Bayley's Grand Dream
The palatial hotel that A. J. Bayley built long ago in California’s gold country still stands, though it’s empty now, and encircled by a protective chain-link fence. Its splendid front pillars and veranda are gone, and its doors and windows are covered with plywood. Some even say the place is haunted; perhaps by Bayley himself, or by the spirits of the guests that once happily danced the night away in the magnificent Bayley House ballroom.
Alcander John Bayley, who preferred to be called A.J., arrived in San Francisco on July 6, 1849, by sea; three months shy of his 22nd birthday. A Vermont native, he was a bright, ambitious, congenial young man who had graduated from Townsend Academy at sixteen, and was already profiting from a commission business he had founded in Boston a year earlier, when news of the California gold discovery reached the East Coast. The siren call of riches and adventure was irresistible: Bayley formed a company of like-minded young men who purchased a ship, the Edward Everett, which departed in January 1849 to sail around Cape Horn.
Bayley mined in the Coloma and Placerville areas, like thousands of other gold-rushers, while simultaneously running a business in Sacramento City. Then another opportunity knocked and he agreed to manage the Winters Hotel in Coloma for the princely sum of $500 a month. He prospered, enabling him to open the Oak Valley House in 1850, situated in Pilot Hill, a booming mining camp eight miles north of Coloma. Under Bayley’s management the Oak Valley House Hotel was a great success both as a hotel and a social venue. He continued to prosper, until the entire structure and all of its contents burned to the ground in May of 1861. Meanwhile, A. J. had learned that the soon-to-be-constructed Central Pacific Railroad—America’s first transcontinental railroad—had plans to pass through Pilot Hill. Hoping to capitalize on overnight railroad travelers, he embarked on his biggest project yet: construction of the Bayley House Hotel.
The three-story, 10,000 square-foot, red-brick Bayley House opened in Pilot Hill on May 15, 1862, with an invitation-only reception. The hotel contained 22 rooms, including two ladies’ parlors and a bar room to the left of the entrance, a grand ballroom on the top floor, and a widow’s walk that offered a fine panoramic view of the Sacramento and Coloma valleys. A spectacular circular staircase with a highly polished mahogany railing wound from the double-door foyer to the second and third floors, and the hotel was outfitted with six fireplaces, two with marble insets. Terraced gardens surrounded the structure, which sat on 640 acres filled with fruit trees and stocked with cattle and poultry. The estate’s vineyards produced a cellar full of local wines for guests, although it is said that A. J. himself was a teetotaler.
However, Bayley’s dreams were dashed when the Central Pacific Railroads’ chief engineer, Theodore Judah, found that routing the railroad through Auburn—some six miles northwest of Pilot Hill, then onward through Dutch Flat—would be easier and less expensive. Bayley’s Hotel did remain a stage stop on the Georgetown Road that ran through the rolling hills of El Dorado County, and for a time Bayley ran a general store on the property, but the hotel served far fewer guests that anticipated, and eventually it became a private residence.
In 1871, Bayley served a one year term as a California Assemblyman.
In 1872, A. J. Bayley became the proprietor of the Tahoe House, at Lake Tahoe. Later on, in the 1890s, he owned the Grand Central Hotel at Tahoe City, billed as the “Gem of the Sierras.”
Alcander J. Bayley died of appendicitis, at his Pilot Hill estate, on June 9, 1896. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, who evidently chose to not to assume the burdens of operating the Oak Valley ranch and Lake Tahoe hotel business. In November 1897, the Bayley House plus the properties at Tahoe City, which covered multiple lots and included a private wharf, were sold at private auction.
The Bayley House remained a private residence until 1960. In 1978, the firm of Alexander & Baldwin donated the building and its remaining ten acres to El Dorado County, who in turn sold it to the Georgetown Recreation District. Eagar to see the once magnificent property restored, the recreation district sponsored volunteers who have restored the barn, turning it into a popular venue for weddings and community events. A portion of those proceeds from the barn’s rental go toward a future restoration of Bayley’s Hotel as a museum and cultural center.