Museum preserves rugged history of Butte Creek Canyon


The museum in Centerville encapsulates the history of Butte Creek Canyon. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In a month, 395 elk, 17 grizzly bears and eight antelopes were killed just a few miles from downtown Chico.

This was 1832 when pioneers explored Butte Creek Canyon; when wildlife was more pronounced. Grizzlies haven’t roamed anywhere in California since 1922.

Gold brought people to this tributary of the Sacramento River in search of their fortunes. In its heyday, the canyon was home to more than 3,500 people. Centerville had a post office, school, hardware and grocery stores, a few bars and a bordello.

The Census showed the population of the canyon being 1,086 in 2010, and 958 in 2019. According to a docent at the Colman Centerville Museum, 45 percent of the homes in the canyon were destroyed in the 2018 Camp Fire. Many of those residents have not returned.

That same fire that swept through the town of Paradise came within 100 feet of this museum that preserves the history of the canyon.

The museum opened in 1976; the dream of Lois Colman, granddaughter of canyon pioneer D.B. Colman. Today the museum and old schoolhouse, which sit on the same plot of land, provide a glimpse into what life was like so long ago.

Artifacts seem to fill every nook, with the gold mining part of the lore. Individuals are singled out, as are groups of people including the Maidu Indians who first lived in these parts. Chinese laborers worked in the area, but were not treated well, the docent reveals.

While there is plenty to look at and read, it was great having a one-on-one tour by the docent.

Next door is the old, one-room schoolhouse that educated canyon students from 1894-1966. The next school year the students were bused into Chico proper when the district became unified. The Centerville Recreation and Historical Association bought the building in 1968 to preserve its legacy.

While the wildlife of the 1800s is gone from the canyon, the natural beauty remains. It’s worth the drive; making one feel farther than a few miles from the city limits of Chico. And the museum is a wealth of information. While it’s free to peruse the old buildings, donations are welcome.

All grade levels were once taught in the schoolhouse in Centerville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Address: 13548 Centerville Road, Chico
  • More info available online.
  • Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4pm.
  • Telephone: 530.893.9667
  • June 13, 9am-4pm is the annual 49er Faire at the museum and schoolhouse. It will include arts, crafts, music and food, wine and beer, gold panning, plant sale and more.

Donations trickle in to rebuild historic bridge destroyed in Camp Fire

To the unknowing it’s hard to tell if the concrete structures are remnants of the old bridge or the beginning of something new. To those who are familiar with the Butte Creek Canyon, they see hope.

The 2018 Camp Fire that leveled the town of Paradise brought other destruction, including wiping out a historic bridge that for more than a century crossed Butte Creek. The Honey Run Covered Bridge, which was built in 1886, was reduced to ash in the PG&E caused inferno.

The bridge had been placed on the National Registrar of Historic Places in 1988. This was the last-three span Pratt-style truss bridge left in the United States. It was 238 feet long, with the sections being 30, 128 and 80 feet, respectively.

Less than a dozen covered bridges exist in California.

The Honey Run Covered Bridge near Chico before it was destroyed in 2018. (Image: Bernice Livingston)

Today, the nonprofit Honey Run Covered Bridge Association is raising money to rebuild the structure. Almost one-third of the $3.3 million needed to do so has been collected. The rebuild has been split into three phases, with the first one completed. This included the foundations, abutments, columns, and bank protection.

Flooring and trusses would be next, with the siding and roof the final stage. Each phase will be built once the funds are secured.

When it was first built the cost was $4,300, though that did not include the cover. The cover was added in 1901 to protect it from weather and use. The bridge was built to carry up to 1,500 pounds. This accommodated pedestrians and wagon trains to begin with, then automobiles.

For years it was the main route to Paradise before the Skyway was built. The covered bridge was open to vehicles until April 12, 1965. That day the eastern side collapsed after a truck ran into a corner.

At that time county officials said they would not rebuild the bridge, but instead created a concrete and steel route nearby to cross Butte Creek that was better suited for vehicles.

Local residents were not happy the covered bridge would no longer exist. This is when the Honey Run Covered Bridge Association was created. Through donations the covered bridge reopened to foot traffic in 1972. Special events such as weddings took place at the bridge.

That same association is in the process of rebuilding the bridge to what it was prior to the fire.

Private donations are funding the rebuilding of the covered bridge that spans Butte Creek. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • More info about the bridge, fundraising activities, and other ways to help are available online.
  • The 55th annual pancake fundraiser is June 13, 8-11am at the Covered Bridge Park. All proceeds go to rebuilding the bridge. This is part of the larger Centerville Faire on the same day that goes from 9am-3pm at the Colman Museum and Schoolhouse.
  • Directions: From Chico take the Skyway toward Paradise. Turn left on Honey Run Road. Covered Bridge Park is 4.3 miles on the right.
  • Honey Run Covered Bridge Park is open Friday-Tuesday, 9am-dusk. It is privately owned. The $5 fee goes toward the bridge restoration project. Dogs permitted on leash.

Placerville loses the noose, keeps ‘Old Hangtown’


Elected officials vote to keep “Old Hangtown” as Placerville’s nickname. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Nooses and hangings are not something most towns brag about. Placerville, though, is a little different.

A noose has been part of this town’s logo for decades.  And “Old Hangtown” is the motto of this city sandwiched between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe.

While most associate nooses with lynching of black people in the South and elsewhere, that’s not what is being promoted in this California town. Some say the logo dates back to the 1970s, while the nickname is definitely a relic of the Gold Rush era. After all, it was in neighboring Coloma where gold was first discovered in California in the 1800s.

On April 13, the Placerville City Council voted to remove the noose from the logo. The city said it will cost about $3,500 to eliminate it from signs and logos. It’s already off the website. The noose was on a tree behind a man panning for gold.

On April 30, the council then affirmed on a 5-0 vote that the moniker “Old Hangtown” was going to stay, citing the history of how the name came about and how the state has embraced it. California officials have placed two historical markers in town touting Old Hangtown’s significance in the state’s history, as well as the tree where the hangings occurred.

Placerville has changed its logo from having a noose, left, to removing it, right.

Hangman’s tree, which is on what is now known as Main Street, was where justice, so to speak, was delivered. This is where three men were hanged in 1849 after being accused of robbery and attempted murder. Their sentence was death. This is how the tree got its name. The tree was then put to use for quite some time, which is how the town got its nickname.

The tree is no longer standing, but a business exists on the site with an effigy of a miner hanging from a noose. This has been removed and replaced at various times.

Placerville was first called Dry Diggins. For a short time, it was officially called Hangtown. In 1854 the city was incorporated as Placerville. This is quite a change in thinking, with “placer” translating from Spanish to English as “pleasure.” Those who took their last breath swinging from a tree surely would have disagreed with the name change.

Doses of history, wine and spirituality all in one setting

The monks would surely say it was the power of prayer, keeping the faith, and believing in divine intervention that finally allowed them to complete a significant structure at the Abbey of New Clairvaux.

This religious enclave in Vina 20 miles north of Chico and 20 miles south of Red Bluff is home to Trappist-Cistercian monks. They have owned the 580 acres, which includes land dedicated to vineyards, since 1955.

Using stones from the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria De Ovila in Trillo, Spain, the California monks have a house of worship that is to be envied. While the public cannot go inside today because of the pandemic, it is possible to walk the grounds, read the history, and sip wine.

Public services at the Abbey of New Clairvaux are suspended because of the pandemic. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

William Randolph Hearst bought the Spanish chapter house in 1931 with plans to use the stones at his property in Wyntoon. That never happened and he eventually gave the stones to the city of San Francisco with the intent the chapter house would be reconstructed in Golden Gate Park. That also never happened.

The Abbey of New Clairvaux was given the stones in 1994 by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with the agreement they only be used for a chapter house. This is the only place to see Cistercian-Gothic architecture in the United States.

Sixty percent of the stones could be salvaged. What couldn’t be used for the building have been incorporated into the landscape and for non-structural purposes. Other stone came from limestone quarried in Texas.

Originally the plan was keep the structure as the chapter house. According to information at the site, “Although the chapter house is an important place at the abbey, as it is the place for the large community gatherings and meetings, it soon became evident that a building so profound and substantial should become the new abbey church.”

In 2012, plans were put into place to make this a reality. The groundbreaking was in 2016, with a consecration ceremony two years later. This was all possible with a generous donation. Those details have not been disclosed.

The master site plan calls for even more structures, like a new senior wing and pastoral center, information center, chapter room, archives and research center, and refectory.

Kae, from left, Sue and Cleo enjoy tasting a variety of New Clairvaux wines.

Since I was last there in 2013, a wall explaining the evolution of the grounds has been installed. This is somewhat of a California history lesson. It alone is worth the drive.

Beyond the religious aspects of the abbey are the wines. Instead of sipping in the tasting room pourings are now done in the old tractor barn that doesn’t have walls. This was actually a more pleasant experience because the three of us had a table to ourselves. Instead of a worker explaining the wines before us we could log onto a QR code to get a short video about the varietal.

We were allowed to taste two wines outside of the five they selected. We all were most impressed with the 2018 Aimee NV Merlot ($35); and now we all have at least a bottle to remember such a fun, informative day. The other wine I was taken by was the 2019 St. James Viognier ($18). The tasting room has been open since 2005.



  • More information about the monastery is online.
  • Winery information is online.
  • Wine tastings are by appointment only. Cost is $10. This is waived with purchase of a bottle.
  • Limited food is available for purchase.

Baja Sur home to one of Eiffel’s award-Winning creations

This church in Santa Rosalía in Baja California Sur was designed by Gustave Eiffel. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, the work of Gustave Eiffel can also be found in Mexico.

The civil engineer left his mark in Santa Rosalía in Baja Sur with the Santa Barbara Church. It is made of galvanized iron. This makes it sturdy and able to stand up to hurricanes, at least so far.

It was built as a prototype for the French to use in their African colonies at the time. There can be a termite problem in that climate, so building with wood has its limitations. The same is true of the tropical environment of Baja.

The church’s first public showing was at the 1889 World Fair in Paris. This was when the Eiffel Tower debuted as well. Eiffel won first place for the church’s design. It was then dismantled and taken to Belgium to be stored.

Parishioners continue to worship in this church in Mexico designed by Gustave Eiffel. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At this time the town of Santa Rosalía was run by the French-owned Boleo Mining Company, which was extracting copper out of the land. The owner, Charles La Forqué, heard about the church and paid for it to be shipped across the ocean to be reassembled in Baja.

While it is still an active church, it is also a tourist attraction because of the Eiffel name.

Eiffel has also left his mark in Mexico with a few structures on the mainland. There is the Art Bridge, also known as the Iron Bridge or Puente de Fierro, in Ecatepec. This was built before the Eiffel Tower. The Palacio de Hierro, or Iron Palace, in Orizaba is said to be the only metal palace in the world. It was a government office for nearly a century. Today is is part museum, meeting rooms, and tourist office.

Pavement makes trip through Baja an easy drive


The Baja peninsula is a mix of desert and mountains–sometimes at the same time. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s called a highway, but by many standards it is a merely a two-lane road. However, for those who remember when it was all dirt, this stretch of asphalt is like pavement heaven.

The 1,711-kilometer or 1,063-mile long Carretera Transpeninsular (Transpeninsula Highway) was finished in 1973. It stretches from the north in Tijuana (the busiest border in the world) to Cabo San Lucas in the south (the tip of the peninsula). It weaves across Baja California, with views of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez as it crosses the desert and goes through mountains. (The peninsula is 40 to 240 kilometers wide in places, or 25 to 150 miles.)

At times Highway 1 goes on forever without a curve or another vehicle to be seen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

People have been traveling the length of Baja for centuries, whether it was on foot, by animal or a sturdy vehicle. Part of it is the original camino real built by the Spanish to link their missions.

Before the asphalt was laid much of it was one lane of dirt. The highway at times covers that original road and in other locations was laid nearby or farther away for stability reasons or to avoid flooding.

Military checkpoints are scattered throughout Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today the road allows for easier access for tourists via vehicle to this swath of Mexico. Plenty of hotels cater to travelers from the United States and Canada, as do restaurants. Like anywhere, though, some of the best food is found where the locals go. Don’t judge a dining establishment by what it looks like.

The highway has also opened up commerce. This can be a good thing for stores and consumers. While plenty of goods are still brought in via ferry from the mainland, the distribution by truck is now easier.

Highway 1 is more than 1,000 miles long, running the length of Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One problem with that is all the 18-wheelers on the road. This highway is not wide like most built in the United States. A truck roaring by in the opposite direction will shake even a fully loaded vehicle. Those drivers are going fast, not abiding by the speed limit. They are also prone to passing those in front of them who are going too slow by their standards.

While it’s possible to go 65 mph in some locations, the speed limit is often much less. Often times the posted speed limit is 80 kilometers per hour, which is 50 miles per hour. The maximum posted on Highway 1 is 120 kph, or 75 mph.

Animals and trucks are two moving entities to always be wary of as a driver. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Some sections of the road are better than others. Potholes are a problem if it’s rained a lot. This adds to the time it takes to travel. Road construction seems to be constant, which also adds to time getting from Point A to Point B. Sometimes when a section has been washed out the detour is through dirt. Facebook even has a page dedicated to Baja road conditions.

Animals on the road is another concern, as well as vehicles without proper working parts—like brake lights.

The Sea of Cortez is picturesque even while whizzing by. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Gas usually is not a problem to find, but there are times when stations don’t have any. This is why the rule of thumb is to fill up when possible. One particular stretch of Highway 1 doesn’t have any stations, but entrepreneurs sell it out of containers along the side of the road. This liquid has a premium price, but at least you keep moving.

When it comes to the built environment, Highway 1 boasts a few major cities along the route, but is mostly small towns or lonesome looking taco stands. It’s the natural surroundings what will make one pull over for various photo ops. To the west is the anything but tranquil Pacific Ocean, while the east boasts the more placid and turquoise Sea of Cortez.


Sometimes the asphalt turns to dirt. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Fertile farmland is scattered throughout. Depending on the growing season it’s possible to buy produce along the highway without going into a store. Wineries can also be found on this stretch of road in the north.

The desert offers an array of flora. From the Dr. Seuss like bajooms to the federally protected cardón cactus. While much of the terrain is desert, mountains are visible in so many locations. Las Tres Vírgenes volcanoes, which were last active in 1746, are a distinct landmark at 6,548 feet or 1,996 meters.

There is plenty to be enamored by, with a plethora of possible side trips and things to see and do along the way. Take your time, it’s a highway to paradise.

Mulegé–A naturally beautiful town with equally as charming people

The Santa Rosalia River is a distinguishing landmark in Mulegé. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

An unexpected vacation along a tranquil river with palm fronds swaying in the breeze, the Sea of Cortez within walking distance in one direction and the town in the other, well, it could have been worse.

When the Jeep made a loud clunking sound I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. While it spent more than a week in the shop, I spent time getting to know Mulegé, a town of less than 4,000 people in Baja California Sur.

The arched sign leading to downtown Mulegé. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s a proud town. After all, the full name is Heroica Mulegé. The “Heroica” part came about after the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The locals were able to stave off an invasion from the United States. While Mexico lost the war, Mulegé won the battle and obviously remained part of that country. (This is the war where the U.S. acquired the land that today is California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.)

Prior to my “forced” stay I had spent one night in Mulegé in March, and had filled up the gas tank more than once as I passed through. That one night as well as crossing over the river on the upper bridge made me curious about this town. Now I had the time to satisfy that curiosity.

Trips to cave paintings are available with a tour guide out of Mulegé. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Several cave paintings are in the area, with the Borjitas reportedly the oldest in North America.  The guided trip that lasted the better part of a day was outstanding. That alone made the stay worthwhile, as I had wanted to see some of these Baja caves that so many had told me about. If only the ceiling could talk, to share the stories from more than 7,500-years-ago. I wonder what life was like. How was the desert different? Did these people travel? What did they eat? What did they do for fun?

What I am left with after spending 11 days and 12 nights is this overwhelming sense of how wonderful the people of Mulegé are—no matter their nationality. This has been my experience 99 percent of the time in Baja, so it should have come as no surprise. What was different this time, though, was that I needed help. And help readily came without having to ask.

I was lucky to have been staying someplace where the owner spoke English, gave me advice on the Jeep and mechanics, loaned me his vehicle, kept reducing my nightly rate the longer my stay went on, invited me to dinner with his friends, and for drinks more than once. (I declined all of them because being maskless indoors with strangers isn’t my thing these days.)

The Mission Dam is on the north side of town. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Cliff Taylor, who owns Clementine’s (aka Cliff’s Place), is quite the character. The 78-year-old will say, “I have stories”—and he does. He tells them with a drawl that still lingers from growing up in south Louisiana. He was a professional poker player in Las Vegas for a while, became a certified public accountant, opened a bed and breakfast with an ex-wife in Oregon, sailed a bit, and then put down roots in Mulegé.

Taylor bought his house in Mulegé in 2002, the first day he was in town. It was cheap—$15,000. He later found out it was so inexpensive because it was built out of wood. Not a good thing in this climate; termites can destroy a place. He got it reinforced and has been living in it ever since.

Today, he has 13 rentals of various sizes all in an enclave along the Santa Rosalia River. (My first night I was in an oversized studio with a courtyard; the rest of the time a two bedroom, one bath house that slept seven.) He has built about 20 places, selling some to friends, doing it on spec for others. He’s in the process of building a three-story duplex right on the river.

Juan Carlos says business is down at the Racing restaurant because fewer tourists are in town. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was along this river that AJ and I would walk multiple times a day. Mostly pelicans flock to this body of water. A few egrets and other shorebirds also call it home. Fish jump like I’ve never seen before.

Taylor is a dog lover, which is great for so many of us who travel with our four-legged children. He opened an animal clinic on the south side of town. Regularly he hosts veterinarians who come for spay/neuter clinics. This is for the locals, but also the surrounding ranches and small towns.

With having a full size kitchen and a variety of food with me, I didn’t eat out much. But when I did, I was thoroughly satisfied. The Mulegé Brewing Company is a must stop for anyone who likes beer and pizza. In the year it has been open it has established quite a following.

An outstanding breakfast was found on the town square at Cazuelamolcajet. A series of food stalls line one side of the square, selling a variety of edibles throughout the day. More Mexicans than gringos filled the outdoor chairs each time I went by. The Mexican omelet served with beans and a drink was 120 pesos or $6. It was big enough to be my meal for the day. I just wish I had gone there sooner in my voyage so I could have tried more of their creations.

The Sea of Cortez looking south toward the point of Bahía Concepción. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Another meal was at Racing, a definitively gringo spot along the river. A menu only in English is the first give away this is where the ex-pats go. Juan Carlos, who has been working there for about three years, said 70 percent of the restaurant’s customers are Canadians. That’s not happening this year with the U.S. not allowing people to cross the northern border because of COVID.

I would have gone back if I had had a kayak because it was directly across from where I was staying—the river separated us. Still, it was close enough to walk—which was my mode of transportation.

The fried zucchini was a recommendation from one of the guys who was on the cave painting tour. Good choice. They were cut into rounds instead of sticks, as is more the norm in the United States. The breading was light. It did not taste like they were deep fried, which was welcome. I took half the order home for the next day. I rounded out the meal with a green salad—it literally only had green vegetables. The food with two beers (one was to go) came to 270 pesos or $13.50.

Breakfast at Cazuelamolcajet is hearty, delicious and inexpensive. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With all this eating, it was a good thing I was on foot to walk off the calories. It was a little more than a mile to town, most of which was a path along the river. I tried to get into the prison museum, but COVID has shut its doors indefinitely. This wasn’t an ordinary facility for law breakers. Most were able to keep working during the day, returning at night to sleep inside. There were no bars. The front looks more like a church, while the four corners are castle-like. Those, though, were where the guards would keep watch. Not a bad view of the town, river and desert hills beyond.

Another trek led me to the old mission that was founded in 1705 by Juan Manuel Basaldúa. Construction on the stone temple did not start until 1754, with the doors opening in 1766. Today it stands as a reminder to the past.

One excursion led me to the Sea of Cortez, which is the body of water the river empties into. The rocky, shell-filled beach was pretty, especially with no one else there. From that vantage point I could see the tip of Bahía Concepción. Having driven that stretch of Highway 1, I knew that incredible soft, sandy beaches were so close. That warm water is so clear it looks like you could drink it; or at least gargle with it since it’s salty. While the beaches beckoned, they could not be visited until my way out of town.

Fittingly, Mulegé means great sandbar of the white mouth, a name hailing from the Cochimie Indians.

Cliff Taylor is a character who has multiple rentals along the river. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Clementine’s (Cliff Taylor): Prices vary based on the unit, with discounts available for extended stays.

7,500-Year-Old cave paintings tucked into mountains of Baja Sur

Images in the San Borjitas cave are more than 7,500 years old. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A significant glimpse into an ancient world covers a large cave in Baja Sur California.

Carbon dating puts the paintings at San Borjitas at 7,500 years old. Some say they are the oldest in North America.

Most of the figures are of humans, with one archaeologist recording 120 figures. Other depictions are of animals, notably fish, possibly deer and a turtle, and what appears to be an oversized frog. Red and black “ink” are predominant on the limestone, with some figures depicted in both colors.

Andy and Ricardo are dwarfed by the cave. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What the images mean, well, only those who painted them would know for sure. With spears through some of the people and many with their hands in the air, a fight of some sort could be documented. Scientists believe this may be where the great mural tradition originated.

Three main Indian tribes once inhabited the peninsula—Guaycura, Pericue and Cochimie. The latter are who occupied this area of Baja. Mostly they moved to where there was water. Following the behavior of animals kept them alive. A small amount of water was visible as we hiked in, with vibrant greet plants in some locations. This could have been how people earlier than these tribes migrated as well.

Spanish missionaries discovered the paintings in the 1700s. Francisco Javier Clavigero mentioned the art in his 1789 book “A History of Baja California.” The Cochimie told the Spaniards these paintings were not done by their people, but spoke of a “race of giants” who once lived in the area.

The Borjitas cave is about 100 feet wide and nearly as deep. The opening is about 20 feet high and then gradually gets lower. How the painters reached the ceiling is a guess—perhaps erosion swept away some of the “floor” or they were tall, thus the reason images are so large, or possibly they built a platform.

Many of the figures are half red, half black. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Our guide said this would have been a ceremonial cave, not someplace anyone except perhaps the medicine men would have lived or slept.

In the mid-1980s UNESCO declared it a world heritage site. The only way people are supposed to visit the cave in the Sierra de Guadalupe mountains between Mulegé and Santa Rosalia is with a guide. Salvador Castro Drew has been taking people on tours for years. The government shut down him down in February because of the pandemic. He resumed operations in mid-November.

Besides a trip to the caves, Castro gives a history lesson about the town, stops to talk about medicinal plants, and provides a satisfying lunch. While the hike is not strenuous or long (less than 2-miles round trip), one would want to be in decent shape and be sure footed.

Salvador Castro Drew leads tours out of Mulegé to various cave paintings in the area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Mulegé Tours: Salvador Castro Drew
  • Email:
  • Cell: 615.161.4985
  • Cost: Depends on number of people and specific tour.

Step back in time at the Bowers Mansion in Nevada


The Bowers Mansion is open for tours on weekends through October. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Alison “Eilley” Oram Bowers left this world much like she entered it—poor. But the years in between, well, those were full of riches, extravagance and adventure.

Her legacy remains today at Bowers Mansion in Washoe Valley, Nevada, which is part of the larger 52-acre Bowers Mansion Regional Park. It was 150 years ago this summer in 1870 that Bowers turned her home into a resort.

“This was the place to picnic. There would be 4,000 to 5,000 people,” docent Tammy said on a recent tour of the mansion.

Even today it is considered the people’s park. Most summers it is bustling with visitors. COVID-19 closed the pool, stopped tours until last month, and has prevented large gatherings.

The mansion was built in 1863 by Bowers and husband Lemuel “Sandy” Bowers for about $250,000, which would be about $6 million in today’s dollars. They owned 160 acres at the time, which went out to Washoe Lake. Much of the rock and wood came from the local area. Walls are at least 18 inches thick in places, providing for good insulation in the hot summers and cold winters of Northern Nevada.

“It probably never got hot,” the docent said of the mansion, explaining how windows could be strategically opened to get a good cross flow of air. “We believe they all shared the bedroom downstairs. They probably didn’t live upstairs.”

One of the original beds from when the Bowers lived in the mansion. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Eilley Bowers was born in Scotland to itinerant farmworkers. She married her first husband at the age 15. Together they traveled to the United States after he became a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints. After six years they divorced. She then married another Mormon, and they settled in the Washoe Valley—the area that divides Carson City and Reno. He chose to go to Salt Lake City when the church called back parishioners. She stayed behind.

Eilley and her nephew, who had been living with the couple, moved to the now abandoned mining town of Johntown not far from Virginia City. She started a boarding house there, and then another in Gold Hill when that town sprouted up after gold was discovered. She established several mining claims, with one being next to the man who would become her third husband. They merged their assets and became millionaires. Some say their fortunes amounted to $4 million at one point.

The couple had two children, who both died very young. They then took in a young girl who had been orphaned on a ship. She died in 1874 at age 12 of a ruptured appendix.

Together the Bowers went to Europe to shop for furniture to fill the 16-room estate. At the time the floors were wood. Carpeting was added in the 1980s. Originally the billiards room was upstairs, though now the pool table is downstairs in the library. More than 1,000 books filled the shelves when the Bowers lived there. Hallways are spacious; even the upstairs rooms are large compared to many built in that time period. The house feels comfortable, livable. Hot and cold springs are also on the property.

“As soon as they moved in, they were broke,” the docent revealed.

Her third husband died in 1868. By that time the mines were drying up and their money was nearly spent. Eilley Bowers added a third story to the mansion in the hopes of returning to her boarding house days, but that essentially exhausted all of her money and the business was never profitable. In 1870 she opened the area up to be a party spot as another attempt to earn money. Those who came to the property in the 1870s would often arrive by train, being dropped off a couple hundred feet away.

By 1878 she could not pay the taxes on the property and lost everything in foreclosure to Myron C. Lake. Henry Ritter then took possession and ran it as a resort from 1903-1946. In the early 1900s he added electricity.

The Reno Women’s Civic Club raised the money to help Washoe County buy the property in 1946 to turn it into a public facility. A plaque on the building acknowledges their efforts. Another plaque recognizes the restoration committee of 1969 that collected money for the preservation of the mansion. Today, Washoe County owns and operates the park and mansion. Through the years hundreds of people have donated original items from the mansion back to the site for the benefit of visitors. These items are noted with a sign. Other furniture has been collected to resemble the time period of when the Bowers lived there.

Eilley Bowers died in 1903 in Oakland, California, at the age of 77. Her ashes were buried on the hillside above the mansion next to her last husband. Also buried there are their three children.

This downstairs room is where the Bowers spent the bulk of their time. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Website
  • Phone: 775.849.0201
  • Tours: Memorial Day through Nevada Day (Oct. 31) from 11am-4pm
  • Cost: $9, cash only.

Angora labyrinth a sanctuary for getting away from life’s chaos

A labyrinth in the Angora burn area offers a space for reflection. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No matter the time of day, whether the sun is tapping its final dance across Freel Peak or storm clouds are casting shadows on the ground, a sense of serenity, of calming overcomes those who traipse across the grounds of Angora Garden.

That was the plan.

This labyrinth created by the hard work of South Shore locals is not meant to be a religious symbol. Instead it is spiritual. As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”

Tucked off on the right side of Lake Tahoe Boulevard near Angora Creek as one heads deeper into the Angora burn area is this special piece of land that came into being because Jay Newburgh wanted to do something after the Angora Fire. She and her husband, Henry, didn’t lose their home in June 2007. Theirs was one of three houses on Pyramid Circle that survived.

The hillside that was charred in 2007 after an illegal campfire got out of control is coming back to life. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Newburghs bought the parcel where a house once stood and a year after the fire that consumed 253 other homes on the South Shore in order to turn it into a spot residents and other locals could enjoy. Even today Angora Garden remains a bit of a sanctuary. Weeds now grow in the labyrinth, but it remains a spot worth visiting. A few benches allow time to escape the realities of today. Although the hillside with charred trees still erect is a reminder of the fire, at the same time it shows how resilient Mother Nature is with the rebirth of foliage. Looking in the other direction are some of the South Shore’s iconic peaks like Freel.

Linda Hughes of Tulip Landscaping created the space with 150 yards of soil and 5 yards of pea gravel. Along the perimeter are white and red fir, cedar, aspen, willow, pines, and dogwood trees.

At the time the labyrinth was being built, Jay Newburgh called it a “spiritual tool that doesn’t have anyone’s labels.”

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