Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hidden in the Past

Most of the time, it’s about buildings and buildings are, generally, pretty easy.  They are there, their pieces are either intact or missing, or sometimes hidden, but you can look at them.  And poke around, and if you know what you are looking for, you can usually figure out what you need to know.

But sometimes, before you get to the poking around part you have to understand the history of the thing, too.  History isn’t quite as obvious as four walls and roof and sometimes, when you least expect it, it's dang near hair-pullingly obscure.

I am currently trying to unravel what the heck Horace Knight (or Knights), Marshall Short and Ferdinand Grisez were doing in Siskiyou County between, 1850 and 1852.  And more specifically whether any of it involved building.  Somewhere during that time period these three guys showed up, like so many others, looking for gold.  Short, born in Ohio, came over the Isthmus of Panama.  I don’t now what brought Mr. Knight here from his ancestral home in Vermont and know even less about Grisez.  

One way or the other the three of them, or at least Knights, ended up at a property SW of Yreka that is still known as the Forest House, the gem I wrote about a month or so ago.   By 1853 Knight had leased a sawmill from a millwright named D. P. Sanborn, the guy who has been credited with operating the “first” sawmill in Siskiyou County, and milling the lumber for the Forest House.  The thing is, I don't know if the "Forest House" was standing when Knight and Sanborn signed the lease.

Knight, and Marshall didn't actually get their patents on the land claims until 1881 and 1882.  On the other hand the Forest House was certainly in place by 1853, when the County dedicated the road between Yreka and Fort Jones, by way of the Forest House Road…And Knight was soon hosting "gala" dances at a fine dwelling with a large auditorium, clearly the building that is still on the property.

I am just stymied that what was obviously an early and important structure receives such scant reference in most of the early histories.  I am currently operating under the assumption that Harry L. Wells, who wrote the 1881 “History of Siskiyou County” had, um "issues" with Knight and Short or vice versa.  Best take care when tangling with a historian. Whatever the reason, if there is one, Wells, and others, report pretty much nothing to clarify what Knight, Short and Grisez were actually doing in the early 1850s.  There's a nice piece in the local paper, published in 1901, and then, after the current owner's family purchased the property in 1909, a host of stories, all from the same source, that are generally consistent in character but vary somewhat in the early particulars.

Some have claimed that the Forest House was built as early as 1850, which seems unlikely to me, but it could have been.  And the current structure could have been built as late as 1865 on the site of an earlier on at the same location, and of the same name.  There is no evidence of that, by the way, but then there’s not much direct evidence of the house that is there now having being built earlier either.  At least not yet.

Back to the microfilms.


  1. Hello George, All very interesting.
    I traveled a similar journey looking for the possible date that my home was built. I finally got an approximation by examining the abstracts and sale amounts listed within those abstracts. For example, the Millions received this 2 acre parcel in 1886 as a donation land claim; they sold it to the Clary's in September of 1902 for $400; the Clarys then got a mortgage for $200 in February 1904; I assume the bank would only give a mortgage if a home actually existed. The Clarys sold it in 1904 for $1150.00. A sizable jump in two years unless some substantial improvements had been made. Given that it was a donation land claim I assume that the Millions had to do some kind of improvement and they may have had some rudimentary structure put in place before the Clarys came into the picture. But the big jump in the sales price would seem that most improvements happened with the Clarys in 1902/1903.
    I'm sure you've already ventured down this path because you're brilliant at this stuff but between bill of sales and taxes there should be some public record that will get you closer.

    As a note of further confirmation, I came across an unused 1903 Poley's drug store calendar in one of the walls. Assuming calendars are printed before the year's end; they must have placed it as the wall was getting buttoned up. aka Cathy Shaw

  2. Hi Alma (aka Cathy)... the blog posts are moderated, which means that I have to "approve" them before you can see 'em. Keeps the junk down. Glad that you have figured out your place. 1902/03 sounds about right too...didn't know you had the Millions property.

    I am headed to Yreka tomorrow and hope to bring some clarity to the Forest House issue....take care.

  3. Hi George,
    Remember the Wolf Creek Tavern? For years everyone thought it was an 1850s-1860s building (it looks like it), but later research (by Philip Dole, I believe) revealed that it was actually built in the 1880s. I wonder if this could be one of those "anachronistic" type buildings that looks older in form than it actually is...?
    Good luck!

  4. Hi Liz...as it happens I spend yesterday hunkered down at Forest House. At this point I still don't know what exactly happened but clearly there was a building there, much like this one, by the mid-1850s (there are newspaper accounts of Forest House with a huge dance floor that certainly relate to this structure). Accounts date the building all the way between 1851 and 1865, but like all pioneer places its all confused with variations on the same few stories. I'll need some luck!