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Jacksonville, California PDF Print E-mail

school-pictureOnce one of the largest towns in the Mother Lode, the town is now entirely submerged by Lake Don Pedro

by Mary Ann White
Jacksonville once was one of the largest mining towns in the Mother Lode. We had stores, a post office and three hotels with more than twenty-five rooms in each one. The Sheafe Hotel floated away in one of the Tuolumne River floods, and only the concrete foundation remains. Mines located around the Shawmut were producing through the fifties, but before long only the shafts remained as a reminder of the town’s grand and glorious past.
{gallery_tease}april2009/a3{/gallery_tease}When I was born in a farmhouse near Riverbank in 1930, my father Frank was busy installing power lines throughout the valley.  A little later he went back to Moccasin to work, and the family moved to Groveland.  One day he paid a monumental visit to the dentist, where twenty-two teeth were pulled all at once. A stroke shortly afterwards led to six months in the hospital in Sonora before he died.
Mom had very little money, but she had heard of a lot for sale in Jacksonville for $100. No house, just property, and a cellar where it was said a Chinaman was buried. Mom negotiated to pay $10 down and $10 a month until the lot was paid off.
A friend, Mr. Yates, offered to build a small house over the cellar, asking Mom to pay only for materials. The house was built with a front area to serve as a general store, bar, and gas station. Later, two cabins were built on the lot for tourists on their way to Yosemite Valley.
By the time I was four, the store was doing well, and Mom had paid off the lot and materials for the house. In 1935, Mom met Ed, and they soon were off to San Francisco to be married. Ed was a good guy and a good provider.
At age 6 I enrolled at Jacksonville Elementary, one of nine students. The Penroses accounted for thirteen families in town, so they made up most of the student body. Our teacher, Mrs. Tagmeyer, taught one or two students in all eight grades.
I remember how important it was to be good. Two great things might be awarded to you. One was the responsibility to go to school at 7 a.m. with the key and get the fire in the wood stove going so the room would be warm by 9 a.m. The other honor was to have your name printed on the blackboard in beautiful block letters by Mr. J. P. Morgan, the county school superintendent. Mrs. Tagmeyer would choose who had been the best student between Mr. Morgan’s visits for that award. If we were chosen we would guard that name on the blackboard as long as we possibly could.
One day when I was in the second grade, my Mom decided to take our new 1938 Chevy Coupe to the dealer in Oakdale for some minor adjustments. She left with Margaret Sheafe about 9 a.m. after I had left for school.
The wind blew harder and harder, with pine trees around the school bent over. The teacher told us to stay in our seats and locked the door to keep it from blowing open. Suddenly, the school building began to sway back and forth, and piece by piece, the tin began flying off the roof. It was no longer safe to remain in the building, and Mrs. Tagmeyer had us hook our arms and walk down the big hill where the school was into the gully that led to town, hoping we could be safe. Huge pieces of tin flew over our heads, and we were terrified. We all made it safely into town, but when I got home my Mom was gone, and my stepdad Ed was on the roof trying to keep some of the shingles from blowing off.
He sent me to the cellar because the house was shaking, and I stayed down there for what seemed forever, hoping Mom was safe. Mom was able to negotiate that Chevy down the roads, even though trees were falling across them. She arrived home about 4 p.m., and what had started as a terrifying day ended with all of us together enjoying a warm dinner.
It rained for three days, and without a roof our schoolhouse got soaked. For three weeks school was held in Mrs. Tagmeyer’s house. She even prepared lunch for us every day. I guess that was an early version of home schooling.
Two relics remaining in the 1930s from the gold rush were two huge hotels, and they became a magic playhouse for us. We set up a play store at the bar and stocked it with cans and bottles we found at the dump across the street.  We opened a hair salon where Delores and Ruth would soap up our hair and put it in beautiful waves. That was great until the soap dried. Then it became hard as stone and glued to our heads. I spent a lot of time with my Mom trying to rinse out that caked soap.
The owners of the hotels pulled up and left when the gold rush ended, so the town people would help themselves to the furnishings as they needed them. The hotels were giant “playhouses” where we could let our imaginations run wild.
We’d wander up to the bar, put our feet on the brass railing and order an orange “Kool Aid.” Or we’d go on a “bat safari” in the hotel rooms. Armed with brooms, we would rip off the wallpaper and watch the bats fly out. We would knock the bats down, pick them up, and put them in our doll suitcases. When we had twenty or thirty bats captured, we’d take them outside and let them go.
This is the first part of Mary Ann White’s story about growing up in Jacksonville. Look for more in the next issue of the Yosemite Gazette.