Early Days in Woodfords, Diamond Valley, and Fredericksburg
R-C Alpine Bureau
I cannot prove it, since there is absolutely no documentation, but I have always believed that Johnny Appleseed left his East Coast home and traveled out right here to Alpine County. Along the river in downtown Woodfords there are a wide variety of apple trees about an equal distance apart. They are placed so they have enough water but are not submerged. Someone really had to love those tart little apples to have done all that work.
There are lots of surprises in this tiny mountain hamlet besides our rogue apple trees. And there are at least two sites (Hawkins and Merrill property) that contain more traditional orchard patterns. Karen Dustman has published A Self-Guided Driving Tour of Woodfords, Diamond Valley, and Fredericksburg that outlines the homesteads, businesses, and stories of the early emigrants, miners, ranchers, hotel owners, schoolteachers, and rugged individuals that chose to make their home in this challenging terrain.
The raging West Fork of the Carson River cascades down the canyon, creating the centerpiece of Woodfords below the majestic peak named after mill owner John Carey. Many travelers struggled up the steep boulder strewn pathways of “the Dark Defile” as this difficult stretch was often known. But it was the Mormon emigrants who named the breathtaking lands of Hope Valley, obviously feeling thankful that they had made it over the trail. Written in axle grease on a large boulder, there is one faded word “Hope” on the first vista point that looks out into that valley.
Sorenson’s and Hope Valley Resorts are further east, just out of Woodfords reach. The neighborhoods of Crystal Springs, the Mesa, Alpine Village, Upper and Lower Manzanita, Sierra Pines Trailer Park, Carson River Road, Diamond Valley Road, River Ranch, and all the homes scattered between these clusters are all part of Woodfords proper. The community of Hung-a-lel-ti is farther east, nearer to the Nevada Border, and is home to the Washoe Tribe. Fredericksburg goes right to the Nevada border along Highway 88. Its large cemetery has more souls than the area itself.
The most famous resident, of course, was our legendary mail carrier Snowshoe Thompson. Noted for skiing over the treacherous passes in the dead of winter to deliver his missives, he has his own cave named after him. He homesteaded his ranch on Diamond Valley Road, and when his appendix burst, he gave up his life on that very spot. But good things also happened there. His son Arthur was born in his little house, and Snowshoe reported that he could see his gold mine from the bedroom window.
Although it has only been 160 years or less, many of the sites identified in Dustman’s book need a trained eye coupled with her serious research to realize anything was ever there. It is amazing how many fires destroyed these early buildings.
The settlement’s namesake, Daniel Woodfords, had an interesting life marked by many unexpected and challenging events. According to legend, he had taken over a squatters home and ranch in Fredericksburg, and met his wife in the little store he ran. She left her husband to marry him since she no longer wanted to travel in a wagon. They settled in and had the first white child born in Alpine County. They named him Kit Carson Woodfords. This marriage (and another thereafter) did not last, and he moved back to Fredericksburg before he and his son packed up and left for Washington Territory. Even though he did not stay, his name stuck.
Homesteaded by O.C. Wade in 1865, the Wade house is the oldest continuously inhabited structure in the Eastern Sierras. Today you can see it just to the right of the Mad Dog Cafe near the flashing light. Just up from the Wade house there is a large multi-colored stone building (on private property). Grant Merrill and Bernice Dangberg gathered stone from all over the county to built this schoolhouse in 1932. The doors were closed after serving the children in our community for 42 years.
Woodfords has a population of about 150 people today who are happy to be in this remarkable high altitude mountain landscape. Many spectacular spots can rival the beauty here, but none can surpass it. You can find her book online at http://www.clairi tage.com, at local businesses or at the Alpine County Museum. It will take about an hour to do the drive, and will give you a new view of the past.