After 162 years, it might be time for a little repair. The Fountain Tallman Soda Works building at 524 Main Street, houses a tiny two-floor museum now, after a past filled with a variety of owners and uses, but the stone, brick and mortar that comprises the building is original and it could use some help.
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From Feb. 28 to March 19, the Fountain Tallman Museum will be closed while Leland Peterson, restoration engineer and mason, and his crew repair, replace and restore masonry and brick around the windows and door of the first floor of the building.
Built in 1852 with 2-foot-thick brick and masonry walls and iron shutters, the soda works was the only building to have survived all of the early fires that devastated Placerville. It is considered the oldest building on Main Street and built in “rock and rubble” style using bricks made in Placerville and slate and serpentine rock from Stony Point, the slope above the building. Benjamin Tallman and John Fountain were the owners, relocating their business from across the street to the present location.
Soda water — spring water infused with carbonate — was a popular drink in the 1800s in Placerville. Fountain Tallman and the John Pearson Soda Works, now the Cozmic Cafe, offered an alternative to creek water polluted by mining activities and sewage. Water was piped into Fountain Tallman from a spring located behind it and CO2 was added using a device similar to one currently on display in the museum.
Benjamin Tallman left the business to go to Georgetown in 1855 and the building was sold for delinquent taxes in 1858. It had a variety of uses and owners until 1889 when it was sold to El Dorado Water and Deep Gravel Mining Co., which used it for storage. In 1908, it transferred its interest in the building to Sierra Water Supply, which sold it to Western States Gas and Electric, which then transferred all its assets to Pacific Gas and Electric in 1928.
PG&E owned both Fountain Tallman and another building to the west of it that shared a common wall. A skylight was added to the upper floor and a window was added to the west wall — the shared wall — which did nothing for either view or light. The window has been rocked over and a display case now adorns the space.
“They did a terrible job of duplicating the mortar,” said Fountain Tallman Museum Director Marilyn Ferguson, “and that is one of the things that will be fixed with the restoration.”
In 1960, PG&E conveyed the building to Roger Darrow and his wife to be used as a historical building. In 1981, the El Dorado Historical Society received it as a gift from Faye Rupley Cannon. The Historical Society added a bathroom and heating so that it could be used as the Placerville Historical Museum. The additions were funded with money from the estate of Placerville native Stella Tracy. Her furniture and other memorabilia of the 19th and 20th century are on display upstairs in the museum. In 1984, the building was placed on the National Registry of Historical Buildings.
Peterson, who is involved in the masonry restoration at the Herrick and Hangman’s Tree buildings at 301 and 305 Main Street, will undertake the restoration of the masonry at Fountain Tallman in stages.
“The first week he’ll be removing the display case on the west wall and doing some demolition and the second week he’ll be doing the repair and fixing the cracks,” said Ferguson. “They are truly expert restorationists.”
Decorative brick around the arched windows and door spaces of the building, called dimension stones, is an example of 1850s architectural style. “The bricks are the same kind of brick, made about the same time period as the bricks they’ve been finding at the Herrick building,” said Ferguson.
During the museum closure, Ferguson will have her first vacation since undertaking the operation of the museum. “At first I was going to answer phones and do things upstairs, but it will be too dusty, so I’ve got plenty to do in my own house,” she said.
The museum is slated to reopen on March 20 if all repairs are completed as scheduled.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.