Pioneer House Named County Historic Landmark: Original 49er ‘Home’ Preserves Past Amid New Development


A house built by an original Grass Valley pioneer has been named a Nevada County Historic Landmark.

Visionary and enterprising, Benjamin Franklin Taylor completed construction of the Home Place for his beloved wife, Esther, in 1866. It was “the first substantial home” in the booming mining town, according to a historical account. It can be seen from the 800 block of West Main Street, protected by trees of equipment preparing for the Gilded Springs development.

Taylor’s Home Place may be the only Nevada County residence continuously owned by the descendants of the Gold Rush – 157 years, said Nevada County Historic Monuments Board chairman Bernard Zimmerman.

“Ben Taylor was a real 49er,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of 49ers came and made a lot of money and went home. He stayed … He settled down. He has become a pillar of the community.

This home, completed by the original Grass Valley 49er Benjamin Franklin Taylor in 1866 near West Main Street, has been designated a Nevada County Historic Landmark. Local descendants of Taylor include, from left to right, great-great-grandson Parker White, great-granddaughter and family historian Sally Knutson, great-granddaughter Charle Lennon and the ‘great-grandson Herbert Barker Jr.
Submitted by Trina Kleist

“We really enjoyed the Home Place catering,” said Taylor’s great-granddaughter, Mary Ann White. She and her husband Gerald White enlarged and updated the house, adding trees, lawns, roses and paths.

The house remains a tribute to “an extraordinary man” who, according to family legend, picked up a handkerchief as he rode a horse at a full gallop on his 80th birthday, said Sally Knutson of Nevada City, another back. -little girl. Knutson’s research on Taylor’s Home Place led to its recent designation by the Landmarks Commission. The county supervisory board approved the recommendation on August 10.


Taylor was 23 when he left Missouri in May 1849, arriving there at the end of August. Soon, Taylor and other travelers built the area’s first cabin near present-day East Bennett Street, according to Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada County, California, 1880”.

What the Kentucky native lacked in education he made up for with courage. Taylor cleaned gold, drove wagons, cut and sold hay, traded in Nevada City, herded wild mustangs, raised cattle, survived a fire that wiped him out, and met the “old man.” Waloopa ”, probably a local leader from Nisenan Mountain, according to his newspaper.

Benjamin Franklin Taylor’s great-granddaughter, Mary Ann White, and her husband Gerald White planted the lawn and around 200 trees around Taylor’s Home Place, and built walkways to a spring-fed creek and pond as part of their decade-long restoration of Taylor’s Home Place. The spring house, to the left of the main house, was used to cool metal urns filled with milk when Taylor’s son-in-law operated a dairy on the property.
Submitted by Trina Kleist

In 1851, Taylor sailed from San Francisco to Panama and almost died of measles. Still weak, he was carried “on a hammock” across the isthmus, boarded another ship for Havana, traded gold dust for coins in New Orleans, then went up the Mississippi to St. Louis, he wrote.

Taylor crossed the Great Plains two more times, bringing 800 cattle and horses to the 300-acre Buena Vista Ranch and store he and his established partners in the Peardale-Chicago Park area.

In 1852, Taylor was driving his first head of cattle of over 500 when he encountered a train of wagons. Taylor met 15-year-old Esther Huling while crossing a stream on the Oregon Trail. Love pierced his heart, but in his journal he noted, “A little young. At the end of the trip, the Huling settled in what is now the Smartsville area.

“Benj” Taylor loved horses and his dog. Writers called it big, big, and awesome. “My mom remembered him as being kind and gentle,” Knutson added. He has helped run local politics, according to David Comstock’s “Lives of Nevada County Pioneers”.

Taylor knew Samuel Langhorne Clemens before the comedian wrote stories under the name Mark Twain. In 1854, Taylor was in a local saloon when artist Lola Montez barged in with a riding crop and punched a newspaper editor who had sparked her fury.

Benjamin F. Taylor moved into his home in 1866 on West Main Street near downtown Grass Valley. This photo dates from around 1908.
Photo courtesy of Mary Ann White

In 1863, Taylor and his partners began building the Grass Valley and Illinoistown Turnpike, a toll road and bridge across the Bear River to the planned transcontinental railroad depot for what is now Colfax. The Colfax route still bears his name.


Taylor waited until 1856 to marry the then 20-year-old Huling. They lived at Buena Vista Ranch and had their first two children. The horses took an hour and a half to get to town and Esther Taylor yearned for Grass Valley, her great-granddaughter White said. “Benj” Taylor bought 75 acres on the outskirts of town, stretching from West Main to Alta Street to Ridge Road, bounded on the west by Peabody Creek.

Taylor built their two-story, five-room Home Place while others in Grass Valley resided in cabins and small cabins.

Grass Valley pioneer Benjamin F. Taylor was 40 when he moved into his home in 1866; this photo dates from his middle years.
Photo courtesy of Sally Knutson

“He said the wood had been carefully selected, the planks being heavier than usual. All the important woods, instead of being nailed, were mortified and dovetailed, ”wrote Thomas Dykes Beasley, who interviewed Taylor for“ A Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country ”.

Above the porch, the pointed gable characterized the then popular Gothic carpenter style. By the front door, White stood in the entrance hall by the restored wooden staircase. “My great-grandfather ordered it by mail,” she said.

White opened the door to the living room, led by a brick fireplace. “I used to sit here and read when I was a kid,” she recalls.

About 20 feet behind the original house, Taylor built a stone structure halfway into the ground – the original kitchen. Over the years, the house has grown around it, today a wine cellar and a bar.

“They built the kitchen separately from the house because back then there were so many fires in the kitchen,” said Parker White, Taylor’s great-great-grandson. “The whole house could catch fire. “


Taylor raised hay here. His son-in-law planted a vineyard, grew pears developed by horticulturalist Félix Gillet and started a dairy. Next to the house, a small building houses one of the three sources. Inside, cool water gushes out and drains into a cement tub – the dairy refrigerator, explained Mary Ann White.

“They would put the milk in metal urns and then they would put the urns in there to keep the milk cool,” White said. “I remember the cows. It was a fun place to visit when I was a kid.

Over the years, the acres have been subdivided and sold to pay taxes, Knutson said. The following generations have moved on. The Home Place became a rental in 1965.

Esther E. Huling was 15 years old and was in a wagon with her family on their way west when Benjamin F. Taylor met her in 1852 and fell in love with it. This photo may be from the 1860s.
Photo courtesy of Sally Knutson

The Whites moved from Modesto to Grass Valley when Gerald retired, and they bought the property from other family members in 1995.

“When we came back, the house was in a field of weeds,” said Mary Ann White. Their work of restoring, expanding and modernizing the house began as the city’s preservation movement flourished. Taylor’s Home Place became number 6 on the Grass Valley Historical Commission register.

“It’s a unique place in Nevada County,” Zimmerman said.

Freelance writer Trina Kleist is based in Grass Valley. She can be contacted at tkleistwrites[email protected]

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