30048 Yosemite Blvd, La Grange, CA 95329
In My First Summer in the Sierra:
“The home ranch from which we set out is on the south side of the Tuolumne River near French Bar, where the foothills of metamorphic gold-bearing slates dip below the stratified deposits of the Central Valley.” Chapter 1, June 3rd
In Real Life:
In My First Summer in the Sierra, John Muir departed for his summer in the Sierra from a ranch he says was near French Bar on the south side of the Tuolumne River. The rancher’s name was a Mr. Delaney, but Muir – in the book – called him by the nickname Don Quixote or just Don. Of course, I wanted to start my journey where he did, near Frech Bar so I googled it. Nothing. Finally, I stumbled upon this. It’s the briefest history of a town I’ve ever seen – but it includes a crucial nugget. The town of French Bar seems to be now called La Grange. I looked it up and it is situated south of the Tuolumne River – so it fits geographically. Then I confirmed it on this link – John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other Writings. In it, the writer drops that Muir wrote a letter to friends in Oakland from the Delaney ranch near the town of La Grange. So that’s where I headed.
It turns out the town of French Bar was born when French miners discovered gold in the Tuolumne River in 185o. Then – in the winter of 1851 to 1852 a flood destroyed the town. So the settlers moved about a mile upriver and called their new home La Grange. There was a time when La Grange was home to a few thousand people. It’s where the first church in Stanislaus County was built – St. Louis Catholic Church. These days La Grange is a tiny town where a few hundred people live.
We rolled up on a Saturday morning – very early. No one was out. We were standing on what appeared to be the main street – all of a few buildings – when a young woman rolled up in a truck. We all looked at each other and she started unlocking the doors of La Grange Bar and Grill. We asked if she was opening. She wasn’t but she let us inside to look around. The bar opened just about thirty years after John Muir passed through these parts on his way to Delaney’s ranch. It’s still old though – it was established in 1897. The young woman was a new owner and she had big plans for the place. I looked it up a couple of years later and now it seems to be called Louie’s Bar and Grille and it still looks like a good stop. And I always say a bar can give you a feel for a town – especially if it’s the only bar in town.