Tall pines and an idyllic mountain lake have drawn people to Twain Harte from the earliest days. Before golf courses, summer homes and dinner houses were Twain Harte’s landmarks, the Mi-Wuk Indians called home a lakeside camp near Twain Harte Lake’s popular “Rock”. (“The Rock” as residents call a sweeping expanse of granite near the Twain Harte Lake Dam, is the area’s oldest landmark).
There the Indians built houses or “oochums” from limbs of trees and bark and wove fine baskets from the willows that grew in the damp places.
But in nearby Columbia, Sonora and Jamestown, the discovery of gold in 1849 was drawing white men to the foothills by the thousands. When the easy gold was exhausted, then came the lumbermen and the ranchers bent on tapping the area’s other riches its forests and grazing lands.
Apple and Pear orchards, cattle ranches and later, lumber mills began springing up around the Indian enclave at “The Rock”.
In 1861, the U.S. Congress authorized construction of a road to run from the foot of Twain Harte Grade over Sonora Pass, connecting the growing commercial center of Sonora with the boom mining town of Aurora. A contractor named J. B. Carter was paid $400,000 to build the road, but when the sum proved inadequate, another company with private finances completed the construction. Two toll gates were put in to defray expenses, one at Twain Harte and one at Sugar Pine.
Alfred Fuller, an Ohioan who came to the area during the 1850’s, took a Mi-Wuk wife and lived near “The Rock” on what was then the Calder Ranch, was hired to operate the Twain Harte Toll Gate of the Sonora-Mono Toll Rd. He continued in that job until the 1890’s when the county took over maintenance of the road.
In 1862, Patrick Williams acquired 540 acres of land, including the meadow where the Twain Harte Golf Course is now located. Williams planted apple and pear orchards, ran a few head of cattle and maintained a watering place for the freight wagons bound for the east slop mines. Williams water trough was located where El Dorado Savings Bank is today.
Williams’ son, John D. Williams, inherited the ranch at his father’s death, but in 1923 sold out to Keturah C. Wood.
Wood subdivided the area in 1924 and and built Twain Harte Lodge Realty (a.k.a Twain Harte Development Company and Twain Harte Realty), naming it after two famous Mother Lode authors, Mark Twain and Bret Harte.
Twain Harte is belived to be the first private recreational subdivision in the Sierra Nevada according to Carlo DeFerrari, county historian. Earlier, the U.S. Forest Service had in 1916 and 1917 subdivided the area around Strawberry Lake (now Pinecrest) and sold lots and leases to permittees, he said.
Twain Harte Lodge Realty was organized in 1925 to sell stock in the development. In 1926, Albert L. Nevins and Dr. E. Turner bought into the Twain Harte Development Co. Wood retained only a 40 acre piece that came to be known as Lilac Terrace.
Nevins and Turner energetically pulled together plans for the subdivision. They started Twain Harte Dam during the summer of 1927 but ran short of funds. Edward M. Marquis agreed to to put up the money needed to complete the dam.
But when the company failed to pay off the note in 1934, Marquis foreclosed and took over the company, changing the name to Twain Harte Realty.
By that time, Twain Harte, was a thriving summer colony. Cabin sites, available for a modest $100 and up sold steadily. Turner and Nevins constructed imposing homes on the hill near the present-day site of the Twain Harte Market.
The first school in the area had been located before the turn of the century at the nearby Centrecamp millsite, one of many millsites operated by the Tuolumne County Water Co., while it was constructing the open ditch water system operated by the County today.
The first Twain Harte School opened in 1928 in a schoolhouse moved in from the nearby mining town of Confidence to a site near the Williams ranch house. In 1952 Twain Harte Grade School had a “large” graduating class of 13!!
Nearly all community activities centered around the subdivision clubhouse located near where the Twain Harte Fire Station stands today. The clubhouse doubled as meeting hall, social hall and church for all denominations.
Marquis added a lodge, then a bar, then a modest hotel.
The wooden arch, today the town’s trademark, was built in 1933.
Ray Eproson, who bought the Twain Harte Grocery in 1930, allowed the development company to construct a golf course in the Twain Harte Meadow exacting as his share a rent of $1 a year. The golf course became popular with well-known personalities of the day, including Mario Giannini, Late president of the Bank of America.
In 1943, Nevins and Eproson bought out the Marquis holdings, which included the subdivision, a hotel, service station and some outbuildings. In 1945, they sold the hotel to Joch Rocca who operated the establishment until it burned to the ground in 1951. A new lodge was built in 1958 and on December 11, 2002 burned to the ground again and was never rebuilt. The land was sold and now is home to El Dorado Saving Bank and other real estate businesses.
State Department of Forestry firefighters camped at Twain Harte with one engine for many summers before building a permanent fire station at the edge of the meadow in 1944.
Twain Harte has grown rapidly since the close of World War II. Once the summer retreat of a few hundred, the community is today permanent home for 2,500 with Twain Harte Lake Association and the collewr summer weather attracting over 7,000 in the summer. In the ’50’s the permanent population was approximately 500 with a summer [population of 5,000. Since the original subdivision, there have been many others. Nevins, Turner, Marquis and Eproson completed five subdivisions. Baunhauser, Broadhurst, Gunther and Morrow added a sixth.
Today, according to the latest census, Twain Harte is one of the fastest growing areas in Tuolumne County.
Residents are attracted today by the same qualities that drew the Mi-Wuk Indians here over 100 years ago. The beauty of the area, the four seasons, but yet mild weather, the abundance of tall pines, spruce and cedars, the hue of fall colors, the dusting of snow in the winter, the wild flowers in spring and Twain Harte Lake lake in the summer. Rivers and streams and lakes abound for those who like to fish and of course hunting season brings people into the Stanislaus National Forest from all over the central valley