Archiver > CA-HISTORY > 2006-11 > 1163003170

From: mt view <>
Subject: [CA-HISTORY] Searsville's 'ghosts' roam lake near P.A.,
Date: Wed, 8 Nov 2006 08:26:10 -0800 (PST)

Found this in the San Jose Mercury of Monday, 6, 2006.

Searsville's 'ghosts' roam lake near P.A.
By Todd R. Brown

You know the tale of the Blue Lady, the spirit of a lovelorn woman that supposedly haunts Moss Beach Distillery.
You've heard about Burlingame's Kohl Mansion, whose original owner, Freddie Kohl, is said to flick the lights on and off long after his suicide.
But do you know the bone-chilling story of the ``ghosts of Searsville''?
Well, it's not really a Halloween-type ghost story, but the notion of a vanished town beneath the murky waters of Searsville Lake makes for a tantalizing tale.
``My father told me not to dive too deep because I might hit my head on a chimney,'' said John G. Edmonds, 67, of San Carlos, a history author who was a lifeguard at the lake in the late '50s. ``He bought into all that nonsense.''
Legend has it that Searsville, established in 1854 during the redwood logging boom, disappeared in 1891 when San Francisquito Creek was dammed, creating a nearly milelong body of water where seedy saloons and modest houses once stood.
Most of the buildings were taken apart and moved to Redwood City before the flooding, according to Edmonds' account of what happened to Searsville in his book ``Union Cemetery,'' leaving only the foundations of a Chinese laundry to be swallowed by water.
The town's Eikerenkotter and Sears hotels were outside the flood plain, as were William Lloyd's blacksmith shop and the Searsville School, according to hand-drawn maps at the San Mateo County History Museum.
Yet, after the Spring Valley Water Co. bought up the land by 1887 for the dam project, most of the life of Searsville disappeared. A few years later, even the higher-ground structures were gone.
Beneath the waves
The lake became a popular swimming destination and, over time, the story became exaggerated. People spoke of an abandoned village hidden beneath the waves.
As Theron G. Cady put it in his article ``Ghosts of Searsville'' in 1946, ``According to some who believe in fairy tales, the old buildings and board walks are still discernible through the blue waters of the lake.''
Such stories did their part to capture the imagination of Edmonds, who was a competitive swimmer for Sequoia High School and crisscrossed the lake in the mid-'50s before briefly becoming a lifeguard there.
``I always looked down to see if I could see a town, but you never see anything, it's so murky,'' he said.
After retiring as a sheriff's deputy whose beat included the lake, Edmonds took an interest in local history and wrote about the early courts of San Mateo County for a 1986 book. His research led him to Searsville, and he decided to get to the bottom of the myth.
For Edmonds, the true history of Searsville is more compelling than the fable from his youth. First settled about 1850 to provide timber for Gold Rush housing, the town became the biggest metropolis in the county in the early 1860s, peaking at 250 residents.
Charles Brown and his wife were pioneers, settling on Mountain Home Ranch, according to documents at the county history museum in Redwood City. Dennis Martin, who created Whiskey Hill Road, was another early bird.
They were followed circa 1852 by John Smith. Prussian immigrant August Eikerenkotter came a year later to open his inn on Sand Hill Road.
John Sears also opened a hotel on Sand Hill. His postal contract led to his name being associated with the town, according to Edmonds. He also opened a blacksmith shop in La Honda, which still stands as Apple Jacks bar.
Downing booze at Cutter's Saloon and other watering holes seems to have been a central pastime for the rough-and-tumble lumberers of Searsville.
`Whiskey-loving town'
A 1993 article in the San Mateo Times about the town recalled it as ``a `blustering, fighting, whiskey-loving town.' Every other establishment was a thirst emporium or hotel. Glasses `clinked all day and all night, and the fires never went out.' There was perhaps more life in Searsville, mused one observer, than any community in the county.''
One of Searsville's characters was Horace Templeton, elected as the town's second judge that same year. He was an avid gambler who liked to try his luck at Moses Davis' hotel at Sand Hill and Whiskey Hill roads.
``He was very successful at anything he did, especially playing poker,'' Edmonds said. ``While he was in Redwood City, judging, I guess, the hotel burned down and they discovered why he was so successful.''
It turned out there was a system of wires rigged to the card table that communicated the hand Templeton's opponents held to the judge. He later moved his home to Phelps Road, now Middlefield, in Redwood City -- and it, too, burned down.
``But he had it ensured for three times its value,'' Edmonds said. ``He always came out smelling like a rose.''
Land owner Stanford University established the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in 1973 and closed Searsville Lake to the public two years later.
Today it is used for research by students and faculty members and is a water source for Stanford, said Philippe Cohen, the preserve's administrative director.
The core of the former town is actually under Middle Lake, an offshoot just southwest of the main body. After accruing plenty of silt through the years, much of the area is marshland.
Among the foliage on the northern bank of Middle Lake is one intriguing clue to the town's past: Irises that have grown there as long as can be remembered, according to Jasper's database manager, Trevor Hebert.
The non-native plants may be descended from general store operator William Page's original plantings.
Hebert said the town was doomed from the start because of its topography.
``It's a flood zone and always will be,'' he said.
And what about the notion that phantom buildings haunt the bottom of the lake, a glimmer of Gold Rush history forever obscured by mud and the passage of time? Whither the ``ghosts of Searsville?''
``The only ghosts around here,'' Cohen said, ``are in our computers.''
• Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve,
• San Mateo County History Museum,
• ``Ghosts of Searsville,''


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