Deep roots

Daffodil Hill. Public domain image from California Photo Scout.

Daffodil Hill’s early bloom this year got me thinking that it’d be fun to share some of the history of the place.

So I emailed the Ryan family, which owns the property, and they sent a document that I’ll both paraphrase and quote from liberally here:

The whole thing started with Dutchman Pete Denzer, who owned the land and planted daffodils in a garden at the foot of the hill to remind him of his homeland.

The property had been used as a way station for teamsters and travelers using the road from Kit Carson Pass (now Highway 88). The land had also been used to supply vegetables for early gold miners in Volcano.

Then, in 1877, Arthur Burbeck McLaughlin (from Ohio) and Elizabeth Van Vorst (from New York) married in Volcano. They were 24 and 23 years old, respectively.

They bought Daffodil Hill from Denzer — and continued his tradition, taking “great pride” in the flowers.

The ranch sounds like it was a busy place. It continued to function as a stage stop with stables for mules, which hauled heavy timber to the nearby mines. Charcoal was also manufactured at the ranch.

The young couple took over operation of the 17-room boarding house. They rented out rooms, cooked homemade meals and sheltered animals. Breakfast cost 25 cents. Dances were held on Saturday nights in the loft of the huge barn, which is still in use today.

Arthur McLaughlin died in 1912, and Lizzie died in 1935. The ranch passed down to their three children: Mary, Jesse and Ann.

The daffodil planting continued, now in memory of Lizzie. New varieties were added — a few hundred, then a few thousand as the first visitors began arriving in the late 1930s. No irrigation or fertilizer was used.

The hill was officially opened to the public in 1940. On Easter Sunday in 1953, about 500 visitors enjoyed the scene.

Planting continues in this day, mostly in November and December, with an average 12,000 bulbs added each year to areas that have died out or are weak in bloom.  Family, friends and caretakers do all the work.

More than 300 varieties of daffodils have now been planted, totaling more than 300,000 bulbs.

Mary McLaughlin’s daughter, Mary Lucot Ryan, told a reporter in 1995: “We have never charged an admission. To me that would defeat the purpose. This started out as a memorial to my grandparents, parents and the other pioneers who traveled this way. We don’t do it for money. We do it for our family.”

Mary Ryan and her husband Martin Ryan died in 2008, two months apart. The hill has now passed to yet another generation. The faces change; the tradition does not.

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