|By Dana M. Nichols, The Record, Stockton, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 15, 2005 - MURPHYS -- Back when the Murphys Hotel was also a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop, customers such as author Mark Twain, highway robber Charles Bolton aka Black Bart and President Ulysses S. Grant could do banking or get a room through the bars of a teller's cage in the front hall.
The front room of the hotel was a ladies parlor where women were expected to wait while their men whooped it up at the saloon next door.
Now, women are welcomed at the bar, and so the parlor is often deserted, except when people go there to use a modern ATM or to check in at a mercifully cage-free reception desk.
A lot of other things, however, haven't changed. The hotel still has the same stone walls and foundation, the same iron exterior fire doors and shutters, and even many of the wooden beams that were there when it opened in 1856.
Both the state and federal governments have recognized all that history by declaring the hotel a historic landmark.
The hotel was built by James Sperry and John Perry, who promoted an early version of ecotourism: visits to the giant sequoias another 15 miles uphill past Arnold.
"Everybody came to see the famous big trees," said Calaveras County archivist Shannon Van Zant. "This was the little stop on the way up there."
Van Zant has the hotel's guest registers from the 1870s and 1880s in the county archives in San Andreas. There, the curious can see the ink spread by Twain, Grant, Bolton, Horatio Alger and many other prominent Americans of the late 19th century.
The hotel offered them the comforts to which they were accustomed. A newspaper announcement published in September 1856 described the two-story building as "commodious," "fire-proof" and "elegantly furnished."
Despite that, much of the hotel burned in the fire that decimated Murphys in 1859, according to a published account by historian Richard Coke Wood.
Dorian Faught, the hotel's current owner, disagrees with Wood. Faught points to the fact that many interior walls as well as subfloor beams are still the original wood. And historic records show the hotel's fire shutters and stone wall succeeded in defending it from a second citywide fire in 1874.
"When I took the wallpaper off, that's the original wall," said Faught, who left a glass-covered opening so history buffs could see a cross section of the lath and plaster.
Faught, who has owned the hotel for the past two years, has kept plenty of other historic features, including the 124-year-old black locust tree that supports the hotel sign out front, a two-story-tall Portuguese pink rose bush on the building's east side and a circa-1840 FP Bale & Co. piano.
Faught claims the piano is the second-oldest in California. It resides in the Ulysses S. Grant room upstairs. That room costs an extra $10 a night "if you want us to close the door," Faught said.
Normally, the room is the last rented so visitors can view it, still set up largely as it was when Grant visited, through a glass partition.
Down in the bar, the American flag still has 31 stars, the same number as when California joined the union.
Some remodeling has occurred for the sake of modern comfort. All the guest rooms at least have sinks, although not individual bathrooms. And some walls were knocked down to enlarge rooms. Many ceilings were lowered.
Faught updated the restaurant menu when he bought the property, giving it a Basque flavor. But he is cautious about making too many changes, partly out of deference to people who have been coming to the hotel regularly for decades.
One family, he said, has celebrated thanksgiving there for 40 years.
"We can't get rid of them, and we wouldn't want to," Faught said.
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Record, Stockton, Calif.
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