Thursday, October 2, 2014
Historical Smith Flat House
By Paisley Kirkpatrick I was excited during my first visit to the historical Smith Flat House, a unique building from the time of the 1849 gold rush. Because it was built on the Placerville wagon and stage road, it was the perfect location for a hotel and toll station. Originally known as The Three Mile House, now known as the Smith Flat House, it was built at this location in 1853. The owners positioned it over the entrance of the Blue Lead Mine to conceal the mine's entrance. Smith Flat House originally consisted of a general store, post office, bedroom, dining room, and dance floor all downstairs. Upstairs consisted of more bedrooms. There was also a barn that could stable forty horses which were used by the many teamsters and travelers that passed that way. The bar is where I saw the Blue Lead Goldmine tunnel. It was my first observance of an entry into the earth's interior. I will never forget the smell of decay escaping the darkest black imaginable. You might expect to see the devil’s hand reaching out to pull you into the depths of hell. My upcoming release One-Eyed Charly is about a woman stagecoach jehu who drives a route along the road where tollhouses are kept. I have done research on these houses and found them intriguing and a very useful part of the west. Mile houses were established during the gold rush. Many of them were privately owned and the owners collected tolls. Just as the number of California emigrants passing Smith's Flat House decreased, silver was discovered near Virginia City, Nevada. Almost immediately, 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, which included all of the work. It had two floors. On the first was the general store, saloon, card room, post office, and living quarters for the family. Upstairs 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 by all of her responsibilities. It didn't take her long to adjust to supervising the business. Since Sarah was expected to manage the post office and general store, she needed to learn bookkeeping. The agent for Sperry Flour offered to teach her. He was amazed at how fast the young woman learned. When a young man named John Lagomarsino arrival from Italy, he 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.