Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Smith Flat House

A couple of weeks ago I started physical therapy on my knee. The doctor sent me to a therapist who has his office in the historical Smith Flat House which is located three miles east of Placerville, California. I was pleased to be able to visit this unique building again because I have used a part of it in my current WIP, Broken Promise. When we first moved to this former gold rush area, the upstairs in this building was used as a restaurant and the downstairs as a bar. That is where I saw the Blue Lead Goldmine tunnel, my first observance of a mine entry into the ground. The house was built over the entrance. I will never forget the smell of decay and the darkest black I have ever seen. The thought of miners entering into the earth at that point terrified me. You cannot imagine what it would be like unless you thought you might run into the devil’s hand reaching out for you.

Mile houses were established during the gold rush. They were places along the stage coach lines where travelers could stop to rest. Many of the mile houses that were on parts of the road that were privately owned also collected tolls.


Being on the Placerville wagon and stage road, Smith's Flat was the perfect location for a hotel and toll station. The Three Mile House, now known as the Smith Flat House, was built at this location in 1853. Built over the entrance of the Blue Lead Mine, the Smith Flat House originally consisted of a general store, post office, bedroom, dining room and dance floor, all situated downstairs, with more bedrooms above. There was also a barn that could stable 40 horses for the many teamsters and travelers that passed this way.

Just as the number of California emigrants passing through Smith's Flat began to decrease, silver was discovered near Virginia City in Nevada. Immediately the traffic reversed and the road became the most crowded road in the state as thousands of freight wagons carrying supplies and equipment passed by on their way over the Sierra Nevada to the mines. Because of this traffic, in 1863 a blacksmith's shop was added next to the Smith Flat House, followed in the 1890s by additional improvements to the building including a kitchen, pantry, laundry, more bedrooms and a saloon and card room.

When Sarah Lombardo turned eighteen in 1885, she married Nicola Fossati, the soul owner of the Smith Flat House at that time. She was expected to take over management of the house, including doing all of the work. It had two floors. Located on the first floor was the general store, saloon, card room, post office, and living quarters for the family. Upstairs there were 11 rooms for boarders and a large dance hall that was used as community center for political meetings, precinct voting, dancing, traveling shows, and auditorium for other large gatherings. At first Sarah was overwhelmed; however, she soon adjusted to supervising the business.

Also, since Sarah was expected to manage the post office and general store, she needed to learn bookkeeping. The agent for Sperry Flour Company offered to teach her and was amazed at how fast the young woman learned. When a young arrival from Italy, John Lagomarsino, needed help learning English and arithmetic, Sarah became his tutor. Lagomarsino was later instrumental in helping A.P. Giannini found the Bank of Italy, now known as the Bank of America.

During Sarah’s lifetime, it is doubtful that she ever left Smith’s Flat House, except for an occasional visit to Placerville. Yet she managed to reach out and touch the lives of many.

14 comments:

  1. Wow, poor Sarah. No wonder she didn't leave--probably never had a chance to take a deep breath! I don't understand about the mine entrance...was it the entrance during the time the Smith Flat House was in use, or was the house built over the entrance after the mine was closed?

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  2. Fascinating place, Paisley! I love learning the history of a place like that. I agree, poor Sarah. I bet she worked 16 hrs. a day. Thanks for sharing!!

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  3. Great story! I love visiting historical sites. But I agree, Sarah had it hard. Talk about multi-tasking!

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  4. I can't swear to it, Caroline, because I didn't find it in this batch of history books, but I believe from research I did in the past that the house was built over the entrance to protect the whereabouts of the mine. The hole is about 3 to 4 feet diameter and is in the floor of what used to be a bar.

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  5. Hi Vonda, Thanks for coming by. No wonder the women during the gold rush appeared so worn out. It was a tough life on all of them and so few actually made it rich.

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  6. Hi Susan. I have always loved going to this place. They used the top floor as a restaurant for a long while and one of the physical therapists says the room she has upstairs used to be part of a bordello. If only those walls could talk...think of the stories we could write.

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  7. Nice post Marlene! I've been there, seen that. I remember very fondly sitting down in the dank cellar and having a drink or two. Fun times!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

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  8. That cellar was awesome. From what I've heard they've refinished it to make it look like it did in the past.

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  9. Fascinating, Paisley. You amaze me about the fantastic articles you write--what wonderful research. These are things I've never heard of--probably because I know so little about California. And for one of the occupents to be connected with the present Bank of America is a unique bit of history. I wonder what he's think today of the Bank of American given BILLIONS of dollars bail-out money. His eyes would probably roll back in his head, wondering how he could write a number that big.Of course, supposedly, they paid it back...but now they're in trouble again.
    Off track here...sorry. But my brain goes from one thing to another.
    Somehow, the house being a restaurant and bar sounds a bit more appropriate than being a physical rehab center! Have they read your blog?

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  10. Hi Celia. I told the physial therapist I was researching the building and going to write a blog about it. I have a treatment today so I can let them know it is up and running. They are loving my stories about being a romance writer,especially using the history from our area.

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  11. Paisley, I really enjoyed your post, and the photographs! It's wonderful when actual places like this can inspire our work.

    I hope your knee feels better soon. ~ Ashley

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  12. Thanks, Ashley. I have always been interested in this house and found it amazing that I now get to go there three times a week. Maybe there's a reason I have been sent there... :)

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  13. Paisley,
    The house over the mine must inspire so many stories for you. The description reminds me of some of the scenes in the movie, Paint Your Wagon. :-) Thanks so much for that wonderful piece of our western history.

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  14. You are so right, Jeanmarie. There are lots of tunnels running under the city of Placerville. It is weird to go into them, and even scary to think people could roam around in them and be up to who-knows-what. There is a tunnel from what used to be a saloon the length of town and ends up at a Chinese bordello. One of these days I plan to do a post on the bordello. It's a business office now, but the holes in the walls that the girls laid in are still there. Amazing!

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