Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Vineyard House: Dreams of Wealth, Part l

The Gold Rush

This rush lured many men to California all with dreams of becoming rich. But the reality was most did not attain this dream.

Two men who were friends, Robert Chalmers a German and Martin Allhoff a Scotsman both headed to California with high hopes. Both did pan some gold, but life in the fields was hard, and neither struck it rich.

Unlike many who had failed, these two men did not return home. Instead, both stayed in Coloma, a community near the American River nestled close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Allhoff grew grapes for wine, and Chalmers bought the Sierra Nevada Hotel.

Robert Chalmer
Robert Chalmer made a choice that doomed his hotel from the start. He wanted to provide a family atmosphere, so he did not serve liquor at his restaurant. In a time when bars and saloons were on every corner, this was not the best choice.

Even though Robert was an active member of the community and sponsored civic activities his hotel remained empty. His cash dried up quickly, and he found himself without assets.

In contrast, Martin Allhoff married a lady by the name of Louise and started to grow three varieties of grapes. These grapes: Concord, Catawba, and Eden thrived in the California sun. He then aged them into palette delights in his cellars. It was not long before his wines were winning awards.

But Althoff also made some bad choices. He was brought up on charges of tax and liquor license violations and jailed. Feeling he had disgraced his wife, children, and business he in despair committed suicide at the age of forty.

Martin Althoff
Robert Chalmer, a widower, who was in search of options found his friend’s widow Louise alone and sole owner of a very successful vineyard. He promptly married her in 1869. The vines thrived, and the wines continued to win awards.

The Vineyard House

Vineyard House on the right.
Sierra Nevada Hotel across
from the house.
Robert built his dream house on a hill overlooking Coloma in 1878, for Louise and the children. Their Victorian mansion had 4-stories, 19 rooms, 9 fireplaces with a large shaded porch that wrapped around the home.

This mansion quickly became the place where the local wealthy and elite gathered and partied. Many of the guests had made their fortunes during the Gold Rush.

Former President Ulysses S. Grant was visiting the home where Chalmers announced proudly that he intended to run for the State Legislature. The Chalmers were happy and seemed to have it all, but then disaster struck.

Robert started experiencing a loss of memory. Louise became concerned when he would say one thing and do another. He became short-tempered and scared Louise, the children, and the household staff.

His odd behavior worsened. Every time a grave was dug in the cemetery across from the mansion Robert would cross the road and lay down in the freshly dug hole. He would be found with his arms across his chest.

Louise Althoff then
The family and employees had to restrain him and forcefully take him home. As his behavior became more violent, several of the staff threatened to quit. For the safety of all concerned Louise made a hard decision.

She had a cell with iron bars constructed in the basement of the mansion. Robert was then lured into this space and locked in. His mind was lost to madness. He spent his days moaning and banging his head against the bars.

He was fed and checked on every day, but there was little anyone could do to help him. He eventually lost his sight to the basement’s darkness. In the end, he became convinced that Louise was trying to poison him--he stopped eating and starved to death in 1881.

Louise died thirty-two years later in 1913. The mansion was then sold to a series of owners and quickly became run down.

Check out The Vineyard House: Dreams of Wealth and Loss, Part ll where I share stories about the ghostly activity in this 100+ year-old mansion.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

As a child and young adult In the 70's and 80's I visited the Vineyard house many times for dinner with family and friends. I was sad when it closed to the public and was wondering if there are any plans to reopen the property? Would love to see it as it once was