The Pleasant Grove House: Thriving Pony Express stop now in disrepair
On Green Valley Road, five miles west of Rescue, stands the Pleasant Grove House — a once commodious inn and Pony Express waystation with two barns and a blacksmith shop. California Registered Historic Landmark No. 703 marker recognizes this 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 around Cape Horn, the white-painted inn boasted nine bedrooms upstairs for travelers and a 60-foot sleeping/dining room downstairs. The barns could accommodate 100 horses and one of them, still in existence, had a 1,160-square-foot dance floor upstairs.
Neighbor Floyd Smith can see the barn from his house. He keeps an eye on the property, vacant since this past spring, but said he worries 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.”
At the Pleasant Grove House riders with the Central Overland Pony Express exchanged their ponies from July 1, 1860, to June 30, 1861. From there the riders continued westward to Folsom or eastward to Placerville through Rescue, Dry Creek Crossing and Missouri Flat.
Now, the only standing barn 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 ripe with insects and a plastic rocking horse. Signs for Pony Express rerides through the years hang on the barn’s walls and a blank space above the doors shows 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 is decaying and smells 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 a concrete walkway displays an etched map of the Pony Express route from St. Joseph, Mo., to San Francisco. Embedded horseshoes mark the trail.
The house was built in 1850 by Rufus Hitchcock and owned by a Henry Wickwire until 1864. Then 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 house’s history 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 2012. Dianne, husband Rick and daughter Crystal are heavily involved with the Highway 50 Wagon Train and used the property to store wagons and train the teams needed 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. They could not be reached for comment.
The Newborns leased the home back from the new owners. They operate the carriage concession in Old Town Sacramento and the daily commute with a trailer full of horses became too 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 family relocated to the town of Pleasant Grove, about 20 minutes away from Old Town Sacramento. Newborn said she also worries about the care of the reservoir on the property and the fate of the buildings, but said of her decision to move, “I think my grandmother would understand.”
Not wanting to leave everything behind, Newborn took the sign off the barn when she left — a piece of family history. “My grandma put it up when she had the barn refaced years ago.”