Magical History Tour of colorful, old Penn Valley ranch |

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Magical History Tour of colorful, old Penn Valley ranch

Looking at the rolling hills in their September buckskin colors, you half expect to see a wagon train squeaking and grinding its way on the horizon. Such is the nostalgic beauty of Charlie Grande and Dennis Fournier's old ranch property.

Sitting on the patio near the black-eyed Susans, I wondered how many others had savored this unspoiled view.

Entrepreneurs, wranglers, gamblers, military personnel and Chinese coolies have all had an impact on this historic place.

Before we go inside, let's take a look at its colorful past.

In the late 1930s, Patrick Shannon, a man who dressed like Colonel Sanders and enjoyed a good cigar with his tipple, purchased 1,177 acres of open grazing land. During World War II, he began to develop the property.

The main house, now occupied by Charlie and Dennis, was made with blocks from Gladding McBean ceramics in Lincoln. Just opposite is a Swiss-style chalet.

Under Shannon's direction, it was built by Fred Thorns (whose daughter still lives in Grass Valley). With its rock walls, hand-hewn timbers and 18-foot ceilings, this substantial structure became known as "the fort." The upper portion was an officers' club for Beale Air Force Base, complete with dancing area, while the lower level contained a full-length bar and card tables.

In the 1950s, Shannon was forced to sell. New owners Mason and Jeanetta Clingan purchased and converted the property into a cattle operation they named Oak Meadows Ranch.

The ranch was subsequently owned by the West Coast CEO of Avis Car Rental and then by Quarter Horse breeders. In 1978, the land was subdivided into 20-acre parcels.

Charlie Grande and Dennis Fournier's property consists of two of these parcels.

The main house comprises two bedrooms and two baths, plus an open floor plan kitchen, dining and living area.

Its slate floors, original doors and built-in sideboard give the home a Sonoma-harvest feel. Two '40s-style white sinks enhance the country theme.

The vaulted ceilings are wood with rustic beams. The built-in kitchen cabinets are made of alder, and the bucolic artwork is by one of their favorite painters, Dolores Chiappone. (With humorous images of farm animals, as well as a European-style landscape, her versatility is impressive.)

An angled arch leads to the sunken living room, done in a subtle southwest style — earth-red area rugs, a custom-made lodge pole desk and leather furniture add to the home's old-time appeal. Shades of yellow and Dijon mustard are reminiscent of a harvest sunset.

There's a 500-foot separate guest cabin – plus a small, private studio where Charlie is developing his painting skills. Downstairs is a temperature-controlled wine cellar.

Yes, significant updates have been made, including a new composite roof by Daniel Kazsa Roofing. However, its past remains an active part of its present.

"Character simply can't be built; it's got to be nurtured and maintained," Dennis said.

Good examples are the rock-arch bridges outside the fort and the old bunkhouse that's now a rental property.

There's a large outside cooking area that's also made of rock. Built by Chinese coolies, no doubt, many western songs were sung here and many cowboy poems shared.

In recent years, weddings have been performed here. The arbor, covered in "no-mess" grapeless vines, makes a perfect entrance for the bride.

Dennis is active in community nonprofit organizations. He is also the proud owner of a three-time champion Egyptian Arabian stallion. Charlie serves in the ministry, performs weddings and is involved in nonprofit fundraising for FilmProjects.

"This is such a peaceful place," Charlie said. "Many of our friends call it the "Good Karma Ranch."

The swimming pool on the lower terrace overlooks more of those Zane Grey views – and, yes, this ranch has a unique, timeless dignity that makes you want to slow down, and savor every second of your visit.

Charlie and Dennis are neighbors of the homeowners I featured last month. Typically, I would not highlight homes from the same area consecutively.

Once I heard a little about its unusual past, I was intrigued, and quickly decided to make an exception – and I'm delighted I did.

This is a home that's in perfect harmony with our late-summer changes. The variety of textures and colors is an emotive reminder that autumn is on its way, and this is the perfect place to make the transition.

Courtney Ferguson has written home-and-lifestyle articles for many years, both in Nevada County and in England. Contact her at