Auburn’s street names subject to the winds of fateBy: By Al Albertazzi, special to the Journal
Some streets and street names, such as New York’s Wall Street or San Francisco’s Market Street, are impervious to change, but others are subject to the winds of fate.
Auburn used to have, a Cross Street and a Graveyard Alley. They are gone now, casualties of Interstate 80. A number of other streets still exist but have been the victims of name change.
Lincoln Way is a good example. When the coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway was created in 1913, the city fathers created Lincoln Way out of four streets — Main Street in the center of Old Town, East Street which ran from Old Town up to the Odd Fellows Hall, Broad Street which began where East Street left off and ran past the current site of St. Joseph’s Church and the State Theater, and Railroad Street which ran from Central Square up to the railroad station at the top of the hill where the Chamber of Commerce stands today.
But Lincoln Way is not always so selfish. At one point it shares the roadbed with High Street for a short distance before splitting off and going up the hill. Physically and ironically, that makes High Street the low street through the heart of town.
Today, High Street gets shunted off toward Hoffman Street, but it once linked up with Foresthill Avenue, which led down to the Old Stagecoach Road and to a bridge over the American River and thence up to the towns and gold mines of the Foresthill Divide.
Some other streets have been named for prominent individuals. This is especially true of a section of town just off High Street behind the Bank of America and reaching to Elm Avenue. In that area there are four streets — Crutcher, Reamer, Tuttle, and Walsh — which are named for individuals who played a part in Auburn history.
William McDowell Crutcher crossed the plains and came to California in 1853. After doing some mining in the area around Iowa Hill, he came to Auburn, where he took a job as a deputy sheriff. It was in his duties as a lawman that he played a part in Auburn’s most well-known gunfight.
One night in 1859, Sheriff George C. Johnson got a tip that the notorious highwayman Richard Barter, otherwise known as Rattlesnake Dick, and an accomplice were heading out of town on the road to Illinoistown (Colfax). The sheriff, Crutcher, and tax collector George M. Martin went after the outlaws and caught up with them in the vicinity of what is today the Martin Park firehouse.
The fight took place on horseback and in the shadows of night, and in a flurry of gunshots Johnson was hit in his left hand, a bullet passed through Crutcher’s shirt without breaking his skin, and Martin was shot dead.
But not all of the casualties were suffered by the lawmen. As the outlaws rode away, Johnson and Crutcher continued firing, and one of the fleeing men lurched in his saddle. The next morning Barter’s body was found lying in the road two miles east of Auburn. He had been hit three times.
His notoriety as a lawman helped Crutcher get elected to the state legislature in the 1880s. He built a fine home on a 10-acre parcel near where the street named for him is today. The acres were planted with grapes, persimmons and walnuts and was watered from a spring he co-owned with neighbor George W. Reamer.
Like Crutcher, Reamer first came to California in search of gold and, after some false starts, found plenty of it. Working near Foresthill, he and his partners took more than a million dollars in those day’s currency from their mine and adjacent claims. Later, Reamer moved to Auburn, where he built a large home near Crutcher. He purchased a canal system and ran it for seven years, but in the 1870s floods pushed his operation into financial ruin. He returned to mining to recoup his losses, but never found any large amount of gold.
Reamer Street marks the end of Tuttle Street. Charles Tuttle came for gold, but found better opportunities at first in a dry goods store in Michigan Bluff and later as a lawyer in Auburn.
In 1863 he was elected to the State Senate, and in 1873 he bought W.M. Crutcher’s 10-acre farm and George Reamer’s mansion. The mansion was a home until the 1930s, when it was sold and converted into The Colonial Mortuary, which was in operation for many years. In 1980 it enjoyed a short respite as a high-end restaurant. Today it is The Tuttle Mansion Beauty Spa on Reamer Street.
Like Tuttle and so many others, James Walsh came to strike it rich. When that didn’t work out, he turned to making boots for the miners and opened a shop in Old Town. His son, John Thomas Walsh, became the superintendent of the county hospital and later owned a funeral home. In 1908 he bought the Freeman Hotel across the street from the train station.
The Freeman was the most well known hotel in Auburn, having a fine dinning room and a dance floor. Among notables signing the guest book were Henry Ford and Herbert Hoover. In 1933, John’s son, Jack Walsh, became a part owner of the hotel. Jack, as had other members of the Walsh family served on the city council and as mayor of Auburn. The Freeman hotel was torn down in the 1970s.
Al Albertazzi has lived in Auburn since 1964. He writes an occasional column on local history.