The St. Bernard Lodge in Mill Creek
By Kayla Anderson
Historic Mountain Retreat
Story by Kayla Anderson
ON HIGHWAY 36 about about a half-hour away from Lassen Peak and “somewhere west of Chester” is a quaint, historic lodge with horse stables and a creek running behind it. Walking into the seven-bedroom, two-bathroom estate, there’s a lobby with visitor information and a parlor off to the left with a rustic feel and fully-stocked bar. To the right is a dining area where owners Jim Vondracek and Sharon Roberts cook all of their guests’ meals. The St. Bernard Lodge offers a welcoming atmosphere and warm, comfortable beds that are all too easy to pass out in after a day of exploring Lassen Peak or Lake Almanor.
It’s questionable whether St. Bernard Lodge has always been as accommodating due to its lively history, but it certainly is entertaining to learn about and try to sort fact from fiction. It started with a contentious German family finding solace in the mountains of Northern California in the early 1900s and then making their mark in the lodging business throughout the next century.
Originally, German immigrant Carl Fink went up north to join a surveying crew planning out the construction of Highway 36. He fell in love with the area and opened what was then known as the Deer Creek Café.
His brother, Mike, loved St. Bernard dogs and opened the St. Bernard Café in Southern California. However, local historians believe that when one of Mike’s beloved dogs was poisoned – likely due to an anti-German sentiment at the time – he moved up north to join his brother Carl. The brothers ran Deer Creek together, but there are mixed stories about what happened to Carl – some reports state that he went to jail over a lumber deal gone bad, others say that he simply had a falling out with his brother and moved on to build a fish hatchery in the area. Whatever the case, Mike took over the lodge, renamed it the St. Bernard Lodge and built a second story of rooms onto the main house.
Around this time, another brother, Ernest Fink, and his wife Gertrude moved to Tehama County and built a second Deer Creek Lodge right next to the St. Bernard. Adea, a Fink sister, came up and worked for Mike until he supposedly fired her for rearranging his kitchen spice rack. Ernest took Adea in and she ran the kitchen until Adea and Gertrude got in a fight and Adea went and opened up her own lodge.
With three dueling Fink siblings running their own ventures in close proximity, the lodges’ guests, locals and delivery people were often caught in the crosshairs of the latest Fink family drama. These stories include how Mike ran a brothel behind St. Bernard Lodge that acted as a hideout for the mafia during Prohibition, or the brawls that the Finks got into it with each other and how they went to great lengths to avoid each other in the local grocery store.
“It was a family of 11 kids and four of them ended up here, so they probably all got along at some point,” current St. Bernard Lodge owner Sharon Roberts believes.
Adea’s place, the Black Forest Lodge, was built in the 1950s and her family managed it up until the ‘70s. They resold it in 1999, but it remains vacant. Meanwhile, the St. Bernard Lodge stayed between the Fink brothers throughout the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Roberts and her husband took over ownership on July 1, 1999. Since then, Roberts has become involved in the local Chamber of Commerce, as well as managing the historic establishment and restoring its past.
“I enjoy meeting people from all over. It’s nice running it as a bed and breakfast,” Roberts says.
For all that the lodge has been through, it was worth asking if St. Bernard Lodge has a ghost. Roberts replies that although she’s never seen one, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t received reports of guests who’ve reported some unusual activity.
“Supposedly we have a ghost – a young boy, and his favorite color is yellow. The previous owners said that he woke them up and saved them from a fire” that started from a wood-burning stove in one of the rooms, Roberts says. “About a year ago, one couple said that they woke up and were served tea on a silver platter by a young boy, but we don’t have any silver platters in the lodge. People who’ve had encounters always seem to note that it’s been a positive experience.”
Whether you’re coming to Mill Creek to fish, hike, ride horses or try to have a paranormal experience, St. Bernard Lodge is a nice place to eat, drink, sleep, and enjoy a throwback into Northern California history.
The St. Bernard Lodge serves breakfast to its guests and the dining room is open to the public by 24-hour-in-advance reservation only so Roberts has time to source the ingredients. Popular items that the couple can make include hamburgers, prime rib, prawns, and pasta. •
St. Bernard Lodge • www.stbernardlodge.com
44801 CA-36, Mill Creek • (530) 258-3382