This week’s blog is a bit off topic because it was brought to my attention this is the 26th anniversary of our move from Groveland, California to Vermont. That was a big move for us with a lot of cultural changes. Groveland (Groovy Groveland as the locals called it) started out as a mining town and is now primarily a tourist stop – about 26 miles from the Northern Gates of Yosemite National Park.
We lived in Groveland from 1984 to 1989, enjoying the low key atmosphere of a small town while our sons got a very good education at the public school. On the weekends – there was the Iron Door Saloon – best darn saloon in Tuolumne County! Hubby and I know this for a fact because we spent one warm Saturday evening driving for more than two hours – down Hwy 120 – over to Hwy 4, up to Long Barn (above Sonora and Twain Harte), stopping along the way to peruse the competition and yep, the Iron Door is worth the drive up – and down – Old Priest Grade. (Old Priest Grade is a very steep, 17% grade with more than 50 curves and hairpin turns). This was particularly true on Saturday night when the band is playing and the joint is rockin. Yes, I said joint. It’s Tuolumne County.
The Iron Door is the oldest continuously operating saloon in California. It opened in the early years of the California gold mining era. around 1852, as a store, “Granite Store” and has remained a functioning business since. It does close for holidays and non-business hours but it has not shut down since it opened in or around 1852. The big iron doors that are still used when closing time comes are the original doors brought to Groveland in 1937 by Mule up through Wards Ferry – not an easy feat. The doors were originally installed for protection against fire. Seems they have held up pretty well.
In the years we lived there, the Town was very small and much of it had a wooden boardwalk for a walkway instead of cement walkways or sidewalks. The walkways in front of the Iron Door were wood. They were raised about 2 feet above the roadway. Yes, I did see men get too drunk and get pushed out through the doors onto the walkway and then fall into the road. Fortunately there was not much traffic – well not too often.
When you walk through the doors, the first thing you’ll notice is the bar on the right with a very large, very beautiful mirror, and a nice collection of spirits. The ceiling is riddled with bullet holes and money. One of the stories we heard over and over was how cowboys would ride their horse – and some times a cow – into the Iron Door and shoot bullets into the ceiling. The floor, in the 80’s, was a bit scary in parts. The Iron Door is built over a mine and when the horses and cows would be ridden into the saloon, they would compromise the floor. Then, when the dancers were getting a bit raucous, and were jumping up and down, the floor would really sway. I could feel it and would move towards the sides of the flooring, didn’t want to end up in a hole. But, as long as we were there, no one fell through the floor.
There was one special musical performance given at the Iron Door in 1986 – Country Joe and the Fish – came to town. I wanted my 11 year old son to be in attendance of this performance and got permission for him to sit in the corner (this was prior to Dirty Dancing). The funny side to this story is during an intermission of the show, a newspaper man asked my son why he was there, in a saloon listening to Country Joe and the Fish. He said “my mother wants me to appreciate all musical genres” I had to go and look that word up – but yes, he was correct. My son is now 40 and still recalls that show.
Basically it was fun, just good old innocuous fun. During the Winter, the population in Groveland dropped drastically. We had about 350 full time year-round residents. In the Summer, this number increased exponentially. What this meant was; in the winter time, a person didn’t have to keep an eye on her jacket or even her purse while bebooping around on the dance floor. In this Summer this changed. Fortunately for me, there were enough men in the saloon that knew what cardigan I wore. One night a friend caught a young lady trying to make off with my white angora cardigan. He saw her trying to leave with my sweater and told her she couldn’t take it – he knew it belonged to me and asked her to give it back. She did. It was nice to have that kind of back-up. It can make you feel like a princess.
Everyone who lived in the town year-round knew everyone else. The men at the Saloon knew I love to dance and my husband didn’t and would prefer to just stay home (wow, that saved on baby sitters). Every now and then, hubby would come down with me and buy several pitchers of beer to pay the guys back for the beers they had been buying for me. He would do this in the winter or early spring – just locals at that time of year. In return, on Saturday nights I got to dance the night away, get a few free beers and always had a ride home at the end of the evening.
I have not been back to Groveland since 1991 – two years after we moved away. I’m aware it has grown and changed as most places do. I hope the local residents still know each other and watch out for each other. I hope it is still a safe place for a young woman to go dancing long into the night.
This is a place that holds special memories for me – what place holds special memories for you?