Sonora?s oldest home finds new life

By LYN RIDDLE The Union Democrat The finial at the top of the staircase, rubbed from brown to golden, suggests the people who have come before, generations of family, friends, boarders in Sonora?s oldest brick house. Downstairs, treads show their footfalls. An ornate oil lamp, converted for electricity, lights the foyer. In one room, the original adobe brick is exposed, big heavy pieces of mud and manure and hay that formed the original structure. Piece by piece, year by year, the process of bringing the 158-yearold house back to life has been the work of Bob Brennan, a rancher



Local and Rural Routes Wednesday, May 31, 2017




{ whose family has lived in the area for generations. His grandmother was close friends with a descendant of William and Mary Elizabeth Sugg, who built the house that not only represents the Gold Rush period, but also the history of blacks in the Mother Lode. William Sugg was a slave who bought his freedom after he and his master came to California from North Carolina. Mary Elizabeth Sugg apparently was never a slave, although her mother was. Historians and some family members believe her father was a member of the master?s family, the Snellings, possibly a son, although one family member firmly disputes the Maggie Beck / Union Democrat Owner of the Sugg House, Bob Brennan, of Sonora, replaces the pickett fence infront of the house.

?It was a time capsule of their lives,?

? Sherri Brennan, Sonora suggestion. The last direct Sugg descendant, Vernon Sugg McDonald, was living in the house when Brennan and his wife, Sherri, a member of the Tuolumne Board of Supervisors, bought it. ?Everybody knew Vernon,? Sherri Brennan said. People called him Scoop. He had been a reporter for The Union Democrat, the Associated Press and Modesto Bee. He kept the score at Sonora High games. He collected stamps and played cello. In 1979, McDonald?s brother wanted to sell the house. Brennan met him at the door of the real estate agent?s office and said, ?What do you need to purchase your share?? The deal was made, and McDonald lived in his childhood home until he died at age 76 in 1982. McDonald was a charter member of the Tuolumne County Historical Society and spent several years digging into official documents and historic papers painstakingly preserving them on microfilm. But his most important contribution to the history of Sonora was preserved inside the house on


Theall Street. The Suggs William Sugg arrived in Mariposa County in 1850 after serving as a bullwhacker and muleteer on his master?s wagon train. There he met Mary Elizabeth Snelling. Sugg bought his freedom for $1 in 1854, and the next year he married Mary Elizabeth. They bought property and lived in a small cabin while Sugg owned a donkey and cart rental business. He was also a skilled harness maker. The next year, the house next door burned down, and Sugg bought the property. Three years after Sugg became a free man, he began building the house that remains today. At first, it was a four-room house of 18-inch-thick adobe brick and smaller bricks on the outside painted red and facing Stewart Street. During the next 22 years, Mary Elizabeth Sugg would have 11 children, creating the need for more space. Two rooms would be added to the first floor and a second floor and attic built and sided with wood. As it is today, it was painted red, and its orientation was switched to Theall Street. Sylvia Roberts, a historian, said it?s hard to know what the general community felt about the Sugg family. There were an equal number of people who supported



slavery and those who did not. The year after the original house was built, blacks in the Mother Lode left for Canada en mass. Some 800 in all fled, because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in the Dred Scott decision that anyone of African descent could not be citizens. ?Sugg was well established,? Roberts said. They stayed. The women taught quilting and sewing, the men worked as a blacksmith, janitor, cab driver and stableman, according to a report by Sharon Marovich in a publication of the Historical Society. Also, for about 40 years beginning in 1880, the family ran a boarding house. When the City Hotel and Hotel Victoria, the precursor to the Sonora Inn, were full, guests would be referred to the Sugg house. Mrs. Sugg had the rules posted: no spitting, no scratching matches on the walls or furniture, no lewd women, no lights on when absent or sleeping. ?If any filthy slops are left in the room, an additional charge of 50 cents must be paid to the landlady!? she wrote. They closed the boarding house when the city required indoor plumbing. ?They couldn?t conceive of doing that in the house,? Sherri Brennan See SUGG Page 2 175095 053117s

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