Bringing the Wild West back to life
Special to The Union
Born with a naturally inquisitive mind and a thirst for history, Jim Jacobitz built his very own Wild West town behind the historically significant Toll House in Rough and Ready.
Located along the main road connecting Grass Valley to Highway 20, the site is a must-see for any local smitten with the Gold-Rush era West.
Jacobitz and his wife, Sylvia, have owned the parcel since 1977. But in the last decade, with retirement looming and a move to Rough and Ready in the near-term plan, they started developing the area to look like a well-orchestrated attempt to resurrect structural icons that most of us only get to see in late-night Westerns.
Jacobitz, a dermatologist and instructor at UC San Francisco, bought the Toll House in 1977, about four years after his marriage to Sylvia.
But Jacobitz’s interest in Rough and Ready had been piqued long before his marriage. While still in grammar school he had developed an interest in stamp and postal envelope collecting.
As a young man he had purchased Rough and Ready postal artifacts dating all the way back to a letter written in 1845. He learned by researching the express routes that the toll house had also served as a Wells Fargo stage stop and express office.
“When we bought the Toll House, Sylvia and I had no children and we had lots of plans,” Jacobitz said. “At the time it was an antiques store and we asked the previous owner to continue running it for us.”
For the ensuing five years, the store stayed open, while the Jacobitzs were beginning a family and Jim was busy establishing and maintaining his dermatology practice in San Francisco.
Jacobitz, who was a close friend of San Francisco Giants General Manager Bob Quinn, became heavily involved in baseball, his son blossoming into a player who, while in high school, was drafted by the Giants and again during college by the Seattle Mariners.
By the time Jacobitz was at the point in his life that he was ready to rediscover Rough and Ready, the building he owned had been closed and boarded up for several decades.
“Rough and Ready sat on a back burner for us because of baseball and kid-raising,” Jacobitz said. “About five or six years ago, Sylvia and I decided to go back up to Rough and Ready and find out what was going on.”
The first place the pair headed was the Searls Historical Library in Nevada City, where, with the help of Nevada County historian Ed Tyson, Jacobitz was able to establish that the Toll House had been built in 1857.
According to Jacobitz, during its mining heyday, Rough and Ready was home to about 5,000 miners and rivaled Nevada City and Grass Valley for the title of county seat.
“The little buildings on the property came about because of happenstance,” Jacobitz said. “Somewhere in one of the envelopes that I had collected was a copy of a New York periodical called Century Magazine. In it was the earliest known picture of Rough and Ready, with a shot taken in 1849, of an earlier incarnation of the Toll House and a group of smaller buildings behind it.”
Armed with the photo, Jacobitz enlisted the help of local contractor Dick West and furniture restoration expert Cecil Sanders to construct similar buildings, bordering the small creek on the Jacobitz property.
Visit the site now and you will see the fruit of the men’s labor. Across the street from the Toll House is what looks like the entrance to a mine, complete with ore carts in front. Next to it is the Rough and Ready Mining Supplies building.
The overhang posts in front have written on them “picks and shovels, dynamite, kerosene and gold pans.” On the other side of the mine sits a wagon with a sign attached to it proclaiming “cemetery rides-$1-one way.”
On the other side of the street sits the Toll House, a known rendezvous location for bandit Joaquin Murietta and entertainer Lola Montez. There’s a sign listing the fees for using the 6-mile toll road that once connected Rough and Ready with Penn Valley. The prices range from “Man on Horse .25, to 6 oxen with wagon $3.”
Behind the Toll House is the JB West Wagon Maker and Blacksmith building, Jake’s Dance Hall and Saloon, a water tower with “The little town of Rough and Ready” printed on it, a post office and a Wells Fargo stage stop. Other points of interest on the location are an Indian grinding rock and the Slave Girl and Hangman trees.
Jacobitz is hoping that local schools will be able to use his creation to help bring Gold Rush history alive for students.
“I think that this coming year, I’ll be retiring and our plan is to live up there for most of the year,” Jacobitz said. “We want to become more involved in the community, helping to keep the fire burning for Rough and Ready.”
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer living in Cedar Ridge.
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