and San Francisco is just a day trip away.  It's country, with cattle on green rolling hills, quaint and laid back, yet close enough to urban areas for all the sophistication one can handle.  Like its close neighbors, Grass Valley and Nevada City, it has turned its 19th century dry goods stores into gourmet restaurants, it's saloons with the ghosts of ribald miners and female "gold diggers" into decorator shops, and its livery stables into jewelery stores.  On my last trip there in May, my goal was to attempt to capture photographically just what a great place it is.  And, I learned some history along the way.

Gold Fever

It all started on a cold day in January, 1848, in the settlement of Coloma, about 10 miles south east of Auburn.  Jim Marshall, while building a lumber mill on the south fork of the American River, found gold.  Quickly, word spread of  more discoveries of gold along the Mother Lode in the western Sierra Nevada foothills, leading to a frenzied gold fever.  People from all over flocked to California the following year, giving them the name of "49'ers".

In the spring of 1848, a trio of French miners was on their way to Coloma when they camped in what would be later known as the Auburn Ravine.  Of the three, it was Claude Chana who was the lucky one to first find gold there.  The ore was rich and soon a camp developed, calling itself North Fork Dry Diggings, which was not a name for the tourist brochures, so by August of 1949 the camp officially became known as Auburn.  Auburn quickly blossomed into a town of 1,500, and in 1851 was chosen as the seat of Placer County. 

Auburn Today

Auburn still retains its Wild West mining town aura, especially in restored Old Town.  It is a living museum, still using its original gold rush era post office, stores, livery stables and courthouse.  The oldest fire station in the area sits right in the middle of town, once ready to save the old wood framed buildings.  Beautiful old Victorians grace the undulating hills, and once a year the residents of Auburn and her sister mining towns turn back time to the 19th century during their Christmas festivals and the effects are magical.

Original store fronts except the sidewalks would have been wooden planks.

The old Empire Livery Stable, built in 1864.  Now instead of boarding your horse
you can buy him a necklace.

The Placer County Courthouse sits majestically on a hill above Auburn.

The old fire station, erected in 1891 by the Volunteer Firemen of Auburn Ladder Co. #2.
New Town, so called because of its early 20th century style buildings, is just up the street.  My favorite shop is the old drugstore with its still working soda fountain and original gray veined marble counter tops.  Sipping a root beer float while sitting on the original round stools just makes whatever you're eating taste extra yummy.

Statue commemorating the contribution of the Chinese laborer
 to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad through Auburn in 1865.

Placer County Courthouse
Built on a high knoll, the Placer County Courthouse regally commands the attention of everyone for miles around.  When completed in 1898, the residents of Auburn must have been so proud to see their elegant courthouse dominate the landscape with its refined yellow bricks glowing gold in the sunlight sitting atop ruggedly chiseled grey granite.  It's a show piece even now after 114 years.  Being the county seat, it also served as a jail, housing both male and female offenders.  It quickly became obvious that it wasn't working to have both sexes in the same area, so the females were unceremoniously banned to an impromptu cell under the front stairs.  It was undignified, to say the least, in its lack of privacy and sanitation, however women were incarcerated in this small cubbyhole for 41 more years!  The courthouse still serves as the county seat, and thankfully a museum has taken place of the jail, which chronicles the life and times the the very unique town of Auburn.

Entry to the women's jail.

Women's cell under the courthouse steps for 41 years.  Notice the latest in
enamel-ware bathroom fixtures.

Next time:  The Bernhard House, first a Pony Express way station, is a great example of life in the gold rush days.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I love it when I see something on a travel program or TV about a place I've visited.  I get really excited and wag my finger at the screen and say, "I've been there!  I've seen that!"  Well, I did my finger wagging today when I saw on the news that Prince William was made a Knight of the Order of the Thistle at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Kay, Tom and I spent two of the best weeks of my life in Scotland in 2009.  We started our tour by spending three days in Edinburgh where, among many wonderful sights, we visited St. Giles Cathedral.  Inside the church is the tiny Thistle Chapel where Prince William was knighted yesterday by his grandmother, the Queen of England, who is also the Sovereign of the Order.  Her Coat of Arms is carved into the dais in front of her seat.  The Chapel's woodwork is intricately hand carved, the tall ceilings stately and ornate, and even though it was built in the early 1900's, looks (and smells) quite medieval.

St. Giles Cathedral

Thistle Chapel

The Queen's seat

Her Coat of Arms

The ornate ceiling in the Thistle Chapel
The Palace of Holyrood is where the Royals stay when they are in town, which is usually the first week of July.  It was at the end of the day when Kay and I started our tour and we almost had the place to ourselves.  Even Tom elected to pass on the Palace and tour a local pub instead.  One of the first rooms we saw was the dining room where a large portrait of King George IV in full Royal Stewart regalia hung on the wall.  It was at that moment I claimed Holyrood Palace as my own, being a Stewart myself, thanks to my maternal grandfather.  (Mary Queen of Scots, having been raised in France, changed the spelling of the name Stewart to the french spelling of Stuart.  However it's spelled, it is the same clan.)

The Palace is steeped in English and Scottish history.  The most notable is that Queen Mary resided here after her second marriage to Lord Darnley.  It was in her tiny supper room that Darnley dragged Queen Mary's personal secretary, Rizzio (while clinging to her skirts) into her outer chambers and had him stabbed 56 times.  Darnley, brutish to the core, was jealous of Rizzio's influence on the Queen.  She was quite pregnant at the time with the future King of England, King James IV.  We saw that room that had, until recently, the blood stains preserved on the floor.  Great Scottish drama if there ever was one!

Palace of Holyrood

The Palace is attached to the ruins of Holyrood Abby, originally built in 1128.

We also had the gardens completely to ourselves, sniffing the Queen's flowers.