Not much remains of the old Patterson ranch after fire ravaged the property on that Friday afternoon, Aug. 16.
Started by students smoking behind Union Mine High School, the fire quickly spread in the parched grasses, burning 85 of 90 acres of the ranch, including the house, while also threatening the nearby Lake Oaks Mobile Home Park.
The Patterson home, affectionately known as the “pink house” because of its color, is now just a memory. Built between 1900 and 1905, it was a grand Ranch Victorian styled home that became a landmark in the area. The house and everything in it now gone, the root cellar lays exposed with only a few scorched and melted pieces of metal remaining. Nearby, burnt stumps are all that’s left of two 80-year-old walnut trees.
Larry Patterson, the owner of the ranch, said the fire started at 1:45 p.m. He was walking his dog around the lake at the time and the fire was about a quarter of a mile away from his property. Getting home, he first opened the gate for the cows and horses and let them out. Then Patterson, along with his niece Shannon Mainwaring and her husband Rob, got out the hoses and began fighting the fire themselves. In between, he flagged a neighbor to call 911, “But the fire engines never came,” he said. “They had been dispatched to protect the schools, not Deer Creek.”
They continued fighting the fire with the help of neighbors but the fast-moving fire, aided by a gust of wind, brought flames into the trees near the house. “The two walnut trees caught fire. At that point, it was evident there was no stopping it,” he said.
“At around 2 p.m., the property was engulfed in flames. At that time, I went through the house and checked for the animals,” he said choking up. “I thought maybe I’d take a picture of my wife and I, but I couldn’t find one.” He and the others then left the property, knowing at that point there was nothing they could do.
The fire engines never did show up, he said, until after the fire swept through his property and his neighbors were already fully engaged in fighting the fire themselves. By then it was too late for the Patterson Ranch, although a few oases did survive including two grassy areas, an old barn, the swimming pool, and ironically, a shed full of cut wood.
Two families linked to the land
The fire, as devastating as it was, wasn’t the first on the property.
Its history a tale of the changing uses of the land over close to 150 years and of multiple generations who called it home.
According to a family history written by Curtis Patterson, the Dunlap-Patterson homestead got its start in the 1860s when Sarah Colista Knight and Elon Dunlap arrived separately in covered wagons from the east coast. Later they met and married on July 15, 1863 in Placerville. They bought the property where the pink house was late built and started a family that grew to five children.
The couple started ranching by planting Bartlett pear and other fruit trees on the property. They also ran cattle, had a few milk cows, and raised hogs, chickens and other animals as was typical for ranches at the time.
In 1904, their pears won a silver medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Later a 40-acre prune-plum orchard was also planted. The old barn that survived the fire was where the pears were packed by Chinese laborers. Named the 49er Brand Bartlett Pear, the dye for printing the shook ends of boxes along with other items used on the ranch are now part of the El Dorado County Museum’s collection. Needing water for their orchards, ranchers in the area formed an irrigation association which they later sold to the El Dorado Irrigation District.
One son, Elon, was a skilled blacksmith who by acquiring adjacent land, turned the property into a good-sized ranch. At one point it was 1,600 acres in size. But Elon, a staunch Republican, let the ranch go downhill after vowing not to stick another shovel in the ground after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President. However he did continue raising award-winning Shire horses that won ribbons and medals at the California State Fair in Sacramento.
Another son, Paul, stayed on the ranch long enough to build the 10-room pink house that was finished in 1905. That house was actually the fourth house built on the property as the others either burned down or were replaced with bigger ones. Paul got the lumber by hitching a four-horse team and starting out early in the morning for Fresh Pond. He picked out his lumber and returned home the next day.
It was also around this same time that Paul and his wife adopted Curtis Patterson, who is Larry’s grandfather.
With Elon no longer interested in maintaining the ranch, it fell into disrepair. Adding to its woes was the fact that the house lacked certain amenities such as indoor plumbing, electricity and running water. By this time Curtis Patterson was working for the Standard Oil Company in Richmond, although he would almost weekly visit back to the ranch to do repairs which included modernizing the home and putting in a lake.
In 1952, Curtis acquired the Dunlap’s share of the ranch. When Paul Dunlap died a few years later, that ended all Dunlap connection to the property.
With more land than they really needed or could use, in 1958 the Pattersons sold 500 acres to Forrest Phillips who built Diamond Heights. At the time, the land sold for only $28 an acre. A year later, Forrest and Clayton Phillips bought 87 more acres which is now Deer Park.
In 1972, the Pattersons commissioned a market study on how to best utilize the remaining land, deciding a mobile home park was the most suitable business venture. That resulted in the Lake Oaks Mobile Home Park. In 1978 they expanded the size of the park. The property is now part of the family owned company.
We will rebuild
Still mourning the loss of the home but ready to move forward, Larry and Cathy Patterson are now in the process of doing the initial work of building a fifth house on their property with Cathy Patterson saying that, “This is the end of part of our history, but the next stage is going on.”
“The home was our living history,” added Larry. “Our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and many generations lived here and learned to be family and support each other. It was the focal point of our family.”
Family members added that every year they would hold a fish feed at the property and the home was the site of many happy memories from family reunions, to swim parties, to dinner night for the football team. “The house is like a loss of a member of the family,” said Larry’s son, Curtis, who said that all their mementos from the past are now gone including the medal from the World’s Fair, medals for the Shire horses and the 1863 marriage certificate of the Dunlaps.
But with the sorrow for their loss has also come renewal. Two weeks after the fire, 100 people from the neighborhood and community showed up on a Saturday and assisted with the demotion and removal of dead trees and debris from the house. Those who couldn’t help with the demolition, brought drinks, sandwiches, gloves, shovels and masks.
“It was the best display of community you could ever want to be a part of,” said Shannon Mainwaring. “It was a day of tears and complete joy. There are not enough words to convey the gratefulness we have toward these people.”
“Through the horror of losing everything and history of this whole place, and artifacts in this home, (we were) so humbled by support from this community,” said Cathy. “We’re capable now of surviving this ordeal because of the community.”
“It’s not what you have in life, but who you have in life,” added Larry.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.