The long-awaited 2017 Merced County Historical Society calendar is finally here! Society members will receive a free calendar when they renew their memberships. If you are not yet a member, please join today and receive a complimentary copy. The theme of the new calendar is “Early Hotels in Merced County,” featuring 13 historic photos of hotels from 11 Merced County towns.
Featured in the January calendar is Snelling’s Anderson Hotel. First known as the Galt House, it was moved to Snelling from La Grange in 1862 by A.B. Anderson, and occupied the southwest corner of Lewis and Third streets. The rundown Anderson Hotel was accidentally burned down during a sulphur fumigation in 1912.
The historic Anderson Hotel was not the first hotel built in Merced County, but it is said that it occupied the site of the Snelling Hotel, the earliest hotel in Merced County. The area was first settled by Dr. David Lewis, John Montgomery and Samuel Scott in the spring of 1851. Dr. Lewis used a brush tent as a temporary hotel until a permanent wooden structure was completed that year. In fall 1851, the hotel and the land along the Merced River, where Snelling is today, were sold to the Snelling family; hence the names, Snelling Hotel and Snelling’s Ranch.
Benjamin Snelling, his wife Frances, their sons William, Benjamin, and Charles, and one daughter came to California from Missouri in a covered wagon in 1849. After trying their luck in the goldfields, they settled in Merced County, four years before the county was organized. It was said that William Snelling built a large two-story house with porticos and verandas and opened it as the new Snelling Hotel in 1853. After Snelling’s Ranch became the new county seat in the fall election of 1855, court proceedings were held in the Snelling Hotel until the county courthouse was built in 1857.
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This Snelling Hotel was a popular lodging for miners, farmers and merchants on their way to and from the goldfields. Snelling, a foothill town, was where they could replenish supplies, have a decent meal, or try their luck at gambling in the Snelling Hotel. A game of chance can have a violent end, and the Snelling Hotel was the scene of such a tragedy. It was winter 1857. By this time, Benjamin Snelling was dead, his wife went back to Missouri in the company of their son Benjamin, and the hotel was probably run by William Snelling or may have been sold since the ranch and hotel were listed for sale in 1856.
On Dec. 5, 1857, about 8 p.m., William Snelling was fatally shot at the Snelling Hotel by William C. Edwards. Just days earlier, Edwards was in a very heated argument with a fellow by the name of West, brother-in-law of Snelling, after a game of crack-a-loo. Since Snelling was associated with West, Edwards took his anger out on Snelling. So, that night as both individuals were having dinner at the Snelling Hotel, Edwards finished first and was in the bar room. As soon as he saw Snelling step out of the dining room, Edwards raised his pistol and fired while cursing at Snelling. Although Snelling was shot, he was able to return fire but missed when Edwards jumped over the bar counter. On the run, Edwards was met by the sheriff who was able to seize Edwards’ gun but failed to apprehend him.
After Snelling’s death, his supporters were confronted by Edwards’ backers in the Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 28, 1858, and another shootout followed with three more deaths. In a letter to Dr. Jefferson Goodin’s widow, Clarrissa Snelling, the widow of William Snelling, not only informed Elizabeth Goodin about the death of her husband but also described her lonely life. Clarrissa and her five little children later moved back to Missouri to be close to family. Edwards was eventually captured and executed by hanging.
The blood-stained Snelling Hotel was washed away in the disastrous flood of 1862. It had rained more than 40 days in Merced County before the swollen Merced River flooded the town of Snelling on Jan. 11, 1862. The Snelling Hotel was filled with trapped travelers including the McKean Buchanan Theatre Company, a well-known traveling theater group. When the hotel began to shake because of the roaring waves, the hotel guests and keepers took refuge on a large oak tree next to the hotel. After they were ferried to safety, the hotel and the tree were carried away by the floodwater. The town was rebuilt, but the Anderson’s Galt House was not relocated to Snelling until after another disaster, the fire of September 1862.
To find out which hotels made it into the 2017 calendar, become a Merced County Historical Society member today and receive a free copy of the calendar. For more membership information, stop by the Courthouse Museum or visit www.mercedmuseum.org.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.