Only part of the mind-boggling collection in the E. Franck & Co. Saloon. (Library of Congress, Prints and photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith)
The hide-away burg of French Gulch is a pastoral jewel on the west side of Redding, Calif. A funky little spot, in its heyday it was noted for its surrounding gold mines and debauchery on weekends featuring hard scrabble miners, hard liquor and hard women. Legend has it the nefarious Black Bart is said to have held up a number of stagecoaches around the French Gulch area. The most famous is the holding up of the French Gulch Stage and leaving one of his infamous poems behind, writes our travel and lifestyle editor Al Auger. – #Siliconeer @Siliconeer #Lifestyle #FrenchGulch # BlackBart #AlAuger #Travel #Redding #California #WhiskeytownLake
French Gulch lies 7-miles west of Redding on a short winding road off State Highway 299 past Whiskeytown Lake.
French Gulch began as one of the premier hard rock gold mining towns in the area during the mid-and-late 1880’s. And, while the Mother Lode country of the Sierra Nevada garners the bulk of the media and tourists, this burgeoning area trapped by the Trinity Mountains on the West and the Cascade Range on the East was to have its heyday, as well.
Named for French-Canadians who mined for the seductive gold beginning in 1849 (a piece of history bringing a warmth to these collective bones). Once the word was out many settlers on the Oregon Trail took a detour looking for riches and glory. History tells us the French Gulch and Dutch Gulch mining was the largest gold producing area in northern mine. Gold mining is still a major industry in French Gulch.
Mid-afternoon on a lovely fall day, French Gulch’s “Main Street” today is a Norman Rockwell painting. Trees line each side spreading their umbrella of leaves over the narrow road. Old homes, some well kept others a bit scruffy. The business center is a time-warp with false front buildings and wooden sidewalks. It wouldn’t surprise you at all to see Tom, Huck and Becky heading out with fishing poles at the ready.
The French Gulch Hotel, now a warm, inviting Bed and Breakfast, has eight fully remodeled rooms for rent, most with a shared bathroom. Every room has been decorated in the hotel’s rich historic past. According to the French Gulch Press, there were two hotels at the height of the period, first the Empire Hotel, built in 1853 and the original French Gulch hotel followed in 1885. It was built by Richard Feeney and named the Feeney Hotel.
Today the stately hotel has been restored to its historical prominence. The handsome, scrolled, hardwood bar was built in England and transported around the horn and eventually ended up in the Empire Hotel. When the Empire was sold in foreclosure and destroyed, the bar was moved to the Feeney Hotel – now the French Gulch Hotel. While the other rooms share a bath, the Bridal Suite, decorated in pink satin sheets and fine lace, has a private bathroom and entry.
“I bought (the hotel) because I honestly think French Gulch cannot survive without it.” That was Jack Jue stating the passion behind his new ownership. Along with son Eric, the elder Jue has restored the hotel and restaurant to much of its historical glory. According to Femme de Joie, the noted restaurant reviewer, “The hotel (is) 130 years old and looks remarkably well for someone of its age.”
Jack Jue has created a French/American menu bolstered by the All-American favorites, burgers and pizza. The overwhelming favorites easily turned out to be the Saturday night Prime Rib served with live entertainment and the Sunday Brunch. The brunch is especially big on fine weather weekends due to the outdoor dining service. See sidebar for complete information on the French Gulch Hotel and restaurant.
Mid-afternoon on a lovely fall day and French Gulch’s “Main Street” is a Norman Rockwell painting. Trees line each side spreading their umbrella of leaves sitting pretty alongside Clear Creek. French Gulch boasts four downtown buildings as designated National Register of Historic Places, including the French Gulch Hotel and the one-of-a-kind E. Franck and Company Saloon across the street from the hotel.
E. Franck and Co. Saloon owner and bar manager Johnny Felcher is just the latest in the Franck family that has operated the bar since it was built in 1854. Felcher has kept the old time ambience of the mid-1850s. The bar area is chock full of historic remnants and arcane trivia thanks to the collection built by Felcher. The upstairs loft is wall to wall with hundreds more of his collection forming the unofficial French Gulch museum. The first patented mine in California lies just outside of French Gulch and the town is the site of the first gold mine in Shasta County.
Behind the saloon is the home built by the patriarch Frederick Anton Franck around 1854. Today, the 5-room wooden home still stand, although verging imminent collapse. But, according to Felcher, the construction is held together by square nails. When fire destroyed the wooden store, Franck and his brother, Ignatz, built the standing saloon of rock and mortar in 1867 with 2-foot thick walls and iron-plated doors.
With a population of under 400, the tiny village is a perfect and intriguing site to walk leisurely with stops to talk to the people of French gulch, a home-cooked meal at the hotel and a final stop at the Franck saloon for a cool one for the road. I guarantee visitors to French Gulch will carry away memories of a world that time stopped.
What and Where
At the French Hotel
Locale: 14138 Main St., French Gulch 96033
Food Prices: $15 – $30
Special service: Vegan available; a fine children environment; full bar service.