Commentary: A chance to stay in ancestral home
April 19, 2013
"I'm not a neighbor," were the first words I spoke to John and Janet Lamb, the new owners of the property where my ancestors had lived, starting in 1856 in California Gold Rush country.
They were just moving in; their moving van was parked outside. As I stepped into the house, the lovely-looking couple came towards me eagerly with outstretched hands as they welcomed me.
I was their first visitor.
Instead of cookies to welcome them to the neighborhood, I brought them a book I had written about my ancestors who lived on the property in Grass Valley during most of the late 1800s.
This was the Lamb's big day! They were moving to the bed and breakfast property after many months of dreaming and planning. They had sold their house in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to the Sierra foothills, to a town where they had no prior connection, all to fulfill their dream of owning a B&B.
Though slightly embarrassed, I excitedly told them some of my story. I was only in town for a few days, as I lived in Southern California.
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I'd thought about this trip for many months.
Discovering the family house
A year before, I had taken my first research trip to Grass Valley to find stories about my ancestors, the Stone/Farrington family.
I did not think much about the family house after finding a parking lot at the address I had. But then a stranger, named Desmond Gallagher contacted me to say he knew some things about my family.
His first question was, "Do you know about the family house?"
I did not. He said it is the Victorian Lady Bed & Breakfast on Church Street. The address had changed. Wow!
You might wonder how Desmond found me.
As part of the preparation for this mid-winter trip, I telephoned the historical library to inquire about their hours.
The librarian asked me who I was researching; Desmond overheard the conversation. Serendipity, for sure!
Before leaving town, I took a picture of the lovely snow-covered house.
One of my goals for this second trip was to stay in the B&B — to visit and experience the house where my ancestors had lived for almost 50 years.
I made a reservation online, and then a few weeks before the trip, called the previous owner, Fran, to tell her about my connection with the house.
As we spoke, she became increasingly excited. She told me about her interest in the history of the house and how her guests over seven years had asked about its history. She knew very little.
My anticipation mounted. I could stay there and share my joy with some family members and distant cousins who were also coming to town.
Less than a week before my trip, Fran called to tell me that I could not stay there since she had sold the property.
Imagine my disappointment! "Escrow is closing Friday," she said.
I was leaving for Grass Valley on Monday.
Gathering my wits, I asked her how long she would be in town.
"The moving van is coming Monday and I'm leaving on Tuesday."
Oh good, I would have time to meet Fran and get a tour of the property.
Dashing to Grass Valley, I pulled up in front of the house as soon as I arrived in town.
Holding a copy of my book, I greeted Fran, who then showed me around the beautiful B&B.
It was a heartfelt experience. As we walked through my ancestors' home, Fran showed me the initials of my great-grandfather, Marion Pierce Stone, carved in the stone of the basement.
When my camera ran out of battery power, I asked her if I could return the next day.
The following morning, she told me she had read my entire book and loved it.
We were both in tears: she — because she was leaving and finally knew more about the history of the house, and me — because of the emotions the house aroused in me.
Lamb's Victorian Inn
Two days later I had the pleasure of meeting John and Janet Lamb.
The house is now Lamb's Victorian Inn. It re-opened in March .
Rosina's Gold Thimble
I own the gold thimble that belonged to my great-great-grandmother, Rosina Farrington Stone. Someday I shall give it to my oldest granddaughter, Siena Stiles, who is now 8 years old.
I want to tell her about her ancestor who lived so long ago. I hope my granddaughter will grow up to honor her ancestors and her family history as much as I do today.
Rosina, a single woman, was the first teacher in Grass Valley. She arrived in town in 1851.
Why did she leave the comfort, culture, and sophistication of New England to travel to the Wild West? What was life like for her, both in Maine and in California? These are a few of the questions I sought to answer in my research. The story evolved as I discovered many facts about her and her family.
"The Gold Thimble" is my story of Rosina and her family.
Being able to enjoy the property where my great-grandparents lived in the late 1800s is a wonderful addition to the family story. Walking around their house, which is still today much as it was when they lived there, was inspiring. I am looking forward to returning and sleeping in my ancestors' home.
Barbara Ann Warren lives in Thousand Oaks, Calif. For more information about her or her book, "The Gold Thimble," go to http://www.FastPencil.com.
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