On July 24, 2011, the Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum was opened to the public for the first time by the Lake County Historical Society and Lake County. We are located at 9921 Highway 281 (Soda Bay Road) between Kelseyville and Lower Lake.
This collaborative project is owned by the County of Lake and is operated by the Lake County Historical Society. The project was made possible through a donation of the historic building and the five-acre parcel upon which it rests by Andy and Betty Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards and an additional donation from the Kettenhofen Family Foundation, a charitable foundation established and funded by the estate of Ernest and Polly Kettenhofen who owned the S-Bar-S Ranch from approximately 1960 to 2000.
The Ely Stage Stop building has had several incarnations over the years dating back to about 1864 or 1865. It has served as a public house, stagecoach stop, hotel, post office, school for wayward boys, general store, and even as a gas station before taking on its current role as a historical preservation center. Future archeological research may help us pinpoint the precise date of its origin.
In his Notes on Lake County History, Henry Mauldin writes that the original Ely building was located on the Kelseyville-Lower Lake Road [currently Highway 29] about one-quarter mile north-west from the intersection of the Highway 29 and the Konocti Bay Road [currently Soda Bay Road] and Red Hills Drive. This northwest-southeast road was the main freight and travel-way for upper Lake County to Napa and the road was about the only way to contact with the outside world.
Originally, Highway 29 followed a Native American trail that ran through the town of Ely. As travel on Highway 29 became more efficient the Ely Hotel no longer served as a layover point and was bypassed. Recently the vacant historic building was slated for destruction due to roadwork when the Lake County Historical Society and Lake County moved the near forgotten building to its current location and restored it.
According to Lake County Biographies, from The History of Napa and Lake Counties,1881, the first settlers to the come to the Ely Stage Stop location were the Jamison Family who came here in June 1859, when the property was first known as the Lost Springs Ranch, then later as the S-Bar-S Ranch. The Ranch included Pine Springs to the south, that provided year-round domestic water to the buildings. However, there are no records of James Jamison, or his family, ever owning title to the lands on which this Ranch was located.
James H. Jamison was born in Missouri on September 26, 1830, and married Mary Annett, a native of Virginia, on March 9, 1852. James is described in Voter Registrations as being 6’ 1”, with light complexion, hazel eyes, and, in 1890, having grey hair. The 1850 U.S. Census shows that the James lived with his father and mother in Missouri, but the 1852 California Census finds James living alone in El Dorado County, California. Sometime before 1854 James returned home to Missouri.
The James family left Missouri in 1854 with James, his wife, and one young child, Sarah A., crossed the plains with ox teams and arrived at Bidwell’s Bar, a gold mining camp in Butte County on August 20th. Here James engaged in mining for about four years. He then engaged in keeping a public house on the Feather River, North of Sacramento, for about six months. He then lived in Solano County until June 1859 when he moved to Lake County. Mary and James eventually had four children: Sarah A., James E., Rosa S., and Laura. All but Laura were born in Missouri.
In 1859 James settled on a stock ranch where he farmed, held transient stock overnight in large corrals, operated a horse changing station for the stage line, along with building his residence that also served as a public house and later a hotel, allowing him to carry on a profitable business while remaining with farming. The James family stayed on this property for fourteen years before moving to Kelseyville where James held the office of Supervisor of the Second District from 1861 to 1865 and again in 1876 to 1878. Unfortunately, James is listed as being widowed in the 1880 U.S. census. James died on October 8, 1913 at age 83 and is buried in the Kelseyville cemetery.
The original location of the Jamison hotel is traced to Section 33, an area west of Soda Bay Road with Highway 29 running through it. The first record of ownership of a parcel of these lands was recorded as a Land Patent from the United States Government. On November 30,1878, Land Patent, 6-201, was issued for 120 acres in
section 33 to Benjamin Eli Junior, the son of Benjamin Ely. [It is not certain why his son spelled his name with an “i” rather than a “y” on this document.] On November 17, 1883, Benjamin Ely Senior purchased nearly the entire remainder of section 33 making the ownership of this section by the Ely family complete. Benjamin Ely Junior is describe in Voter Registrations as being 5’ 5 3/4” tall, with dark complexion, brown hair and eyes.
In addition to the 480 acres in section 33, Benjamin Ely also owned an additional 750 acres in other areas around section 33. Although Benjamin owned 1200 acres of land in Lake County, there is no record of him ever living in, let alone visiting Lake County. (History of Yolo County)
According to the Illustrated Atlas of Yolo County, California, the ancestry of the Ely family can be traced back to colonial Virginia and further back to Great Britain. Benjamin Ely was the son of Thomas and Margaret Ely and was born in Rall’s County, Missouri, on September 20, 1820. Thomas was a farmer who moved from Virginia to Kentucky and then to Missouri. Benjamin is described in Voter Registrations as being 5” 10”, with dark complexion, dark eyes, and dark hair. He is also described as not having his right eye. Benjamin resided in Missouri until April 15, 1850, when he tired of farming and decided to move west to an area around Placerville, California, to try his hand at mining. Within a year, he returned to Missouri with little money and the intention of staying in Missouri and farming for the rest of his life.
However, California called again! On May 22, 1857, Benjamin Ely and Joe Griffin left Center, Missouri, with a drove (300-400 head) of cattle, some 50 people, 50-60 horses and mules, and settled in an area where Winters, California, is now located. He eventually accumulated 1600 acres of choice agricultural land around Buckeye, California, and had another 3,560 acres nearby. Benjamin built a large residence in 1869 situated about 15 miles southwest of Woodland and six miles from Winters. Benjamin also had eighty acres of foothill lands planted in fruit trees and vines. His property was known as Buckeye being the name of the previous town thatwas abandoned when the railroad bypassed it in favor of Winters. The old town site became a portion of Benjamin’s wheat field.
Benjamin married Miss Elizabeth Daniels, a native of Kentucky, on September 16, 1840. They had ten children and at the time of Benjamin’s death, on April 16, 1901, he was able to leave each of his children 160 acres of prime agricultural land.
The Ely family was composed of John H., a prosperous rancher near the old homestead; Margaret J., wife of M.O. Harling, cashier of the Farmer’s & Merchant’s Bank of Woodland; Sallie Ann, wife of James H. McClure, owner of a farm near Winters; Benjamin, a rancher near the old homestead; Mary B., wife of L.B. Spurgeon, a rancher near Wheatland; Robert Lee, the owner of a ranch near Santa Rosa, California; Dixie E., wife of James G. Crutcher, Treasurer of Yolo County; and Georgia Elizabeth, a talented artist, who remained at the old homestead and affectionately cared for her mother.
According to probate records, Benjamin’s estate consisted of the following property: 1,000 acres of land in Yolo County valued at $20 per acre; 80 acres valued at $2.58; a livery stable, $2,500; 1,200 acres in Lake County valued at $10 per acre; and personal property valued at $6,000. On December 12, 1912, the estate of Benjamin Ely sold his “seized and possessed property of about 1200 acres” of land in Lake County to Seabury Mastick, a prominent patent litigator who once lived in California.
In Lake County, from April 10, 1887 to March 8, 1889, the historic Ely Building served as the town of Ely’s official postal and
stagecoach relay station. [In Henry Mauldin’s Notes, he refers to it as “Elys Post Office”.] Here postal carriers stopped for fresh horses and a meal while stagecoaches stopped to allow travelers to refresh and take upstairs rooms for the night and rest or get new horses. Although President Lincoln appointed Benjamin Ely postmaster in 1864, it was his daughter, Mrs. Sarah McClure who actually ran the Post Office in Ely because Sarah actually lived in the area.
Although its age and condition of the Ely building made the relocation a challenge, the building’s varied history adds character to the new museum while the current site features dramatic views of another rich historical site, Mount Konocti, which also overlooks the former S-Bar-S Ranch.