Not the oldest Nevada County barn, but one with a rich history
Special to The Union
This story appeared in Nevada County Rancher, a special section inserted in the Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, edition of The Union.
Highway 49, known as the Golden Chain Highway, is numbered after the 49ers that came to California at the beginning of the Gold Rush.
It is a north-south state highway and passes through Nevada and the neighboring counties of Placer and Sierra at its northern end. In 1946 and 1947, the Division of Highway, District III in Marysville, was in charge of a highway construction project that went through North San Juan that would reroute the road and partially straighten it in other sections where possible.
Locally, the new 1946 project on Highway 49 would bypass what was the intersection of Sweetland Road and Stotler Avenue and continue through North San Juan, crossing School Street. One obstacle to that plan was the ranch land that was in the middle of the proposed new road and the barn sitting on the Cunningham property. It is not known if this land was specifically sought because one of the owners, William Clark Cunningham, along with his wife Amelia, owned the land and Cunningham at that time was a foreman for the Department of Public Works, Division of Highways, or that other property was targeted and the owners were not cooperative about selling part of their property to the state. The land where the improvements were going to be located were portions of the Cunningham’s Lots 2, 3 and 4 in Block 2 in North San Juan.
North San Juan had been a bustling gold town with a population of more than 3,000 during the heyday of hydraulic mining nearby. While the area still has rich gold deposits, they mostly remain buried due to existing debris laws and the cost of extracting it. While the mineral deposits were rich around North San Juan, the area also became known for its fertile farm land and from the booming 1850s that drew settlers and merchants up country. Early on it was given the title “Queen of the Ridge.”
William Cunningham and his wife both descended from early California pioneer families and were both born in California. William and Amelia were married in Nevada City in 1912 and in 1913 they a purchased a house on Coyote Street in Nevada City, up the hill a short distance from the center of town. William ran a freighting business from Nevada City through the up country and into Sierra County. William’s wife Amelia was the daughter of Julius and Marie (sometimes known as Mary) Lutz, and the Lutz family had lived in Cherokee and farmed until after the death of Julius in 1922, when Marie Lutz moved to Nevada City to live near family.
William’s parents were Rasmus Manford and Jennie Cunningham, and they spent most of their married life in Sierra County where they ran a hotel/boarding house, farmed and were in the freight business. The Cunningham family was well known in both Nevada and Sierra counties. Rasmus was born in Illinois and came across the plains in a wagon train with his family when he was a small child. In the early days, Rasmus was a miner and worked the rich hydraulic mines of You Bet before he moved by 1880 up country to Plum Valley, then to Pike City about 1884, and Forest in Sierra County before he died as the result of an accident in 1924.
In 1946, the Cunningham barn was taken down, most likely board by board, and moved several hundred feet back and rebuilt on a new foundation. It is not known the date the barn was originally built, but the family was living on the same property in 1935, according to the U.S. Federal Population Census.
Part of the wood used to build the Cunningham barn were timbers that came from the old flume that ran through the middle of North San Juan in the early days. Also hand-hewn square timber and old hand-forged square nails were used in the barn’s original construction. The current owner of the barn and ranch property, Rich Yocum (and his family), said that the style of the barn appears to be a New Word Dutch Aisle barn, according to his barn book.
Look for more on the Cunningham family in the upcoming October 2020 Nevada County Historical Bulletin.
Maria Brower is the author of Nevada City, Gold Rush Towns of Nevada County; It Happened at the National Hotel; the Myth, the Man, and the Mystery of the Rough and Ready Secession; and Ranches and Agriculture of Nevada County.
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