A walk through history and danger

Michael Raffety

Oct. 9, 2009

I spend my lunch hour walking downtown and back. It helps keep me in contact with the town, something we lost when we moved out here on Broadway. We were on Main Street for 125 years until we moved here (13060 Broadway) on Pearl Harbor Day in 1991. Our downtown offices were in the half of the Placerville Hardware store where the sundries and gifts are now. The hardware store keeps our original door in place with the Mountain Democrat lettered in gold on it. That door was walled off for years, entombed in a remodel of the historical office.

Our door was on the far right of the hardware store and has been remodeled out of existence.

The old doors preserved by the hardware store date back at least as far as Galusha Carpenter. G.J. Carpenter was a lawyer and used the front office for his law office. The double front door led into a vestibule that provided access to Carpenter’s law office. Continuing farther down the hall would gain you access to the ink-stained crew that produced the weekly Mountain Democrat and did job printing.

Carpenter became publisher of the Democrat in 1894, but the real workhorse of the paper was Miss Bine Ingham, who had been co-publisher with Will Selkirk in 1888 and sole publisher in 1889 until Carpenter bought the paper. Then in 1902 Carpenter’s daughter Mollie became publisher and in 1910 she teamed up with her pal Bine to be co-publishers until Bine’s death in 1921. Mollie died the next year and Clarence Barker acquired the paper.

Bine Ingham worked for the Mountain Democrat 42 years. No one has topped that record and it is doubtful anyone will. Our downtown digs not only included what is now half the hardware store, but all of the old Mother Lode Bank building that now houses Tony Matthews Fine Goods for Fine Living (since gone out of business) and Needle Craft.

The graphics department was in the walk-in safe. The publisher’s office was in a room that formerly housed an ATM machine. We shifted back and forth. When I first came to work for the Democrat the publisher’s office was upstairs with bookkeeping. Advertising and editorial were in the half now occupied by Needle Craft. It could be identified by a cloud of blue cigarette smoke. Production was in the old building and the photo lab and mailroom were in the back of the old building where a press had once stood long before my time. For some the darkroom served a purpose other than photography. The press had originally depended on a Pelton water wheel in Hangtown Creek to keep it running.

Then the editorial department moved back into the old building and the ad department took over half the new building. We even had a receptionist who entranced our photographer with low cut blouses. Then we moved back into the bank building, with the entire half being the newsroom and the other half being the advertising department. That’s when the publisher got the ATM machine room with a window on Main Street.

Now because of electronic efficiencies and the recession we could probably fit the entire operation in the old building, except for the mailroom. Their 9,000 square feet of this Broadway building is chock full of pallets with advertising inserts and there is a loading dock for trucks to make deliveries. And the parking is great. Nobody complains about the Democrat employees taking up parking spaces downtown.

On my peregrinations downtown I have to dodge all the driveway encroachments along the shopping area on Broadway. Drivers are looking for traffic and not pedestrians. One almost ran me down when I was right in front of her car and did a pommel horse move off her hood, only to be almost run into by a bicyclist turning into the same entrance. The ones to really watch out for are those that make a left turn off the freeway and go roaring into McDonald’s. Never get in the way of contractors and SUV moms and their daily dose of hamburger calories.

The most annoying vehicles on the road are Dodge diesel pickups. They are so noisy, especially with that noise echoing off the pavement. Tony Montalbano at Family Chevrolet (since gone out of business) showed me the new Chevy diesel pickup. It was so quiet you couldn’t tell it was diesel.

The intersection of Broadway, Main Street and Mosquito Road has its own hazards. I came upon the scene of an accident there on my way walking back from town. A delivery van driver had run over a pedestrian in the crosswalk. The pedestrian, a hero from World War II, died not long afterward. The city has since put up a sign in the middle of the intersection warning motorists that state law requires them to stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk. It’s a help, but I always watch for the left-turners from Broadway after carefully eyeing the Main Street vehicles to make sure they aren’t going to roll through the intersection.

Once I get past that intersection I’m relatively free. I walk by the old Harley-Davidson showroom to see what is happening with construction of that. They knocked off the entire second floor of concrete blocks and installed enough heavy duty steel bracing anchored into a new concrete floor. It looks like it could withstand a 9.8 earthquake and a tsunami from Hangtown Creek.

Then downtown I have to dodge sandwich and blood drive sign wavers and pairs of tourists who wander in such a randomly aimless way as to block the entire sidewalk. Sometimes people honk at me. Former title company owner George Vicari honked at me and yelled out the window. I thought it was just some crazy teenage driver and ignored him. I should have recognized the Lincoln Town Car was not a teenage vehicle.

I tried out the new pedestrian overpass at Bedford Avenue. That thing takes forever to get to the top where the actual crossing is. And the design stops the pedestrian trail from Clay Street with a dead end.

Crossing the street anywhere downtown is a cinch. Cars always stop for you. Not so out of the downtown. The worst intersection is Broadway and Schnell School Road. I’ve had cars heading west from the intersection just blow right by me even though I am already in the crosswalk. God forbid I should slow them down. Then there are those who stop in the middle of the intersection for you, but keep edging up as though they are trying to nudge you along. This is a route to school. It’s no wonder kids ride the school bus that stops by our office when both Schnell and Sierra are within walking distance.

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