Bringing White Sulphur Springs Ranch Back To Life

By Emily Compton

The original bathhouse with the mainhouse in the background. Photo provided by White Sulphur Springs Ranch

The history of White Sulphur Springs Ranch (WSSR) is a rich one that spans a century and many generations. It is sometimes difficult to find the record of exactly how things happened and to whom, but the members and volunteers of the Mohawk Valley Stewardship Council have—bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece—put together and preserved a record of the operation.

Among the details: the ranch was founded in 1852 by three men—Gould, Friend, and Jamison—and spanned about 400 acres in the Mohawk Valley in Clio, California. About three years later, the trio sold the property to Fred King. He added a hotel to the working ranch in 1858. The WSSR served as a stagecoach stop between Quincy and Truckee, allowing travelers to stop and stay at the hotel during a break in the trip.

The Ranch passed through a couple of owners over those first five years before it was bought by George McLear in 1867. It remained in his family until 1954.

McLear arrived in San Francisco from New York in 1855 and lived in numerous Northern California towns before leaving the merchandising business to purchase the White Sulphur Springs Ranch. McLear would later serve on the county board of supervisors for several terms while continuing to also run the operations of the ranch.

This photo of White Sulphur Springs Ranch was taken in the early 1900s. Photo provided by White Sulphur Springs Ranch

McLear and his wife Mary had four children, all of whom lived and worked on the ranch for the duration of their lives and left no heirs. Their daughter Isabel was their last surviving child. She left the property to her friend Mava Thomas Machomich DeArmond in 1954.

DeArmond began restorative work on the ranch, and upon her death left the ranch to her nephew, Harry McKenzie. McKenzie continued to operate the ranch in the same style as his aunt. In 2003, a forced auction sold the property, house, and contents. The new owner sold the contents of the home.

The ranch was first listed as a registered historic property in the Plumas County General Plan in 1983. One of the unique features of the partially restored ranch is the detailed framed descriptions of each room and their furnishings. This allows visitors to get a mental picture of the ranch house from the 1850s to early 1900s. Many pieces of furniture have been donated over the last two years, and include antique pieces and family heirlooms.

This desk was originally from the Johnsville Hotel. It was donated to the White Sulphur Springs Ranch and is now located in the living room. Photo by Emily Compton

The main house even has the famous Clio stove. The town of Clio was named after this stove brand around 1857. The stove was found in the attic along with some other old furnishings in 1974. It was purchased in 2003 during the auction, but was graciously returned to the ranch.

Currently, the property includes 42 acres with warm springs, an artesian cold spring, ponds with riparian habitat, upland watershed, a meadow, and Maidu cultural sites. The estate includes walking and hiking trails, as well as a trailhead to United States Forest Services lands.

The Mohawk Valley Stewardship Council formed in 2009 and bought the ranch in late 2010 to preserve its historical significance. Even before the acquisition, the council was invested in preserving the historical property. The organization even received permission to reroof and seal the ranch house to prevent further damage from weather. Its mission remains committed to preserving the historical property with help from more than 130 volunteers.

The ranch has undergone numerous improvements, including a leach field, a new water system, front porch restoration, and much more. The latest indoor project has been the revamp of the kitchen. Volunteers replaced the old carpet with new flooring and donated antique furniture and a complete set of appliances.

Once restoration is complete, the WSSR will offer a small museum, ethnobotanical gardens, and an outside stage for events. The MVSC is additionally working to build a community swimming pool with changing rooms and bathrooms for the community to enjoy. The pool would be accessible to people with disabilities.

What’s Next for the Ranch?

Last year the Council hosted a virtual rummage sale and raised $4,000 for improvements. This year’s event will be both virtual and in person. The virtual portion is called the White Elephant Sale and is scheduled for July 25, through August 1, while the in-person sale will be held August 14, from 9 am to 1:30 pm, outdoors at the White Sulphur Springs Ranch with appropriate COVID- 19 precautions in place. If you have items you would like to donate, contact Judy at (530) 836-0254.

Summerfest will resume as soon as it is safe to do so. The Stewardship Council is currently working on finishing the deck used for their Living History School Days program and where bands perform during events. A Family Day picnic will be held on the ranch on September 5, from 11 am to 4 pm. Look for more information on the WSSR website.

Framing the new bathhouse at White Sulphur Springs Ranch. Photo by Cooley

How Can You Support the Mohawk Valley Stewardship Council?

There are many ways to support the ranch: cash donation, volunteering, buying a Legacy Brick, or becoming a Ranch or Business member. Ranch memberships start at $25 per year and Business memberships start at $250 per year and include substantial benefits. As a 501c(3) organization, the MVSC is a non-profit, and all donations are tax-deductible. Donations to the White Sulphur Springs Ranch play an essential role in the restoration of the property, preserving the history of the historic property that is being developed for public use.

In 2016, the WSSR began a fundraising campaign, the Build a Legacy, “Brick Buy Brick” campaign. People can buy a brick, inscribe it, and have it installed on-site of the WSSR permanently. To date, more than 100 bricks have been purchased.

Individual house tours are available with COVID-19 precautions.

For more information about the White Sulphur Springs Ranch or any of its programs and events, visit the White Sulphur Springs Ranch website.