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Frenchtown Inn: A Remote, Tranquil Lakeside Retreat

This article was written by Ranee Ruble-Dotts as a travel writer for CABBI.
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Christmas in the Foothills 2019

Anticipation for this year’s Christmas in the Foothills was high. Getting an earlier start, chief organizer Christine Mills had organized planning meetings. In October postings in Facebook began appearing. As the fateful days of December 7 and 8 began to approach, more social media postings, local newspaper ads, and signs were seen. The 28 venues were ready for the big day.

Then, anticipation begin turning into worry, rain was being forecast. And, indeed, on Saturday and Sunday, the raid did come. Still, some people did venture out but not nearly as many as was hoped for. That is just how it goes sometimes.

Talented Artist Reception


In early February, the Frenchtown Inn Tasting Room hosted a reception for the very talented sketch artist Auguste Haboush. It was quite festive, there were catered hors d’oeuvres, wine, and even a local jazz band to liven up the afternoon. It was a merry time for all. On April 27 and 28, the Tasting Room will host the North Sierra Wine Trail with Renaissance Winery, Grant-Marie Winery, and Frenchtown Farms. There will be music and more tasty tidbits.

North Sierra Wine Trail

north sierra wine trail

Once again Frenchtown Inn is hosting local wineries on the North Sierra Wine Trail. This year, three wineries, Renaissance Winery, Grant-Marie Winery, and Frenchtown Farms will be at the Tasting Room, on April 27 and 28 from 12 to 5 pm. There will be music and tasty hors d’oeuvres. You can purchase your $25 ticket at: Tickets

The legend of Shakey Johnson

As some of you might know, the 100 acres that is the Frenchtown Inn site was developed in the early 1970's by Shakey (Sherwood) Johnson. Shakey opened the first "pizza parlor" in Sacramento in 1954 and went on to create Shakey's Pizza Parlor, the first pizza franchise ever.

Shakey had certainly had a sense of humor. When I first bought the property, there were parking meters in the parking lot. Across the lake was his party area, where built three authentic stone pizza ovens. They still work quite well to this day.

As another example, Black Bart was a notorious bandit in the 1870's and 80's. He roamed around the Northern California holding up Wells Fargo stage coaches left and right. Shakey officially designated the entrance easement driveway as "Black Bart Trail".

If you visit the Inn, I have a copy of this book written by his friend Burt Wilson.

--- Charles

Black Bart Trail

north sierra wine trail

About a quarter mile northwest from the Frenchtown Inn property, just east of the bridge over Dry Creek, is situated the town of Frenchtown. The Frenchtown Inn property was originally developed by Shakey Johnson, the founder of the Shakey’s Pizza Parlor franchise in 1954. Indeed, the house reflects a pizza parlor type atmosphere.

Shakey had a sense of humor. The dully recorded easement for entrance driveway was designated by Shakey as Black Bart Trail. Who was Black Bart you might ask? He was a bank robber of some notorious reputation in the late 1800’s. Here is a post from the Yuba County Get Out and Explore Facebook page:

On this day 142 years ago in Yuba County history (December 28, 1875), Charles Earl Bowles committed his second holdup when he robbed the North San Juan Stagecoach to Marysville just a few miles north of Smartsville. Known as "Black Bart," Charles was an English-born outlaw noted for the poetic messages he left behind after two of his robberies. Considered a gentleman bandit with a reputation for style and sophistication, he was one of the most notorious stagecoach robbers to operate in and around Northern California and southern Oregon during the 1870s and 1880s.The first stagecoach robbery committed by Black Bart was in Calaveras, the second put Yuba County on the map.

Some Frenchtown History

frenchtown history

About a quarter mile northwest from the Frenchtown Inn property, just east of the bridge over Dry Creek, is situated the town of Frenchtown.

The History of Yuba County, California (Chapter XXIX: Parks Bar Township) by Thompson West, 1879, describes Frenchtown as

"The once flourishing little town lies on Dry creek, one-half mile south the New York Township line. Mining was first done in the vicinity in 1852 on Rich Gulch. The first permanent settlement on this site of the town was made in 1854 by Paul Vavasseur. He build a hotel, and kept a store and bar. The town in a few years became quite a center, almost five hundred men making this their headquarters. There were four stores, three salons, three hotels, two blacksmith sops, one bakery, and one barber shop. Since 1870 the place had been virtually abandoned. There are now several dwelling-houses in the town, and a hotel and bar kept by Paul Vavasseur. Some good quartz ledges have been discovered at the head of Rich Gulch. Some mining is still being done there. In 1861, Vavasseur built a small arrastra, which still stands there. In 1878, he built a larger one, which is now in use. Vavasseur makes considerable wine every year. The town derived its name from the large number of French people who settled there."

A Celebrity’s son I have come to know


Here I am needing somebody to help with the Frenchtown Inn bookkeeping. I know if I undertake such a task, I will completely mess it up and bounce checks every day. I post a small ad on NextDoor, “Bookkeeper needed to help with start up B&B”. Lo! Ethel answers, we set up an interview.

Turns out, Ethel is renting a house from Walter. Yes indeed, the very house on Rice’s Crossing that I had built and sold to Walter a few years ago. “Why did you have one bathroom?” was the first question. “Because it was a practice house, and I didn’t know what I was doing.” I meekly answered.

Turns out, Ethel has many more talents including graphic design, wedding planning and, most important, how to keep people happy and working together in a productive way.

Okay, the celebrity part. It turns out that Ethel’s husband, Paul, is the son of Paul Winchell. Yes, the very same person that hosted The Paul Winchell Show. He was the ventriloquist voice of Jerry Mahoney. He also was the voice of Tigger in Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh. It’s a small, small world.

By the way, Paul is a first responder, you know, one of those people that might save your life one day. — Charles