Western Gateway Park:
Crown Jewel of Penn Valley
Penn Valley Courier Vol 1 No. 11 – Aprl, 2006, 2006
Easter-egg colored dew drops sparkle in the early morning sun. A lone walker makes her rounds…past the Buttermaker’s Cottage, past the basketball court and beyond. Playground equipment, horse arena, tennis courts, disc golf course, pavilion and ball fields across the creek stand vacant, expectant _ it’s still early in the day and a tad bit nippy. The entry-way planter is exploding in daffodil yellow. On the periphery ancient oaks stand as sentinels This is Western Gateway Park, the crown jewel of Western Nevada county.
The 79-acre park was once part of the sprawling Dikeman Ranch, one of the larger ranches in the area that furnished hay, produce, meat and dairy products to early settlers and miners of the late 1800s. Roberta Springsteen, now of Browns Valley, remembers living on the Dikeman Ranch years ago; she and her husband Dick moved there as newlyweds in 1959. They lived in a three-room tin house with dirt floor that was located where the present-day Buttermaker’s Cottage stands. “It was our first home,” she says. “We loved it.” Dick’s father leased the Dikeman Ranch on both sides of the road (Penn Valley Drive), about 200 acres. “We had cattle there,” says Roberta. They also raided hay for sale.
“The area where Highway 20 is, it goes right up the middle of our hay field,” she says. Roberta remembers a small rodeo ground down by Squirrel Creek where the local folks would put on the rodeos. The old two-story Dikeman house stood where the rest rooms are today. “My father-in-law burned it down because it was dangerous,” says Roberta, who remembers with fondness the gigantic old French lilac tree that grew by the house. “It was just beautiful.” She also remembers a swinging foot bridge that spanned Squirrel Creek by the house. “I took my babies down there.” It was good place to contemplate, she remembers. “I always loved it.”
In 1971, Boise Cascade, developers of the Lake wildwood community, donated the land which was to become Western Gateway Park to Nevada County, along with $175,000, with the stipulation that it be used for recreational use only. The terms stated that if the land was not developed after fie years, it would have to be returned to Boise Cascade. The deadline was met, thanks to the heroic efforts of a number of community-mi8nded individuals, including Gene Hatton, Larry Filer, Carl Fiesel, Harold Berliner, Helen Avery and Lois Gordon, to name a few.
Through the years, many others have joined the swelling ranks of park supporters who have served in a variety of ways they’ve helped at countless fund-raisers. They’ve contributed sweat and muscle power. They’ve built an impressive performing arts pavilion. They’ve lobbied for voter support of tax measures for park funding. They’ve opened their checkbooks and their hearts. At one point in the early 80s, in the wake of a failed tax measure that would have provided funding, supporters rallied to keep the park gates open. “We took our chairs and sat at the park entrance and collected $2 for the park,” remembers Pat Riley, who supported the park it its early days and supports it today as a member of the park board.
Western Gateway Park today is in good shape, says Riley, and the future looks brighter than ever before. An enthusiastic park board, as well as a newly formed Gateway Performing Art Pavilion Committee, is actively exploring ways of enhancing Western Gateway Park’s beauty and harnessing its boundless potential.
By Gene Hatton
The original Buttermaker Cabin, along with the butter-making equipment, was located just inside of the park gate on the left where
the picnic area is presently. In the 1800s the ranchers in Penn Valley not only raised beef cattle but also had a fair number of dairy cattle, which resulted in an excess of mil, so the ranchers got together and formed a co-op to process the surplus milk. The Dikeman Ranch was centrally located, so it became the location for the co-op. The ranchers would bring their milk each day to be processed. The receiving dock was a huge concrete block that was pitched to one side.
The surface was as smooth as a marble floor. The rancher would dump his milk from the can onto this slab. As the milk ran across the slab, it would be cooled. The run-off would be funneled to the separator or the churn, where with the power from a steam engine the cram would be taken off, and the milk would be further processed into butter. The operator of the cramery lived in the cabin, which became known as the Buttermaker’s Cottage. Because of aga and condition, it was necessary to dismantle it and rebuild a replica in the present location. The cabin was so rickety that there was no way that we could move it. If we had, it would have fallen apart.
How the Park Got its Name
By Gene Hatton
In looking at old maps of the Penn Valley area, it is easy to see that all of the activity (i.e., gold mining) was occurring in the foothills to the east of Marysville, and the only way to reach this area was up the grade through Smartville, Penn Valley and on to Downieville, San Juan and Grass Valley. Marysville was the off-loading for the stern wheeler freight boats that transported much of the equipment and assorted supplies that supported the mining activity in the central Sierras. What is now Highway 20 was the western wagon road leading to the mountains. The trail passed through some toll gates (travelers had to pay the rancher to use his land, and he kept the trail in usable condition). As it climbed its way to the top at Pet Hill then dropped down into Penn Valley. At the entrance to Penn Valley the trails branched off; one going north (Pleasant Valley Road) through Bridgeport up the grade to French Corral and on to North San Juan and all of the workings in the Downieville area. One went east Through Rough and Ready on to Grass Valley and Nevada City with all of the activity in and around those villages. Then one went south toward Spenceville. All of the freight traveling east went through Penn Valley, and it became the western gateway to the Gold Country, so the official name of the park district became The Western Gateway Regional Recreation and Park District. There are about 78,000 acres in the district: starting where the South Fork of the Yuba and the Yuba County line, you go east along the Yuba River to near Newtown, then south through Sunset and Clear Creek School to the Yuba County line, then north to the Yuba River.