Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hidden History of the Hotel Ryde - Part One

Ryde, CA (Walnut Grove Area)
A while back, someone very special took me to a quaint little Delta town known as Ryde.  In fact, it was one of our first "dates" you could say. I had never been on the windy roads of the Delta, so I didn't know what to expect, although I was more than pleasantly surprised. While driving along the levee roads, you can literally watch the river flow by. It doesn't take much imagination to think of how it must have been to be there in Ryde's heyday when Sternwheel steamers and paddle boats traveled up and down that Delta and all the people who passed through.

When we arrived, my certain "someone" pulled the car down a steep driveway next to an old 1920's styled hotel, named the Hotel Ryde. As a gentleman does, he went around to the passenger side and opened the door for me, leading me to the back of the vehicle. He had then pulled out an old crank record player as well as a very old 78 rpm vinyl record and played it for me. Then, like all romantic movies play out, he asked me to dance with him. No one was around, it was nearly sunset, and the wind was blowing quite fierce, but it didn't was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me. So, like the true romantic that I am, I engulfed myself in the moment and danced!

After we were done, he took me for a walk around the property, telling me what he knew of the history there. In fact, at one time he and some of his friends wanted to purchase the hotel themselves. The history within the walls and the very community of Ryde itself had me chomping at the bit to investigate. What secrets lie there? What history could be told that had been long forgotten? And who did I need to speak to, to reveal that history? So many questions, and not a lot of people around to ask.

Soon after, I contacted the Ryde Hotel and the California Delta Chamber & Visitors Bureau to see if I could find out more about it's history. I reached at dead end with the Ryde Hotel at first. After contacting the hotel itself, the manager told me that he didn't know any more of the history prior to 1927. Thankfully, I did get one lead through Bill Wells at the California Delta Chamber & Visitors Bureau because he pointed me in the right direction, Giusti's!

You see, from what Bill Wells told me, Giusti's is a restaurant in Walnut Grove that has been around for generations. Not only that, but he told me that he thought the cash register at the bar was actually one of the original registers from the first Hotel Ryde. That was because the owner's grandfather was the one who started the first Hotel Ryde in the late 1800s.  This was the lead I was looking for!

I continued researching in the old microfilmed archives, I checked old newspapers and periodicals and hit a gold mine of historic information. With all that I discovered, plus after finally contacting Mark Morais (owner of Giusti's), who so very kindly pointed me to lifetime local resident Dennis Leary, I was well on my way to getting a clearer picture of just what this hotel and the town itself was like, long ago.

Thanks to the wonderful conversation I had with Mr. Leary, I received a first hand account from someone who lived there. Along with the information I dug up in old newspaper archives, I was able to put the pieces together to give you this in depth history of Ryde, and the Hotel Ryde. Enjoy!

The History Of  Founder Of  Ryde

Many say the reason for the name Ryde was given because the founder of the town was born in the town of Ryde, Isle of Wight in England. This is incorrect. In fact, the man who bought the land that Ryde was built on was born in Monticello, Kentucky and his name was General Thomas Williams. The name Ryde was later chosen by William Kesner and General Thomas Williams, for what reasons, I guess is left for speculation. Perhaps relatives in Williams' genealogy had come from that region of England long ago? Or perhaps William Kesner's family had originated there. Kesner was the one who took the land and made it into a town, thus he is Ryde's true founder. Although I couldn't find any definite evidence that says why he chose the name, for now we can only speculate.

According to the Daily Alta California (3/2/1886) it speaks of Thomas Hansford Williams death from heart disease and disorders of the stomach and liver. It also goes on to summarize his accomplishments. He was born May 18, 1828 and died February 28, 1886. He was a native of Wayne County, Kentucky. He was also the son of Kentucky Congressman, Hon. Sherrod Williams.  Williams came to California in 1850 and settled in El Dorado County, where he became a successful lawyer. By 1851, he was elected as the El Dorado County District Attorney. By 1857, he became the State Attorney General, where he was again re-elected in 1859. Once his term expired he moved to Sacramento, where he continued to practice law until moving up to Virginia City around 1863.

While in Virginia City, he and his business partner David Bixler opened the firm Williams & Bixler. One of their many clients, including many of the Silver Barons of the Comstock fortunes, owned the mining claim named "Central Number Two". Later it was organized into the Consolidated Virginia and California Mining Companies. Upon failing to pay their attorney's fees, the firm had no choice but to sue the company for what they did have, property. Although Williams thought that since the company couldn't pay their bills, obviously the claim was worthless, it in fact was not. They were sitting on a very profitable claim which they sold to George T. Marye & Son for the sum of  $3,000,000.00 (three million dollars).

Original Hotel Ryde c/o Giusti's
By 1877, Williams and Bixler acquired 17,000 acres of the Delta region. Later in 1891, Williams' son sold 40 acres where the community of Ryde sits, to William Kesner, the man who founded Ryde. According to Dennis Leary, he stated that another man by the name of Cardoza had land adjacent to the Kesner properties and that the land the original Ryde Hotel was built on belonged to Cardoza, although the building itself was built by the Giusti family.

The Original Hotel Ryde

In 1886, the Giusti brothers (Egisto, Morro, Paolo and Pietro) immigrated from Lucca, Italy to the Walnut Grove area of the Delta, and built the very first Hotel Ryde. The Giusti family owned and operated the hotel and saloon for many years successfully, until the day of November 6, 1911. That was the day that the entire town of Ryde burned to the ground, leaving little to nothing left.

The San Francisco Call (November 8, 1911) noted:

Almost  Every Building Goes Before Flames, With Loss of $100,000

- Almost every building in town was destroyed by a fire which started here last night, causing loss of nearly $100,000. The fire started in the kitchen of the Ryde hotel, burned down the hotel and spread to an adjoining stable. The store of S.E. Brown and Fred Weber's saloon, the $50,000 pumping plant of reclamation district No. 3 and two wharves owned by W.A. Kesner were destroyed. The fire burned out because there was nothing left for it to feed on."

Sadly, the Hotel Ryde, along with all the other businesses and homes were burned to the ground. Thankfully, everyone was able to rebuild. Instead of staying in the same spot, the Giusti's decided to move to their current spot on the other side of the river in Walnut Grove. At the time they built it, it was originally called the Miller's Ferry Saloon. There was also a general store and a toll station for the ferry that was run by the family as well. After all these years, the Giusti family has run a very successful family owned and operated business along one of the most beautiful places in the Delta that still remains today.

So in 1911, with the town of Ryde burned to the ground, and all the residents struggling to build back their livelihood, what was to be the future of the Hotel Ryde?

In the next article I will go more in depth to uncover some unknown facts and history about the rebuilding of the Hotel Ryde and a few mysteries as well.


(Copyright 12/8/2013- J'aime Rubio. Republished 3/28/2018)

Thank you Dennis Leary, Mark Morais (Giusti's), Bill Kesner, & Bill Wells for all your help!

Photo Sources:
Photo of Original Hotel Ryde, property of Mark Morais (Giusti's)
Photo of Delta-Walnut Grove, property of J'aime Rubio

San Francisco Call 11/8/1911
Daily California Alta 3/2/1886
Free Lance Star 8/5/1977
Overland Monthly (1918)
Sacramento River Delta Historical Society- periodicals
Interview with Dennis Leary
Various Census Records, Archives, etc.

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