© 2004 by Anthony M. Belli
Kirkwood Inn is one of the oldest original stage stations and Inns still operating from the early days of post Gold Rush era El Dorado County. Built in 1864 by dairyman Zack Kirkwood as a roadhouse along the old Amador Wagon Road the Kirkwood Inn has been serving many a weary traveler for most of its 140 years. This remote high country roadhouse sits amidst the pines near 8000’ elevation, in the penumbra of Roundtop Mountain poised before you at a majestic 10,380’. For more then a century the Kirkwood Inn has retained its dignity as a fine eatery and saloon… all served up inside the old rustic log cabin built by pioneer settler Zack Kirkwood himself.
Take a seat at the bar or a table if you prefer and hear stories of the days when John C. Fremont and Kit Carson blazed a trail through this austere Sierra Nevada summit back when all this country was part of Mexico. The opening of the Kit Carson Pass established a primitive route used by many overland emigrants destined for California until the opening of Johnson’s Cut-Off, which now took gold seekers along the American River Canyon into Hangtown. Nonetheless the Carson Trail remained a well-traveled route between Fiddletown and all points south along the Mother Lode through Amador County.
Zack Kirkwood first settled here homesteading three 160-acre parcels in 1860. Two parcels held premium value, Kirkwood Meadows sits in a hollow between raising cliffs, which provided excellent grazing land for his herds. The second parcel held merit as it took in a portion of the Carson Trail, which later became the Amador Wagon Road. It was here in 1864 where Zack Kirkwood fell the timber to build his historic stage station and Inn. In 1887 the Roundtop Post Office was established here with Zack Kirkwood as first postmaster.
With the establishment of Amador County in 1855 the old wagon road (today’s highway 88) became the dividing line between Amador and El Dorado Counties. When Alpine County was formed in 1864 it was cut from existing El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras Counties. This resulted in Alpine, El Dorado and Amador Counties all converging inside the dining area of the Kirkwood Inn. The “county line” log post has marked the site, adjacent to the bar, every since.
Zack is fondly remembered for frequently entertained his guests with tales of how he’d beat the tax collector of each county by moving his herds from one county into the other depending on which county tax man appeared. He further out-witted the Sheriff’s of all three counties by placing his liquor bar on rollers and sliding the bar across the Inn’s floor into a neighboring county when one of the Sheriff’s appeared to collect a liquor license fee and taxes owed for the sale of his liquor.
For well over a century this historic Sierra outpost has served thousands of travelers, stage passengers, ranchers, cattlemen, freighters, loggers, hunters and fishermen. The colorful tales of its past easily romance the visitor while surrounded by the natural wonders of the high country and the log cabin charm of this historic Inn.
The Kirkwood Inn will be celebrating its 140th anniversary on Saturday, August 7, 2004. Events begin at noon and will run through 10 pm. The public is invited to join in the festivities, which include folks dressed in period costume, a fishing derby at near-by Caples Lake followed by a real mountain fish fry. Two live bands will be performing country and bluegrass music as shoppers and collectors enjoy a huge tent sale featuring Kirkwood memorabilia among other curios and goods. That evening enjoy an old western BBQ and later join around the campfire and gaze into an endless sea of stars.