Skip to main content

Enjoy Magazine

Weaverville's New York Saloon

08/07/2013 05:07PM ● By Enjoy Magazine
CLOSE YOUR EYES in Weaverville’s New York Saloon, and you may find your mind wandering back to a time when stagecoaches rumbled through this Gold Rush town. Open them back up and you’ll find yourself in the company of down-to-earth, unpretentious folks who live by the motto, “You’re only a stranger here once.”

The Main Street saloon, owned by Daniel and Dalene Donnelson, includes plenty of the traditional amenities of an American bar—a jukebox, karaoke, a pool table, along with rural additions like deer heads and vintage license plates. The historic artifacts, including stagecoach tickets from the 1920s, bear witness that your own great-grandparents may have wet their whistles in this historic brick building, the town’s official stage stop until the early 1900s.

Upstairs is the 12-room New York Hotel, where actress Olivia de Havilland stayed in 1938. Originally called The York Hotel, it was built as a single-story edifice in 1854. It was destroyed by fire in 1859, and was rebuilt as a brick two-story and renamed The New York Hotel. In 1931, the building was remodeled and two rooms were added over the saloon.

In 1991, the building was bought by a group of local investors, including the Donnelsons. The Donnelsons also purchased the saloon – quite a career change for a woman who had worked as a lumber grader. “The guy teaching me how to grade had lived through the Depression. I asked him, what survived during the Depression? He told me grocery, stores, funeral parlors and bars,” Dalene says. “The saloon was really struggling, and I wanted to buy it. My husband thought I was nuts.”

They cleaned up the place and learned everything they could about running a bar. “I’d never been in the business before, but I was the second woman to ever be a certified lumber grader, so I’m not afraid of challenges,” Dalene says. “It’s lasted 23 years so far.”

The New York Saloon serves as the official meeting place of E. Clampus Vitus, Trinitarianus #62, which preserves California’s historic traditions and is charged to “come to the aid of widows and orphans at a moment’s notice or less.” The saloon’s back room is the “Clampers’” designated meeting space, where photos, caricatures, award certificates and other memorabilia spanning decades of history adorn the walls. Women’s groups often convene on the patio during the week.

Independence Day weekend, traditionally one of the busiest of the year thanks to a huge tourist draw, “was like a four-day party.” Customers were two deep at the bar after the annual parade concluded at noon on July 4.

The Donnelsons run a tight ship – drugs and fights are absolutely forbidden – and Dalene proclaims to have “the best clientele ever. I just love them. How many places do you hear people standing out in the bar saying, ‘Thank you, I had such a good time’? That’s what makes the difference.”

Indeed, some guests have stayed for more than a century. Ghost stories have surrounded the saloon forever, and “paranormal researchers came from Shasta County and said we have 23, between the hotel and the saloon,” Dalene says. “I have a CD of what the investigators came up with, and when they asked one how he got here, he said very clearly, ‘By donkey train.’”

She describes the supernatural guests as mostly friendly, despite the tragic story that surrounds the woman in the white gown who appears most frequently. “She was in love with a deputy sheriff in town, and she was so excited to see him that she ran downstairs and was hit by a stagecoach. A customer came in from the back parking lot last year and asked, ‘Hey, where’s the wedding?’ He had just followed a lady in here in a wedding gown, and she went into the back room – but there was no wedding, and there was no one there.”

Not that the Donnelsons blame her, or her paranormal counterparts, from sticking around. Dalene, who was raised in Encino, says, “I had always felt like I hadn’t been born in the right place. Coming to Weaverville felt like coming home.”•

New York Saloon • 225 Main St., Weaverville • (530) 623-3492