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Stories from the valley

The Bayley House: A Hidden Historic Gem of the Georgetown Divide

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

The Gold Rush sent many flocking to California eager for adventure and riches, including Alcander John Bayley of Vermont. Like his merchant father, AJ, as he preferred to be called, went into merchandising—after appeasing his desire to see the western states on a trip that took him to Missouri. And then came news of James Marshall’s discovery of Gold in California…

At the age of 21, Bayley’s entrepreneurial bent and interest in the West led him to form a company that purchased a ship. The Edward Everett set sail for California on January 11, 1849, arriving in San Francisco six months later on July 6. For two years, Bayley tried his hand at mining in the Placerville and Coloma area while running a business in Sacramento, but he ended up managing the Winters Hotel in Coloma for the incredible sum of $500 a month.

Bayley prospered, enabling him to open the Oak Valley House in Pilot Hill, 7.8 miles north of Coloma on modern day Highway 49. Sadly, this hotel burned in 1861, but that didn’t stop him. Later that year Bayley embarked on his biggest project yet—construction of the Bayley House at the same location. Believing that the Central Pacific Railroad would follow the Fremont Trail trading route established by John C. Fremont, and eager to offer travelers one of the best hotels available, Bayley built an impressive 10,000 square foot Southern-style building. The 300,000 red bricks that make up the exterior were manufactured on location, and much of the fine wood used in the interior was milled there as well.

Bayley House front exterior

AJ planned for visitors’ stays at the Bayley House to be a luxurious experience. His hotel boasted 22 rooms, among them two ladies’ parlors and a grand ballroom on the top floor that also served as an observatory. An impressive circular staircase wound from the first floor to the third. Six fireplaces heated the massive building, and guests could enjoy locally grown wines stored in the wine cellar.

Alas, the Transcontinental Railroad didn’t pass through Pilot Hill, dashing Bayley’s dream. His magnificent hotel served far fewer than anticipated, eventually becoming a private residence, which it remained until the 1960s. In 1978, the firm of Alexander & Baldwin donated the building and surrounding 10 acres to El Dorado County. Failed renovation efforts left the structure with weakened, cracked walls and bereft of its beautiful double piazza balcony, windows and doors. The County decided to sell the Bayley House to the Georgetown Divide Recreation District—for one dollar!

The people of the Divide take pride in their history and have a love of the Bayley House. Eager to see the once impressive hotel restored, the recreation district sponsored Friends of the Bayley House. John Crane, a local historian and draftsman I spoke with, helped repair a hole in the east side of the building. He and a team of hardworking volunteers went on to restore the Bayley Barn, a popular venue for weddings and community events. A portion of the proceeds from the barn’s rental go toward future renovations of AJ Bayley’s masterpiece. I look forward to seeing it restored to its former glory one day.