Monday, October 12, 2015

Columbia Mercantile

In my latest Christmas story, Too Old for Christmas set in 1854 Columbia, 
California, between getting off work early due to heavy rain and his visit to the dentist, Doc Massey, my hero Sean Flood makes a stop at the Columbia Mercantile. While he is there looking and feeling far from his best, Sean first speaks to the widow Ona McNair.

Columbia was first known as "Hildreath's Diggings" after Dr. Thaddeus Hildreath and a few other prospectors are given credit for discovering the gold site on March 28, 1850. Hildreath and his friends came across a gulch that yielded them $4,680 in gold during the next two days. When word spread about the find, the population went from nothing to 5,000 during the next month resulting in a frenzy of construction as hundreds of frame buildings were erected. AS happened on a regular basis in the towns of the era in gold country, almost all of then were destroyed by the great fire of 1854.

 The building that most people now refer to as the Columbia Mercantile is also known as the Magendie/Brunet Building. In 1852 V.E. Magendie bought a wooden structure on this lot from Alexis Maitre in what was then known as the French quarter due to the number of natives of France who had started businesses.

This building along with a large portion of Columbia except for a few brick buildings was burned to the ground in 1854. Magendie first rebuilt his store of wood before he replaced the structure with a more durable brick building in 1855. Based on that timeline of actual events, at the time Too Old for Christmas begins in November of 1854, Sean would have entered a wood structure when he visited the mercantile. Since that year Sean augmented his freight hauling jobs with construction jobs as part of the effort to rebuild the city of Columbia, it is possible he may have helped construct the wooden building where he later shopped.  

Fortunately for Mr. Magendie and the rest of Colombia’s businessmen, cement for the concrete mortar was mined locally. The brick was made not far away in Shaw’s Flat.

Along with the brick buildings which proved to be more fire-resistant (not
entirely fire-proof), Magendie had installed heavy iron shutters which could be closed over his doors and windows to  help keep fire from spreading either into the store, or from the store outward. Examples of this type of construction may be found throughout the Mother Lode region of the Western Sierra-Nevada foothills.

In 1856 V.E. Magendie sold the building to J.B. Magendie. The 1857 fire partially destroyed the building. Magendie sold to Pedro Beronio and Pierre Bocquerraz in 1861. Beronio and Bocquerraz sold groceries and alchoholic beverages. In 1868 L. Brunet owned the building and C. Smith ran a clothing and grocery store in it. Brunet owned the building for many years.
Today the structure still stands as an example of the 1855 buildings constructed in this gold mining community.

For the full timeline and some great pictures of the Columbia Mercantile through time click HERE to access the Columbia Gazette page. 
The following is the book description for Too Old for Christmas scheduled to be published in early November, 2015:

         Irishman Sean Flood survived the potato famine, crossing the Atlantic, the Mexican-American War, and wandering the Western wilderness with his mules and freight wagon. But, due to poor diet and deprivation, his teeth did not fare well. It’s November of 1854 in Columbia, California, Queen of the Southern Mines, a city Sean is helping to rebuild after the disastrous fire the previous summer. Intense stabbing tooth pain drives him to see Doc Massey, the local dentist. He first stops by the mercantile to pick up a bottle of whiskey—for medicinal purposes—and food­­­­ he’ll be able to eat when it’s all over. If only the beautiful but aggravating woman ahead of him who keeps her face half hidden and insists she won’t accept charity would finish up with her purchase so he can get his supplies, his tooth pulled and return home to his mules and half-built cabin….

       That night, Sean meets the woman’s two sons, Jesse and Benjy McNair, and learns her secret. He decides with only three teeth left in his head, he needs widow Ona McNair’s charity—and he’s willing to pay for it. Sean won’t accept nine year-old Jesse’s declaration his family’s poverty means the boy is too old for Christmas that year. Sean is a full-grown man and he’s not too old for Christmas. He not only plans to come bearing gifts to Christmas Eve dinner with the McNairs, but he knows exactly what gift he wants for himself.  *Sweet Romance

 Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press in October 2014 and her novelette, A Christmas Promise, was published by Prairie Rose Publications in November 2014. The first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, are now available. 

 Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

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  1. A wonderful history. Buildings have so much to offer, but many don't often take the time to find out the stories associated with them. Enjoyed the Mercatile's very much. Best on this story, is sounds like a wonderful one. Doris McCraw

  2. Zina-- I so agree with Doris: buildings have such a rich history and stories all their own. I enjoyed reading your snippet and am looking forward to your book's release. TOO OLD FOR CHRISTMAS sounds really good! I've put it on my to-read-this-holiday-season list. Thank you for the intriguing post.