Debbie Croft: 3 tales of foothills romance, domesticity

composed@tds.netFebruary 14, 2014 

DEBBIE CROFT

A hint of romance surrounds a few significant homes in the Sierra Nevada foothills. On this Valentine’s Day weekend, here are some of the romantic tales about these homes, from long ago and not so long ago:

• At the time it was a quiet corner in the town of Sonora. Built in 1910, the Hardin House sits across the street from the Red Church. This neighborhood now lies in the charming and congested historic downtown area.

Rowan Hardin was born in 1881. He began practicing law in 1906 and soon became Sonora’s city attorney. His marriage to Louise Edna McArdle joined two of Tuolumne County’s earliest pioneer families.

From 1911 to 1927 Hardin served as district attorney. He returned to private practice for the next 20 years until his death.

Edna earned her teaching certificate and taught for many years. She lived in the house until her passing at the age of 102 in 1990.

One of the Hardin’s four children, James, also studied law, and became a Tuolumne County Superior Court judge. He inherited the house, and was a charter member of the Tuolumne County Historical Society. The home now belongs to one of the Hardin’s granddaughters.

In 2010 a Heritage Home Award was presented by society’s Landmarks Committee for the restoration and preservation of a historic residence.

• Could it have been a wedding gift and Christmas gift wrapped into one?

John B. Curtin and his bride, Lucy Shaw, moved into their Sonora home just before Christmas in 1897. Curtin commissioned the project with architect C.W. Ayers for $6,000. Within weeks it became known as the Curtin Mansion.

The stately Victorian encompasses almost 7,000 square feet, with seven bedrooms, five fireplaces, 52 interior doors, and 10-foot ceilings. A carriage house and caretaker’s cottage are also on the property.

As a prominent attorney, Curtin won the vote as state senator and served for 16 years.

During the last half of the 20th century, the home fell into disrepair. The new owner is Steve Case, who purchased and fully restored the house. He plans to open it as a home for retired, active seniors.

• The Tuolumne County Museum is in a building that once housed the county jail. Whenever a sheriff married, guess where he and his bride lived?

The following information comes from a museum pamphlet:

“At some point, a lean-to was added onto the west end of the wooden structure in front of the jail wall. In 1908, to accommodate the sheriff’s wife, a new bride, the lean-to was replaced by a kitchen, bath and a back porch which led to the street. At a later date, a bedroom was added to the front porch when the sheriff’s family outgrew the living quarters.”

• A two-story Victorian farmhouse nestled in the hills near Placerville may look familiar to some. The turn-of-the-century home was the inspiration for Thomas Kincade’s painting “Sunday at Apple Hill.”

In 1883, at the age of 19, Thomas Hartwick left Canada, moved to Placerville, where he worked at a sawmill. After saving enough money, he purchased 160 acres of land for $1,800. Then he married the girl next door, Maud Hart. Her family owned the adjacent farm.

Hartwick was known for his music. He usually sang while working, and played his fiddle at local dances.

A small house and the large house were built by Paul Reese in 1908-09. Additions to the property have been made over the years as ownership has changed hands. The home and lawn have served as backdrop for numerous weddings and special events. Today the lovely equine estate is called Crystal Springs Gardens, and is worth close to $3 million.

History of Sonora homes and jail came from the Tuolumne County Genealogical Society and www.curtinmansion.com; information on Apple Hill home came from Coldwell Banker Real Estate. Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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