Fleming Jones Worth the effort

Finding Fleming Jones Homestead well worth the effort

Written by: Pat Lakey

A beautiful bed and breakfast inn where miniature horses dash about the property, tiny prancers that delight the guests lucky enough to visit while they are foals — and just a few minutes from Highway 50 and downtown Placerville.

Never heard of it?

Tucked among 11 acres along Newtown Road, the Fleming Jones Homestead might not be widely known were it not for the efforts of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce and other publicity engines that get the word out.

leavesOwner Robin Miller understands and embraces what the chamber can do — and has done — for her and husband Mark's bed and breakfast inn. The Millers joined the chamber as one of its first Gold Members back in 1999, when they purchased Fleming Jones Homestead from Janice Condit, who had owned the bed and breakfast country inn since 1980.

The recorded history of the wonderfully enticing buildings and acreage to the right, just after you leave Placerville and head toward Pleasant Valley on Newtown Road, stretches back to 1850.

That's when Fleming Jones' parents, Napoleon and Minerva Jones, settled the then 120-acre property, when Fleming was but a year old. The Joneses, from Illinois and Wisconsin, had just sailed around the Horn to reach this part of the country with Napoleon set on finding some of that thar gold. His occupation was listed as "miner" in the 1850 census.

Three more sons were born to Minerva and Napoleon, but the family's lives took a dark turn when Napoleon went back east to fight and die in the Civil War. Minerva, who never remarried, died in 1875 when her sons were young men.

Fleming would purchase portions of his brothers' shares of the inherited land, along with other adjoining properties from neighbors, where he would raise cattle that he sold at a butcher shop in Placerville called the City Market. Ads for the shop could be seen regularly in the weekly Mountain Democrat.

It was said that Fleming was community minded and likely a kind man, as his headstone reads, "A place is vacant in our home, which never can be filled." He also was known for throwing parties and other gatherings at the homestead, in a picnic area on the property, loving to bring the community together.

Fleming's granddaughter, Fay Jones Rupley Gunby Cannon, born in 1898, inherited the Jones Ranch as it was known and following in her philanthropic grandfather's footsteps, she would one day donate the Fountain & Tallman Soda Works building that today houses the Placerville Historical Museum on Main Street in Placerville.

Janice Condit and Fay Jones Rupley Gunby Cannon, who died in 1993, would become friends and share their family stories, which then were passed on to the Millers when they purchased the property.

A mutual love of history is shared by Robin and Mark Miller, who said they decided to reopen the Fleming Jones Bed and Breakfast Inn in 2000, a year after already joining the chamber. The couple came to El Dorado County from the corporate world, previously calling Morgan Hill home.

Mark's ancestors fought on the winning side in the Revolutionary War, while Robin's ancestors arrived in America aboard the Mayflower. She is a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The pair loves to walk about their home in the country. The old-growth forest of flowers would be reason enough to love being here, with the tall, bright orange-and-red canna lilies stretching up over their heads. The remarkable lilies are eclipsed only by the blood-red roses that compete for the space out by the bunkhouse and across from the main quarters, where guests are treated to upstairs lodging in the old farmhouse.

Robin said there are 140 rose bushes on the property, and the Fleming Jones Homestead actually was the site of the formation of the local Rose Society.

Inside the farmhouse, a photograph of Fleming Jones is prominently featured, a dark-haired gentlemen who must have been called handsome in his day. Other old photos accent the walls of the comfortable living room, providing plenty of topics for discussion about the historical richness of the homestead and surrounding area.

Guests also delight in the old-fashioned kitchen and dining room, in a house that is called "Flora's House" in memory of Fleming's wife, Flora. Fleming apparently loved gambling, which he would undertake at his butcher shop in town, and one day came home with $1,200 in winnings. He plopped it on the kitchen table and told his wife to do whatever she wished with the money.

So Flora built a house.

The Millers have been intent on preserving the charm and feel of Flora's home, researching the Joneses' history and trying to keep things authentic.

"We know that they were originally from a region near the French and Swiss border, so we have tried to use furniture reminiscent of that area," said Robin, showing several dark-wood antiques that anchor the rooms. "Remarkably, many of the pieces we picked out came from Empire Antiques, right in downtown Placerville."

Pays to shop locally, obviously.

Robin said the breakfast menu at Fleming Jones includes her great-grandma's recipe for biscuits, which were served during the Civil War.

"They are lower in calorie than many people might think, because they taste so good," she said.

Robin also showed a photograph that shows an "autopark" that in 1925 existed at the nearby corner of Newtown Road and Broadway where Sierra Wildlife Rescue is located today.

"They used to stop at autoparks, instead of motels, on road trips because the cars wouldn't go that far in one trip," explained Robin. "It was called 'Merryman's Corner' back then. In fact, this whole area was called Merryman's Valley."

The Fleming Jones legacy also remains in grapevines on the property, with a single Isabella vine providing an arbor over the picnic table that sits near an old freight wagon that once belonged to Fleming himself. Robin estimates the wagon is about 120 years old.

In keeping with the homestead's historical heritage, two old donkeys, Sebastian and Cappuccino, have called the property their home for years.

How many years?

"They're 42 years old," smiled Mark.

"We found it hard to believe, too, but they're 42," confirmed Robin.

The pair of whitish-gray donkeys this day was hanging out under the leaves and branches of a small oak not far from Newtown Road. They cocked an ear or two as visitors whistled, trying to get their attention, but didn't move another muscle.

And why should they? After all these years hanging out at Fleming Jones Homestead, they've got it made in the shade.