I almost stumbled into a bit of nearly forgotten history one sunny day last week, as I was hiking along the trail between Brown’s Ravine and Mormon Island at Folsom Lake. At the top of a prominent hill I was amazed to find stone foundations surrounding a large hole in the ground. It was obvious I wasn’t the only person to have explored it because there were trails leading around the walls to the shoreward side — despite the presence of poison oak bushes scattered here and there. Intrigued, I made a second trip back later in the week when the sky was overcast.
I already knew there were a lot of pre-Folsom Dam foundations inundated by the lake waters (and visible during the drought of the last few years), but this location has clearly never been under water due to its elevation. I wanted to know more about whatever building had once existed here.
Luckily, another local amateur historian was way ahead of me. I’ve mentioned Kevin Knauss’ blog once or twice before, and it’s one of the first places I check when I have a question about the history of the area around Folsom Lake. It turns out he’s been doing quite a bit of research about the owner of this building — a man named Benjamin Norton Bugbey — and is preparing to publish a book on the subject in the near future. From his blog I learned that Mr. Bugbey seems to have lived a pretty incredible life, and this foundation formed the basement/wine cellar of a fairly magnificent house built in the late 1860s; the occupants enjoyed a pretty great view of the river and their prize-winning vineyards.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the two links I’ve shared above; I always enjoy learning new things about local history, and Kevin is a good storyteller and photographer. He has even created a couple of YouTube videos featuring some pretty catchy songs that Mr. Bugbey commissioned in the 1870s to promote the products of his vineyard. On the cover sheet of one of them you can see a drawing of his fine house on the hill as it originally appeared!