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On Mount Diablo: The Old Hotel Near The Top

The Mountain House was a resort for wealthy families who took the stagecoach to the 16-room hotel in the late 1800s

This is the first in a series of stories to be posted this summer on the sights and features on Mount Diablo.

Today, it doesn't seem like a place where a 16-room hotel once stood.

The flat parcel of land a two mile walk below the 3,864-foot summit of Mount Diablo now contains a couple picnic tables surrounded by dry chapparal grass blowing in the breeze.

However, the land also has on it an interpertive panel that takes you back more than 100 years and tells you the story of Mountain House, the only hotel ever constructed on the mountain.

The hotel was the idea of Joseph Seavey Hall, a former guide in the White Mountains of New Hampshire who came to California in the late 1860s after fighting in the Civil War.

While hiking Mount Diablo, Hall dreamed of building a hotel similiar to one he helped build in New Hampshire.

He knew he first had to build roads up Diablo, so in 1873 he formed a road company with some partners. They spent $22,000 to buy the right of way from ranchers and construct two roads up to the proposed hotel site.

One of the dirt roads started in Pine Canyon in what is now Walnut Creek. It was eight miles long and 12 feet wide. The route is now the Stage Road trail and still leads to the hotel site.

A similar dirt path snaked up from the Danville area.

Hall then purchased 23 acres in December 1873 and built the hotel over the next four months. It opened on May 2, 1874.

Stagecoaches and carriages brought visitors twice a day. Many of the tourists stayed overnight, eating a five-star dinner in the evening and then waking up early the next morning to hike to the summit for the sunrise.

Hall installed a large tent with a wooden floor at the summit for people who wanted to spend the night there.

"The hotel was the place to stay overnight. The key was to go to the summit," said Rich McDrew, who along with co-author Rachel Haislet wrote the book, "Mountain Lore," which details dozens of locations on Diablo.

The visitors were from all over the Bay Area, although a majority were upper income people from San Francisco who heard about this hotel on this mountain with a spectacular view. They would take a ferry and/or train to the East Bay to catch the stage up the mountain.

"Wealthy families would make the trip to the hotel. It was like taking relatives to the Golden Gate Bridge," said Burt Bogardus, a retired park ranger who worked on Mount Diablo from 1975 to 1993. "It was like going on vacation. It wasn't for poor people."

There's no record of how much the excursions cost or how many people visited the hotel. However, in "Mountain Lore" a letter from Hall to his siblings is quoted as saying 2,000 people had come up the roads in the first four months they were open.

"The hotel had a kind of uniqueness to it and a kind of adventure to it," said McDrew. "Business was quite good for awhile. It was a pretty popular thing."

In 1878, Hall ran into financial problems and sold the hotel to Margaret Sloan, who operated the facility for another 14 years with her son, Horace.

By 1890, the novelty of the hotel had started to wear off. Then, a wildfire swept across the mountain summit in 1891, scaring off visitors.

The hotel was abandoned in 1895 and fell into disrepair. In 1901, it burned to the ground in a fire many believe was set by neighboring ranchers who were tired of people hiking through their land to reach the abandoned structure.

The dirt roads, however, remained in use as a way to reach the summit. In 1913, the roads' owners charged $1 for a car with two people, $2.50 for four people in a six-horse vehicle, 25 cents for hikers, and 10 cents for each horse and cow. Sheep were two for a nickel.

The site eventually became part of Mount Diablo State Park after it was established in 1921.

For more on Mount Diablo, you can read "Mountain Lore" or visit the websites of the Mount Diablo Interpretive Society and Save Mount Diablo.

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