E. Franck and Company in French Gulch
By Billy Pilgrim
Back in Time
Story and photos by Billy Pilgrim
IT WAS A GORGEOUS Sunday in May, and we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a drive to Whiskeytown Lake. We ended up at Oak Bottom Marina, open again after last year’s life-changing Carr Fire. Oak Bottom looked good on a chilly afternoon. We could see new life, new green vegetation growing after the devastation. I said, “As long as we are here, let’s visit French Gulch, and see how it looks.”
The old mining town looks great. The Carr Fire burned the hills around the community, but thanks to our courageous firefighters, downtown remains standing, as does the historic French Gulch Hotel. We dropped into the bar, had a cold beer, and just before we left, Donnie pointed across the street to a very old, nondescript building and said, “You’ve gotta go in there. It will blow your mind. Just do it.” And we are so glad we did. Nothing on the outside of E. Franck and Company would alert anyone to the museum and beautiful bar that is inside. This is a living, breathing part of Shasta County’s rich history, and so much of French Gulch’s past has been preserved on the walls and ceilings.
E. Franck & Company was established in 1854 by brothers Frederick and Ignatz Franck. Johnny and Barbara Felsher remain the longtime proprietors of this cultural treasure. Johnny told me it started as a mining supply and general merchandise store, selling everything from whiskey to ammunition to firewood. Sometime in the 1940s, E. Franck and Company became a bar and a grocery to serve the residents of French Gulch. Today, it’s a bar, a social destination for locals and a tourist stop for those who know about it. It has a five-star rating on TripAdvisor.
It is packed with historical artifacts: pictures and illustrations from other eras. There is an incredible gun collection on the walls, old bottles and pictures, mining equipment and clothing dating back so many years. And the money on the 12-foot ceiling – lots of it! How do they get up there? Karen, who runs E. Franck, showed me an old western trick – put a stick pin through the paper currency, then wrap the money around a silver dollar. Give it a flat upward throw, and it will stick to the ceiling, while the silver dollar falls to the ground. You’ve got to see it to believe it. While we were there, Karen showed us a 160-year-old ledger, showing page after page of transactions that took place at the store – entries showing drinks and supplies purchased at 1860 prices.
E. Franck and Company is much more than a bar. It is a museum, an extraordinary roadside attraction with no admission charge. Do you want to do something super cool this summer? Take Highway 299 West to French Gulch and discover E. Franck and Company. •