Jeff Jardine

Work begins to bring fire-damaged hotel back to life

Workers tarped the roof of Hotel Jeffery to keep the rain out during last week’s storm as they removed debris from the fire in preparation for the restoration after the Nov. 12 blaze.
Workers tarped the roof of Hotel Jeffery to keep the rain out during last week’s storm as they removed debris from the fire in preparation for the restoration after the Nov. 12 blaze. jjardine@modbee.com

From the emails, voice mails and other sources:

RESTORING A LANDMARK – When fire damaged Coulterville’s historic Hotel Jeffery last month, owner Sara Zahn understandably was both shaken and uncertain what it would take to put the place back together again.

I’m happy to report that cleanup is underway, with crews tearing out debris from the hotel’s burned and smoke-damaged areas.

Coulterville resident Miriam Jones said crews on Monday set up generators to power large blowers that will need seven to 10 days to dry the hotel area. The restoration will begin by repairing Zahn’s office and living quarters, then the Magnolia Saloon will reopen, followed by repair of the hotel itself.

Insurance won’t cover the entire restoration cost, though, so area residents created a donation account through GoFundMe and another at Yosemite Bank, Fund for Hotel Jeffery Restoration Project, P.O. Box 1267, Mariposa 95338. Every dime will be used for the restoration project, backers promise. They’re also planning an auction and dinner fundraiser May 30 in Coulterville Park. Contact Jones at (209) 878-3158 for more information.

KINFOLK – A couple of weeks ago, a Coulterville resident emailed to tell me that a direct descendant of the hotel’s founder, George Jeffery, still lives nearby. In fact, Alberta Jeffery Garrett, 86, is Jeffery’s great-granddaughter. She was born in Yosemite National Park, where her father was a foreman when the rock walls were being built along the roads leading into the park. She married and lived virtually all of her life in Mariposa County.

Her husband, Norman Garrett, served two terms as Mariposa County’s sheriff beginning in the late 1960s, and she worked for 28 years in local government, in the treasurer’s and tax collector’s office. During that time, she researched the succession of ownership of the hotel and found that George Jeffery – who bought it in 1852 – didn’t receive the actual deed until he paid Judge John Corcoran $13.50 in gold coin for the document in 1878. Why? Most likely, it’s because California didn’t become a state until 1850. Converting land grants, compiling and recording property ownerships didn’t happen overnight. After all, this was closer to the time of the short-lived Pony Express than it was to Excel spreadsheets.

Garrett tracked the ownership of the hotel from her great-grandfather, who died in 1891, to his wife and then his children. Subsequent deed holders paid $10 in gold coin to $3,000 in U.S. currency as they bought out siblings or other relatives.

She visited the hotel on occasion, but her side of the family never was involved in its operation.

“I didn’t take an interest in it,” Garrett said. “I used to go there and visit Sarah and John (her great aunt and uncle who owned the hotel into the 1940s).”

In fact, Garrett’s only real connection to the place was when she mailed property tax bills to relatives who owned it. She retired from the county in 1978, around the same time the last member of the Jeffery family owned the hotel.

“I’m the last of the Jefferys,” she said. Up there at least. When news of the fire spread, Bay Area resident Andrew Jeffery emailed to say his lineage includes brothers Dave, James and one George Jeffery, who came to the United States from Canada sometime around 1850.

“They somehow got separated from George,” Andrew said.

James Jeffery owned a Hotel Jeffery in Salinas around the same time George Jeffery owned the Hotel Jeffery in Coulterville. So far, no other confirmation they were brothers, though. But if it turns out they were, Alberta Jeffery Garrett has some kinfolk she never knew existed.

A MAN WITH A VISION – Whenever Modesto resident Hal Conkey visits San Antonio, he finds himself mesmerized by its famous River Walk. And he wonders why Modesto couldn’t create a similar experience on Dry Creek, near the point it flows into the Tuolumne River.

“We need a drawing power to attract more conventions, tourists and their money,” he said. Developing Dry Creek similarly to San Antonio’s River Walk, and creating a consistent look for restaurants and shops there and in the downtown would attract tourists, he believes. Modesto certainly deserves better than seeing its waterways turned into bacteria-filled bathtubs by transients.

“Everything starts out as a dream by somebody,” Conkey said, who added that he’s broached the topic with elected officials locally.

And you certainly can’t blame him for dreaming about improving the community.

AUTHOR! AUTHOR! – Frank Blanas of Modesto is the author of “The King of Clovis.” It’s the biography of Norman Petty, a musician, songwriter, producer, music executive and sound engineer who worked with, among others, Buddy Holly. Petty hailed from Clovis, N.M., not the Central Valley town.

Blanas, who teaches American music history and world history at Davis High in Modesto, spent more than two decades researching and writing the 514-page book, which is available in hardcover through Amazon for $51.65 and delves into shady dealings in the music industry, along with Petty’s personal and business relationships with Holly. A reviewer in Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, gave it a solid review, concluding, “Those wanting to learn more about not just Petty and Holly, but Petty’s dreams and the obstacles he faced in the late 1950s, often will be fascinated.”

And just in time for the holidays, Silver Lamb has released her self-published children’s book, “The Christmas Miracle Wrapped in Fur.” Lamb is a longtime music educator in the Sylvan Union School District. It’s the story of a cat that hitches a lift on a sleigh and the people he meets along the way. The book is available at Amazon Books and as a Kindle download.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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