Posts Tagged ‘sir francis drake hotel’

Abram Peter Turner Elder was responsible for some more Sierra Foothill’s lore and history. A native of Middletown, Rhode Island, his main occupation was that of a publisher. Some accounts have him owning a Boston newspaper and building the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. Neither could be verified, and the Sir Francis Drake makes no mention of an A.P.T. Elder on the history section of their website. Sounds as though he must have spun a good yarn to some folks.

One of the books he was working on was promoted at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. While at the exposition he noticed and took a fancy to the Michigan Building. This was the State of Michigan’s pavilion at the exposition. At the close of the exposition he purchased the Michigan building, had it dismantled, and moved to a 350 acre parcel he owned in El Dorado County, CA. He named his parcel Deer View. The Photo below shows a portion of the Deer View Lodge building in the left side foreground.

Deer ViewvLodge - Thanks to SierraNevadaAdventures.com

The building was reassembled at Deer View and turned into a lodge around 1918. Mr. Elder’s envisioned the area as a retreat, an area that would invigorate, an area which should be used to enjoy all aspects of nature as well as hunting nature. After completing the Deer View Lodge he started his next adventure, the 250 room Hotel Bret Harte, located next to the lodge.

Hotel-Bret-HartA1 - Thanks to SierraNevadaAdventures.com

Hotel Bret Harte was to be revolutionary for the times, and location. Each room was to have its own bath with hot water, outdoor swimming pools, promenade paths on the grounds to wander through orchards while picking wild berries, a virtual Eden for guests. Natural springs provided water, and power to generate electricity. One has to remember that there were no paved roads at the time. There were barely even roads. The hotel was approximately 16 miles northeast of Placerville. It was a three to four hour journey by automobile from there. Even today it would take about an hour, on a good day and with a high clearance vehicle. The road from Placerville wasn’t paved until 1943. I think it is still that 1943 original pavement that covers the original dirt road to this day.

The road was known as the Placerville-Soapweed Road, today it is called Mosquito Road. Besides several miles of twists and turns, with several 180 degree switchbacks, and thousands of bumps, the road traverses the South Fork of the American River over the oldest, still in use, suspension bridge in California.

Now known as Mosquito Bridge it has looked the same since its 1867 construction. (In 1863 El Dorado County funded the road to Mosquito, hence the bridge being built. I have found articles which indicate the bridge being constructed anywhere from 1858 to 1867.) It is still an eight foot wide, wooden bridge. The photo, below, is from 1914. The photo that follows is 95 years later. The bridge looks the almost the same except with paint!

Mosquito Bridge 1914 - Thanks to the CA State Library

Mosquito Bridge 2009

Depending on what you read, and not knowing what is actual fact, the hotel had anywhere from 500,000 to 5 million board feet of lumber used in its construction. Foundations were either made by local craftsmen or by timbers taken from old train trestles. Plumbers began plumbing the fourth floor while carpenters were still working on the first and second floors. The three story fireplace, along with the additional chimney, took over 410 tons of stone for their construction. Sadly there are too many versions to know what is what, but all make for a good story.

Before the Hotel Bret Harte was completed Mr. Elder died. (Again dates vary anywhere from 1924 on some websites to 1930 on the Library of Congress site).  His death halted the completion of the hotel. As his heirs where on the east coast, and as they did not share the same vision of Deer View as did Mr. Elder, they opted to sell what they could and leave the remainder. So the abandoned buildings were left to nature and vandals. Nature reined her heaviest toll in 1936 when a very unusual amount of snow fell on the area, leaving approximately 8.5 feet. The weight of the snow, and the poor condition of the abandoned building, caused the left side to collapse. Below is a photo showing the collapsed area.

Deerview-collapse 1937 - Photo by El Dorado County Historical Museum

Further accounts indicate the remainder of the building was razed in 1941. Today only the rock foundation walls and steps leading to the front of the building remain. Nature is slowly reclaiming her land. The area of Deer View is shown on the topographical map below. US Forest Road marker 12N60H should mark the area to stop and hike the mile or so to the site of the once grand building.

As a final note, if you do decide to visit the area, please remember:

** The area is located within US Forest boundaries but is privately owned.
** Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.
** This a season dependent adventure, don’t bother in the winter.
** There are no services (gas, food, etc.) in the forest.
** Bring water and good boots.


I hope that you enjoyed this article as much as I did. In the later part of summer this year we will be visiting the Deer View site to harvest some of the pears from the orchard there, and share some photos with you of what it looks like today!

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