The meadow above The Lure is today known as Slate Castle Ranch, but since the Gold Rush, this meadow has been called several different names including Hardy Ranch and Jenkins Ranch. The Hardy name comes from George Hardy, who is considered to be the first to settle and work the land in the shadow of Slate Castle.
The following history is an excerpt from local historian James Sinnott’s book, Downieville – Gold Town on the Yuba.
One of the earliest of the ranches of the vicinity of Downieville was the George Hardy Ranch on the upper bench of a flat that was early known as Breyfogle Flat located a mile east of Downieville and on the south side of the then-named South For of the North Fork of the Yuba and adjacently northeast of Slate Castle Creek.
George Hardy, the grandfather of the children of Joseph Dryden Alexander – Belle, Roxie, Amy, James, Elden and Dryden – came to Downieville first in 1849 and then left to return with his family in 1852. The family early settled on the above described ranch what then became known as the Hardy Place. Mr. Hardy widened the primitive trail from the ranch to Downieville to be a sled road so that his children could more easily get to school and so that he could better deliver the produce of his ranch to the Downieville and Goodyear Bar people. He cultivated the land of the natural flat, raising vegetables and fruit. Water for the ditch was obtained from Slate Castle Ravine by a ditch about a half mile long by a spring at the southern end of the ranch supplied for domestic purposes.
The Hardys lived on the ranch from the early 1850s until 1888 when Mr. Hardy sold it and moved to Downieville. The Mountain Messenger of September 8, 1888 speaks of his having his ranch for sale. Successful owners of the ranch have been: Watt Hughes – one of the owners of the famous Young America Mine and Sardine Lake – Mr. Jenkins, John Costa (from 1915 into the 1930s), Ballard White Sr., Ballard Jr., Mr Wienicki and Art Loveland and Associates. John Costa was the last to cultivate the land, several of the years he had the ranch he raised fine potatoes.
During the years from the early 1900’s into the time when the ranch was not cultivated the field became the place where many of the baseball games between teams from Downieville, Sierra City, and Forest City were played.
The following excerpts of the Hardy family are from historian Katie Willmarth Green and her book Like a Leaf Upon the Current Cast.
During the same period our Mr. Breyfogle was mining along the Yuba, the capacious flat became the residence of an English stonemason, George Hardy, a ’49er who preceded his wife and family to the goldfields by a year. Born in Derbyshire in 1809, George Hardy had progressed in his migration across the U.S. as far inland as Lockport, Will County, Illinois by 1841, when he met and married Mary Mahala Reed. A sweet family story describes the first encounter of George and Mahala this way: ‘Of this meeting it is said that one day she rode bareback up to the blacksmith shop where he was working and remarked “Well, there’s the girl for me”. Their granddaughter, Belle Alexander, wrote the following account of George’s trip and early experiences in California.
“In 1849 my grandfather hearing of the discovery of gold in California decided to come to this state, and leaving his wife and three children in Lockport came via the Isthmus of Panama and made his way to Downieville; and it was while he was working at Coyoteville that he lost the sight of his left eye from a premature blast. The report reached his wife in Illinois that he had lost the sight of both eyes, and great was her relief when she found this report was untrue.”
After building a house at Breyfogle Flat, George returned to Illinois for his wife and firstborn children, remaining long enough to be naturalized there, and then returned to California in 1851 with the family – via the Isthmus of Nicaragua this time. Mahala Hardy later reminisced to her grandchildren about riding on a mule atop a high Spanish saddle and being brushed to the ground by an overhanging branch along the jungle path. Their party on the ship “Pacific”, which sailed from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to San Francisco in December 1851, included 20 women and 30 children. The ship was becalmed for some days mid-journey, so that provisions ran short, anxiety high.
Mirroring the experience of the Mason and the Wrights, the arrival of Mrs. Hardy and her children caused a sensation. Belle Alexander wrote ‘ The family came up the Yuba River form Marysville riding horseback along the narrow trail which, some distance from the river, followed its winding course on the hillsides above. Few women lived in Downieville at this time and the sight of two women (Mahala and her sister Zarilda Reed), accompanied by three children, was a very unusual one. Groups of miners, working along the river bed below, upon seeing the cavalcade, placed their hands to their mouths and uttered a long drawn out ‘O-o-o Jo-o-o’ to attract the attention of miners working further up the river.
George continued to scratch in the earth for gold for a short time after his return to Sierra County, but then turned in the main to farming his 157 ¼ acre section of Breyfogle Flat, growing fruits and vegetables. Mrs. Hardy emblazoned her borders with a profusion of cutting flowers, which, fashioned into bouquets, her son sold in town. They built a swinging bridge across the Yuba, a necessity for transporting themselves and their produce to town. Four more children were born to them at the ranch. The family was shaken by grief in 1856 when two of the children perished during an outbreak of diphtheria, twelve year old daughter Sarah and four year old son Joel Wilson Nevada Hardy. The latter, born 28 April 1852 at the ranch, was said to be the first white male born in the Downieville area. The children were buried in adjoining graves with slabs of slate marking the head and foot of each grave. An evergreen was planted to shade the spot and a white fence enclosed it. The tree was cut down by a later owner of the ranch, “an act of vandalism not easily forgiven, as the fence was still there and the headstones”, wrote Belle indignantly.
We have yet to discover the grave sites of Sarah and Joel on the far end of the meadow, but we have every reason to believe the slabs of slate are still in the ground – probably covered over by a century of organic material. In the case we ever do discover this grave site, a new fence will be erected, paying homage to these pioneers whose time was cut short by the rigors of frontier living.
The next installment of Lure Lore will dive further into the story of the Hardy family, which includes an altercation with a neighbor ending in gunfire and George Hardy’s arrest.