The official California State and private plaques commemorating the Pleasant Grove House and the Pony Express in the summer of 2015
Though it operated for just a year and a half, the Pony Express looms large in the collective historical legend of the American West. Running well over a thousand miles from St. Joseph, Missouri, in the East to Sacramento, California, in the West, the Pony Express could deliver a letter from San Francisco to New York in 10 days, a lightning pace in the brief era between the end of the Mexican-American War and the installation of a transcontinental telegraph line. The image of fearless young men running horses at top speed across all terrains through all types of weather has become an indelible icon of its time.
The success of the Pony Express was mainly due to its extensive network of "stations," spaced out at specific mileage intervals, where the young riders changed horses so their mounts would be fresh and ready to rush. In California, the sites of these stations have been carefully marked and, in some cases, preserved as California State Historical Landmarks.
Set east of Sacramento between the foothill cities of Folsom and Placerville in El Dorado County, the Pleasant Grove House is one such station. It has been designated California State Historical Landmark #703.
PLEASANT GROVE HOUSE
This was the site of a popular roadhouse where the ponies of the Central Overland Pony Express were changed during July 1, 1860 - June 30, 1861. From here the route of the Pony Riders continued westward to Folsom and eastward through Rescue, Dry Creek Crossing, and Missouri Flat to Placerville.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 703
Plaque placed by the California State Park Commission in cooperation with Marguerite Parlor No. 2 Native Daughters of the Golden West and the Central Overland Pony Express Trail Association, April 2, 1960
An image of the Pleasant Grove House from the book The Early Inns of California by Ralph Herbert Cross, published 1954
According to Pony Express National Historic Trail by Anthony Godfrey, the Pleasant Grove House was built in 1850 and 1851 by a man named Rufus Hitchcock. A 2012 article in the Placerville Mountain Democrat, a local paper, noted that the home was built with materials shipped around Cape Horn from the east.
Hitchcock later sold the property to one Henry Wickwire, who owned it during the Pony Express period when it operated as an inn.
For the first several months of the Pony Express' existence, the Pleasant Grove House did not lie along the designated route. However, once that route was changed, riders stopped at Pleasant Grove to change horses. There was also a blacksmith on site that could craft new horseshoes.
The slowly decaying remains of the Pleasant Grove House, as seen in the summer of 2015
After the Pony Express era had ridden off into the sunset, the Pleasant Grove House passed through the decades and a long chain of owners. It was transitioned from an inn to a private home in 1878. In 1954, the home became the property of Elvin and Lillian Dixon, who shared a great appreciation for its history and the Pony Express Era. The State of California officially designated the landmark under their ownership, and the home reprised its role as a relay station during several Pony Express reenactment rides during the Dixon years as well.
When Lillian died in 1999, she left her dream of turning the property into a Pony Express museum unfulfilled. The Pleasant Grove House was sold to two new owners in 2006, one of whom also owns a popular local jewelry store in Sacramento. The home has been allowed to decay ever since gradually, and no effort has been made to restore or demolish it.
Due to the multiple alterations made over the years, the house has not been deemed eligible for any other form of historic protection, such as inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The State Landmark status, however, can remain in place even if the home is eventually demolished, as California Historical Landmarks can also be sites of formerly standing historic buildings.
One of the abandoned barns on the property, as seen in the summer of 2015. In the Pony Express era, the barns at Pleasant Grove reportedly housed up to 100 horses a night, and one barn, likely the one seen here, also boasted a 1,000+ square foot dance floor.
Plaques installed by the National Pony Express Centennial Association mark and commemorate the Pleasant Grove House as an official Pony Express relay station
Though the home's role in history appears to be unappreciated by its current owners, the Pleasant Grove House helps tell the valuable story of a pioneering mail service that helped bring an ever-expanding nation closer together and the brave young men who risked much to make it possible.
While the practical significance of the Pony Express has likely been exaggerated, its role as a symbol of the pioneer days of the American West can hardly be understated.
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