Historic Strawberry Lodge
(October 2000)

image of Strawberry Lodge TodayAlong the banks of the cascading American River on Highway 50, this historic lodge was once a stop for the Pony Express ... In the Old West, hardened men and women claimed America's frontier -- rugged individualists surviving as best they could, wearing civility as a thin veil covered with dirt, grief, and disappointment, thought never short of hope.

And why did they come? Riches and a new life of wealth and luxury just over that thar hill. It was fever. Not too different from the burning fever thousands of fortune hunters have today ... speeding past Strawberry faster than a Hank Monk stage to roll their luck out across the crap tables of Nevada.

image of Strawberry Lodge in 1858America's forefathers and mothers, hard working people whose optimism reached the stars, created tales worth telling. This brief history is a personal album of toil and half-truths, of family treasures emanating from one of California's most famous spots.

Irad Berry left upstate New York sometime before 1858. He probably made his way to Independence Missouri and caught one of the mule trains or wagon trains heading West. He probably traveled alone. He took the southern route through Mormon Station, now Geona, over Johnson pass, now Echo Summit, then down to Strawberry. Berry established a crude stage stop and feed station for horses and probably expanded to accommodations for travelers. He homesteaded the land.

Shortly thereafter, Powell Crosley, with Berry's help, built the most imposing hotel on the overland Trail from Placerville (Old Hangtown) to Virginia City, where silver had just been discovered. The quiet trail past Strawberry Station, with its occasional stage, instantly became a rush hour freeway jammed with wagons, mules, and men.

The most extensive array of people, material, and vehicles ever assembled rushed to the silver mines looking for instant wealth. Just like the gold hunters a decade before, few found riches from the silver mines.

Strawberry prospered. Feed for the animals, chow for the miners, tolls from the vehicles, accommodations for the weary, all provided revenue for Berry and Crosley. Until the mines of Virginia City played-out, Strawberry Valley Inn was the liveliest spot on the old Placerville Road.

Pioneer Stagecoach driver Charlie Watson took over in 1865 and the Inn burned to the ground in 1867. He quickly rebuilt a less attractive, though functional, stopping place. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed and took all the traffic from the road through Strawberry to the road over Donner Summit. Watson's fortunes continued to decline. By the end of the century, Strawberry was as much a ghost town as many deserted mining towns. Watson's daughter married Billy Martin and they struggled on until 1919, when they leased the property to the Scherrer family.

Norma Scherrer breathed new life into the old building established by Charlie Watson. Her husband added a swimming pool, dance hall, auto garage, and more cabins. Business improved until the Depression when the highway was moved bypassing the lodge. The Scherrers went bankrupt. Martin wasn't too happy getting back his property as war in Europe loomed, but he muddled through until 1939 when gold dredger, Fred Baumhoff, who'd struck it on the Yankee Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, made an offer for the property.

Baumhoff built the lodge we see today. It was his life-long dream. A builder, not an innkeeper, Fred sold his dream to Otto Schaffer in 1942. Schaffer, a gregarious entrepreneur, developed a summer and winter trade by adding a golf course for summer and skiing for winter. He modeled the resort after the recently completed Sun Valley, Idaho.

Schaffer's success continued until he tired of the lodge in 1960. Between 1960 and 1983, the lodge went through a series of owners and managers, all of whom struggled and failed economically. Since 1983 the current ownership has brought the Lodge toward the successful venture that it is today.

-- Topic content was provided courtesy of the current owners of the Strawberry Lodge --