Restoration of a Ruin
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Photos © George & Jo Ann Aiello.
Had everything gone according to the original plan, the Bayley House may have become the grand hotel and traveler oasis it was designed to be.
However, instead of following the originally proposed route through Pilot Hill, the Central Pacific Railroad was constructed through Auburn, bypassing Bayley’s dream of providing Victorian luxury to western travelers.
Today, the 10,000-square-foot house stands in ruins along what is now Highway 49, a victim of both time and well-intended but insufficient restoration attempts. Despite its rough appearance and the intricate scaffolding encasing it, the house still commands the surrounding countryside. “Over the years there’s been a lot of talk in regards to restoration projects,” says Jaime Tafoya, public relations officer for the Friends of the Bayley House, a non-profit organization created to facilitate the house’s restoration.
The homestead and property have passed through multiple owners since the 1920s; currently, the Georgetown Divide Recreation District—who regularly uses the barn on the property for community events and fundraisers—owns it.
In time, the Friends of the Bayley House hopes the structure will be fully and accurately restored, ultimately housing a museum, community center and event facilities. The process is careful, but slow, because all effort is made to preserve the historical integrity of the structure and property. Fundraising is a continual operation, and help—both monetary and otherwise—has come from many sources, including the expertise of the California State Historic Parks.
The interior of the house has been completely gutted through the years, and what furniture, textiles and household items were inside are long gone; thankfully, there are some artifacts that have been salvaged for restoration and study, including the original pillars, balustrades and paint swatches. A historic photo and writings archive has also been created to centralize and organize information about the house and its inhabitants. As well, there have been unique opportunities to excavate the surrounding property, and some interesting artifacts have been discovered. “The Bayley’s had a Chinese cook,” says Tafoya. “We’ve found some interesting Chinese pottery on the property.” It’s research like this that can ultimately help historians understand the way diverse people developed a permanent community after the Gold Rush.
A.J. Bayley, prospector and businessman, constructed the 22-room building from 1861 to 1862. Originally from Vermont, Bayley spent time in the Midwest before traveling to California in 1849. The Bayley House was to be his most ambitious business prospect. It boasted a grand ballroom, two women’s parlors, six fireplaces, mahogany imported from England, and a wine cellar that housed some of California’s first vintages. The outside walls were built with 300,000 bricks manufactured on the property.
After the Central Pacific Railroad was constructed through Auburn, bypassing Pilot Hill and the Bayley House, the brick mansion became known as Bayley’s Folly. However, with the dedication of volunteers, the Bayley House may very well become the vibrant community center Bayley envisioned.