Higgins Corner: Gateway to South County and to Nevada County history
July 17, 2014
THE ROAD AHEAD: What’s in store for South County?
Editor’s note: This story was originally published March 1, 2013.
Whether in political debates, letters to the editor or casual conversation, in Nevada County, a tense relationship exists between past and future, between looking back and peering forward, between desire to preserve the rural pastures of the Sierra foothills and the will to provide economic development to sustain a viable community.
This tension is particularly crystallized in South County, where a series of developments centered around the intersection of Highway 49 and Combie Road figure to alter the face of a community with a tradition of being devoutly pastoral.
The intersection, known to locals as Higgins Corner, was named after Michael J. Higgins, a New York transplant who failed to strike gold along the American River in 1852 and tried his hand at ranching, the principal means of earning one’s bread for more than a century.
— Matthew Renda
For more on the road ahead for South County, click here.
While most people call Combie Road a pit stop on the Auburn-to-Grass-Valley jog along Highway 49, locals refer to the intersection and surroundings as something else: Higgins Corner.
Named for Gold Rush-era settler Michael J. Higgins, Higgins Corner has become the gateway to South Nevada County.
More than just an intersection, locals use the Higgins Corner handle for the area that covers several small shopping centers, the Lake of the Pines' housing community, a half-dozen or more churches, Forest Lake Christian School and other educational settings, the Dark Horse housing development and assorted ranches and cottage home businesses.
"This is a great place to live and have the animals," said Mary O'Brien, co-proprietor of Egg Farm Ranch on Table Meadow Road off Combie Road. "The lure of the history of this house was too much — I had to have it."
Willard Schoellerman, whose family has lived in the area since 1955, said a lot of confusion still exists about what to call the area.
"You go to the DMV and put down an Auburn address, and they think you're in Placer County," he said. "There's Combie Road, Wolf Road, Bear River High School — a lot of different identifications.
"It's been Higgins Corner for a century," Schoellerman said."
O'Brien's house, like the rest of Higgins Corner, was once on part of 3,000-plus acres owned by David Woerner from San Francisco at the turn of the century, according to Schoellerman. Schoellerman said Woerner built the house at Table Meadow Road that Mary O'Brien now lives in.
In 1955, Schoellerman's parents purchased 1,100 acres from another family who had owned the same portion of Woerner's property since the end of World War II. The Schoellermans sold the 1,100 acres to Western Enterprises in 1961.
In 1966, Western Enterprises sold the land to Western Lake Properties, the developer of Lake of the Pines. Western Lake Properties also bought portions of two other ranches to build the housing community. Then, in 1968, Western Lake sold the entire property to Boise Cascade.
Meanwhile, by 1974, Woerner's original summer cottage had deteriorated. It was purchased by Duane and Doris Shisler, who spent the next 30 years rebuilding it.
Duane Shisler, 84, and Doris, 78, raised their children at the house and then sold it in 2004. They now live in Lincoln.
""We spent 30 years rebuilding that shack," Duane Shisler said of when was then a cottage. "It had no water, no doors, no windows, no power.
"It had been vacant 10 years," Shisler added. "Hippies lived there."
O'Brien, who, with husband Michael, acquired the Shislers' former home about 18 months ago, said the property first showed up in Nevada County records in 1894.
Shisler said it was originally scheduled for the Boise Cascade wrecking ball before Willard Schoellerman — Shisler's friend — persuaded the company to alter its plans and save the property.
"It was my dream my entire life to someday live in an old farmhouse," said O'Brien, 65, who keeps chickens, emus, goats and a rescue donkey and who writes a blog on country life at the Egg Farm Ranch.
Parts of Higgins Corner were once called "Wolf," according to a local historical website.
Michael Higgins, who came to California from New York in 1852 to mine in Placerville, eventually homesteaded 160 acres off of Wolf Road.
According to the website, the name "Higgins Corner" first showed up in Nevada County records in the 1860s.
Wolf was the name for the only post office, which was on the Sweet property, Schoellerman said.
"It was still standing the last time I was out that way," Schoellerman said.
Another relatively recent addition to Higgins Corner was the Higgins Lions Community Club at the corner of Hacienda Drive and Magnolia Road.
It was named for benefactor Roy Peterson, who died in 2005.
Peterson, who served on the Nevada County Planning Commission in the 1960s, donated four acres and $30,000 to build the club.
Peterson and Kermit "Dick" Dickey chartered the Higgins Diggins Lions Club, which, at the time of Peterson's death at age 88 was the largest such Lions club in Nevada County.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
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