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.