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Step inside history at the Bernhard Museum

Jerry Sellers

Jerry's journey to success in real estate began with listening at an early age to his mother's advice...

Jerry's journey to success in real estate began with listening at an early age to his mother's advice...

Feb 8 5 minutes read

In 1852, just a few short years after Claude Chana plucked gold from that there ravine we all know and love, Traveler's Rest was built. The hotel provided food and lodging for weary travelers along the main thoroughfare between downtown Auburn and Sacramento. 

In fact, the original road is the dirt path the runs right outside the front door. 

The building -- the oldest wooden structure in Auburn -- is located on Auburn Folsom Road at the entrance to the fairgrounds, and is now known as the Bernhard Museum. 

The hotel was converted into a single family home, and, along with 50 surrounding acres, was purchased by Bernhard and Rosa Bernhard, originally of Germany. In their home, the couple raised their children, farmed the land and grew grapes from which they produced wine and brandy. You may notice those grape vines as you pass by.  

Visitors who wander through the front door of the Bernhard museum are offered a free glimpse of what life was like for one Auburn family during the Gold Rush era. 

Volunteer Frances Hanson has given tours at the museum for close to 14 years, and she has a few favorite items she enjoys showcasing, including the fainting couch. 

"It was common for women to faint," Hanson said. "They wore 20 to 30 pounds of clothes."

While some women may have faked their fainting spells because it made them appear more feminine, Hanson confided, a farmer's wife would never consider fake fainting. There was far too much work to be done. 

Another treasure of the museum is the "box" Steinway piano. This style piano was built to sound like a grand piano, but it was sturdy enough to ship long distances. 

Hanson also points out the Gasolier chandelier. This form of lighting was a hybrid between gas and electricity. Because electricity wasn't yet reliable, the gas lamps burned as a backup. 

At the dining table, which is set for supper, Hanson mentions that each person has a unique napkin ring in front of her plate. 

"The napkins were washed once a week, so after each meal they would put their napkins back in the rings," Hanson said. "That way they would always know which napkin was theirs."

Resting on the kitchen cutting board is a metal device Hanson calls a "19th century Cuisinart" -- a metal contraption that chopped food quickly. 

On the way upstairs, Hanson mentions that in the 1800s, a man would have always gone upstairs before a lady, so there was no chance he might accidentally catch a glimpse of her ankles. 

Only one of the upstairs bedrooms has a lock on the door, which leads historians to believe that it was rented to women travelers when the building was a hotel. 

All furnishings inside the museum were supplied by Placer County donors, Hanson said. 

Back outside, the surrounding two acres are not officially part of the museum tour, but visitors are welcome to wander the gardens where volunteers grow garlic, onion, winter wheat, squash, strawberries, lemons and lavender. Inside the garage, the Native Sons store an original stage coach, hearse, doctor's buggy and freight wagon. 

A small building displays the tools required in an early process of turning grapes into wine, and another stone building, which can be seen from the road, is the old winery, currently leased to a local vintner. 

The property also boasts a small outdoor working  kitchen where visiting third-grade classes make biscuits and bake them in the wood burning oven as part of the museum's Living History field trip program. 

The museum is fairly bustling in the summertime, Hanson said, so if you're looking for a quiet way to be transported back in time, now is your chance. The Bernhard Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

For more information, call 530-889-6506. 

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