The Stone Hotel
The Stone Hotel was built in 1883 by Victor Van Briesen as a two story Railroad Hotel and Eating House for the original southwestern terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Daggett, California. The top story burned in 1908 and it was reopened as a one-story hotel serving travelers along the original Old Trails Highway, which became Route 66.
* “She Burns Green” was a well known phrase to millions of early radio listeners in the United States as they tuned in to shows depicting the excitement of life in the Old West. From 1930 to 1951, the Death Valley Days radio show thrilled listeners with “true life” tales, such as the story of Aaron Winters’s utterance of those famous words when he and his wife Rosie discovered Borax in Death Valley. Then a whole new generation was introduced to these same stories as “She Burns Green” became one of the first episodes of the Death Valley Days television show in 1952. Although Death Valley Days made a celebrity out of Aaron and Rosie Winters, what was not well known was that Winters owned a small hotel in the little-known town of Daggett, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, in San Bernardino County, California.
That same town was the early home of William Washington “Wash” Cahill, superintendent of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad—a subsidiary of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which was the company that produced Death Valley Days. Cahill’s father had been a stagecoach driver between Calico and Daggett, and his mother-in-law, Celedonia Souer, was a lodging house keeper in Daggett. Cahill provided many of the stories that became plots for both the radio and television shows, and his name was used for a character on the show.
Yet, Cahill was not the only person to immortalize many of the residents of Daggett. Another resident, Dix Van Dyke, wrote a weekly column for the local paper that glorified much of the rowdiness and lawlessness of the Old West. The height of his literary career saw his stories appearing in Westways magazine, the publication of the Automobile Association of America. The Auto Club was interested in exploiting the nation’s passion for all things Western, and Van Dyke’s stories about Alex Falconer’s Bucket of Blood Saloon and Bill Curry’s shoot-outs with robbers piqued the interest of travelers wanting to hear about life in the Old West. What was not told in the stories was that both Curry and Falconer had, at different times, owned that same hotel that had been previously owned by Aaron Winters.
The nation’s newspaper readers were also treated to stories emanating from life in Daggett. Walter Scott, the infamous “Death Valley Scotty,” had a private room at the hotel. His stories of claim jumping, outlaws, and high-speed cross-country treks fascinated readers. From 1900 to 1903, Scotty received his mail, and sold his phony shares of mining stock, from room Number 7. Other regular hotel patrons included naturalist John Muir, whose daughter lived in Daggett, California Lieutenant Governor John Daggett, whom the town was named after, and Francis Marion “Borax” Smith.
Finally, unknown to millions of people who have walked through “Calico Square” at Knott’s Berry Farm, a Southern California amusement park, the square is not a recreation of the town of Calico. Walter Knott purchased the town of Calico and created Ghost Town in Knott's Berry Farm to resemble it, but Calico Squire is more similar to Calico’s adjacent train station, located down slope approximately six miles from Calico and originally known as Calico Junction. The name was changed to Daggett when business owners became concerned that people would confuse Calico with Calico Junction, so in 1883, merchant Walter James sent a letter to the Office of the First Assistant Post Master General, Washington D.C., requesting that the name of the town of Calico Junction be changed to Daggett in honor of then Lieutenant Governor John Daggett, who had recently become interested in the local mining operations. As in Knott’s Calico Square, the train in Daggett came to a stop opposite a two story building that overlooked the town square. Known during that time period as the Railroad Hotel, it became the same hotel owned by Aaron Winters, Alexander Falconer, and William Curry.
Although the Stone Hotel has burned down twice and changed from a two-story building to a one story, the original adobe and stone portion has remained exactly as it was built in 1883. For a building that has had so many connections with important people and events in California history and culture, not much effort has been made to preserve it. Ownership of the Stone Hotel was transferred from the San Bernardino County Museum to the Daggett Historical Society in 2016. We plan on restoring the Stone Hotel to its original splendor and repurposing it as the Daggett Museum.
*Adapted from:HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY AND PUBLIC HISTORY IN THE WESTERN MOJAVE DESERT: THE STONE HOTEL (CA-SBR-5525H) IN
DAGGETT, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA by Teresa Terry, used by permission.