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Stories from the valley

Old Town Elk Grove: A Historic Gem

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

Seeing Elk Grove today, with its wide boulevards lined with a seemingly endless bounty of stores and restaurants, it’s hard to believe this bustling city was once a sleepy agricultural community. A century ago, when farmers, wine makers, and cattle ranchers frequented a scattering of shops along its main street, it wasn’t unusual for those inside to see a cow pass by.

When the city became our daughter’s home last year, Elk Grove became one of my favorite places to visit. Since she lives off Elk Grove Boulevard, I’ve often traveled through the Old Town, bringing back memories of my first visit years ago when my husband and I took our gal to the annual Dickens Street Faire held there the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

During that long-ago visit as well as my more recent treks, I admired the historic buildings from afar, intending to investigate further…someday. That exploration took place on a recent Sunday afternoon when the area was as quiet as in former days. Armed with a walking tour map found at this link, I set out. Several buildings captured my attention and kept me busy snapping photos.

The striking Hasman Building, as the signage indicates, was once home to a general store as well as a harness shop, a notary, and a saddle maker. Originally built in 1885, it was rebuilt after the 1892 fire that destroyed most of the town.

Elk Grove’s IOOF Building, constructed a year after the fire, has housed the Odd Fellows Lodge as well as several businesses. During World War II, a quarter of the town’s roughly 1,000 residents who were part of the US Army Air Forces Aircraft Warning Service Ground Observation Corps climbed the fire escape on the east side of the building to the observation post where they kept watch and called in airplane sightings.

The impressive building housing the Brick House Restaurant dates back to 1919. It first served as The Model T Agency, the first auto dealership in town. Today, this restaurant, highly recommended by locals, offers burgers and sandwiches as well as pasta dishes created from family recipes. Beattie House, on the south side of Elk Grove Boulevard, currently operating as M&M Real Estate, is one of several remaining historic homes.

A wonderful way to experience Old Town Elk Grove is to usher in the Yuletide season at the Dickens Street Faire, taking place Saturday, November 30, 2019 from 10 am – 5 pm. Strolling carolers in period costume will whisk you back in time. Over 125 vendors will line the streets of Old Town, along with food trucks. Children can enjoy cocoa and cookies with Santa and story time with Mrs. Claus. The man in red will light the town Christmas tree at Walnut Street at 6 pm. While in the area, be sure to admire the beautiful buildings serving as the backdrop. Enjoy your visit!