Out on Green Valley Road about five miles west of Rescue is the Pleasant Grove House, once a commodious inn and Pony Express way station with two barns and a blacksmith shop. In front of the house is California Registered Historical Landmark No. 703 that recognizes the only Pony Express relay station between Folsom and Placerville.
In 1860 Pleasant Grove House was at the peak of its glory. Built in 1850 with materials shipped from around Cape Horn, the white-painted inn boasted nine bedrooms upstairs for travelers and a 60-foot sleeping/dining room downstairs. The two barns could accommodate 100 horses and one of them, still in existence, had a 1,160-square-foot dance floor upstairs.
Here, the ponies of the Central Overland Pony Express were exchanged from July 1, 1860, to June 30, 1861. From Pleasant Grove House, the route of the pony riders continued westward to Folsom or eastward to Placerville through Rescue, Dry Creek Crossing, and Missouri Flat.
Now, in 2012, only one of the barns that housed horses for hundreds of travelers and Pony Express riders, slumps on the property. Cracks in the boards allow sunlight to filter onto bales of hay and the dance floor upstairs houses old pieces of tack, spider webs rife with insects and a plastic rocking horse. Signs for Pony Express rerides through the years hang on the walls of the barn and there is a blank space above the doors where a sign reading, “Pleasant Grove House, 1850-1875,” used to hang.
The 143-year-old fig tree in the side yard of Pleasant Grove House is replete with figs, but the 162-year-old house itself is decaying, smelling of animal urine and age. The doors are open to the weather and animals. The ceilings slump and the floor slants, but one of the original brick fireplaces has a vase of plastic flowers on the mantle. Chunks out of the walls reveal the French plaster/ horsehair mixture used for the walls. Under a covering of weeds, there is a concrete walkway with a map of the Pony Express route from St. Joseph, Missouri to San Francisco etched into it. Embedded horseshoes mark the trail.
The home and property have been vacant since June when members of the family who owned it since 1954 moved out. It was built in 1850 by Rufus Hitchcock and owned by a Henry Wickwire until 1864 when it was purchased by blacksmith William Rust who raised his 13 children there. The inn was remodeled in 1878 as a family home where the Rusts and later, daughter Louisa Flemming’s family lived until the house was acquired by Elvin “Red” Dixon and his wife Lillian.
The Dixons were proud of the history of the house and Lillian always wanted to turn the remaining barn into a Pony Express museum, but she died in 1999 before she could do so. It was used for many years as a stop for Pony Express rerides in which Red was an active participant.
The Dixons’ granddaughter Dianne Newborn and her family lived in the home until the end of May. Dianne, husband Rick and daughter Crystal are heavily involved with the Highway 50 Wagon Train and the property was used to store wagons and to train the teams to pull them.
According to the El Dorado County Assessors Office, the property with the Pleasant Grove House was sold in 2006 to co-owners Linda Parisi and Mahmud N. Sharif. The Newborns leased the home back from the new owners until recently. They operate the carriage concession in Old Town Sacramento and the daily commute with a trailer full of horses became expensive.
“We had to make a decision about whether to stay in the house or give up our business ” said Dianne Newborn. “It was costing $300 to $400 each week with the price of gas.” The Newborns moved out on May 31 and the home has been empty since. Newborn worries about the care of the reservoir on the property and the fate of the buildings, but said, “I think my grandmother would understand.” She took the sign off the barn when she left. “My grandma put it up when she had the barn refaced years ago.” The family relocated to the town of Pleasant Grove, about 20 minutes away from Old Town Sacramento, but they stay in touch with the neighbors.
Neighbors like Floyd Smith,who can see the barn from his house, keep an eye on the property, worried about vagrants and possible fire.
“This is a national treasure,”said Smith, “and it’s not being protected at all. I don’t think it will last another winter if someone doesn’t step up and help. We need to protect this piece of history.”
The Mountain Democrat was unable to contact Ms. Parisi or Mr. Sharif for comment.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or email@example.com. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.