In the early summer of 1859, Thomas W. Davidson, an experienced miner from Montecristo, California was transporting goods to Fort Alexandria when he came across good growing land near the foot of Williams Lake.
Davidson had discovered gold in 1858 on a creek 15 miles north of Victoria, but he decided that supplying other gold-seekers with food, lodging and supplies would be a better investment, so he put much of his earnings into transportation and freight and he headed up to the Cariboo goldfields.
Davidson was one of the first white men who wanted to settle in the area (now known as the “dairy fields” near the present co-generation plant in Glendale. He asked and received permission from the local Shuswap Chief (Chief William) to set up a farm and establish a store and stopping house there. It was an ideal spot, with arable land, a year-round creek for irrigation and water, and it was located at the junction of two well-established pack trails.
By early 1861, Davidson had acquired several additional parcels of land, and had 720 acres deeded to him.
His roadhouse was the only one for several miles and was a popular stopping place.
The food was good, liquor and gambling were readily available, and the ranch was producing excellent crops and lots of them.
The store was a great success as well, and the whole Mission (also called Missioner) Creek Roadhouse and Ranch operation was very profitable.
However, as other settlers to the area were pre-empting or purchasing most of the remaining arable land adjoining his farmlands, Davidson began to realize fairly early on that his operations would be limited, so he began to look elsewhere for larger tracts of land. In the late spring of 1859, he had walked a string of packhorses up past the head of Williams Lake (known at that time as Lake Columneetza) and there he had discovered a large, beautiful valley with a good sized creek running through it. It was ideal for a much larger homestead and ranch operation. He named the creek Valley Creek (today it is known as Borland Creek).
And the little lake nearby became known as Davidson’s Lake.Today it is called the Doctor’s Lake.
He decided to make a new start in the area so he pre-empted as much land as he could and convinced his brother to preempt even more and he set to work. He made arrangements to sell his Mission Creek holdings to Thomas Menifee, one of the first discoverers of gold on the Horsefly River, for $15,000 and the transaction was completed on Sept. 23, 1861.
Davidson worked hard during 1860 and 1861 to acquire as much land as he could and to develop his “Lake Valley Ranch” as he named it. For the first year he lived in a tent, out of which he operated a store and a small saloon, while he cleared the land and built a roadhouse.
By 1862 the Davidson’s Lake Valley Roadhouse was substantially completed.
It was a very large two storey log building which sat close to Valley Creek right where the western approaches to the new bridge in 150 Mile House are today. By mid-1863, the roadhouse was described by travellers as being one of the best in British Columbia. By that time as well, Davidson had acquired over 2,000 acres of land in the area and had 175 acres in cultivation.
In 1862, rumours about a new Cariboo Wagon Road were rampant and Davidson was determined that his stopping house would be included on the route. He cleared a trail from his ranch up to Deep Creek (on the present Likely Road)making a much shorter and easier route to reach the burgeoning town of Quesnelle Forks, the entry point to the Cariboo Goldfields. This new road became known as Davidson’s cutoff trail and it served to make the Lake Valley Ranch a major supply hub for the goldfields.
When the advance party for the Cariboo wagon road-builder reached Davidson’s place in late 1862, they visited with both Menefee, the operator of the Mission Creek Roadhouse, and Davidson, who ran the Lake Valley Roadhouse. Legend has it that the road contractor, Gustavus B.Wright, requested of them a “loan” of $15,000 to help pay for the expensive road-work ahead.
In exchange, he would route the new road right past the roadhouses and the operators would benefit greatly from the projected traffic and trade in the coming years.
Thomas Menifee refused outright, but Davidson was a little more shrewd and negotiated to pay a lesser amount, so as a result the road was built through the Lake Valley Ranch then it jogged up over Carpenter Mountain, along the Davidson cut-off route to Mountain House, then across to Deep Creek (on the present Highway 97) and on to Soda Creek.
The Mission Creek/Williams Lake roadhouse and townsite was completely bypassed, dooming it to become a backwater place nine miles off the main road.
For almost 60 years, until the arrival of the PGE Railway,Williams Lake remained isolated with two large ranches being the only development there.
The mile post on the Cariboo Wagon Road at Davidson’s Lake Valley Ranch was 150 Mile (measured from Mile 0 at Lillooet) and gradually the community as it grew and prospered, became known as 150 Mile House.
Thomas Davidson began experiencing financial difficulties in 1864. An economic slump had overtaken the young province in the fall of 1863, the gold in the Cariboo goldfields was becoming harder and harder to find and extract and Davidson still owed several financial backers for loans to pay off the road contractor as well as new construction.
To make matters worse, he had ordered a large supply of goods to be freighted up to 150 Mile House and he had paid half the bill in cash.
The freighters ran into problems on the trail and several of the wagons were damaged. Then the supplies disappeared, along with the drivers and the horses. Davidson was broke.
He was forced to sell his Lake Valley holdings, and, in the late spring of 1864, he fled back to the United States, never to return.
One of Davidson’s major creditors was Edward Tormey, who had been a butcher in San Francisco. Tormey had also been a placer miner early on in the Cariboo gold rush, and, after making a small fortune, he went back to his original occupation, establishing butcher shops in Barkerville, Quesnelle Forks, and Quesnellmouth (Quesnel).
He had often stayed at the Lake Valley roadhouse and he recognized its potential value, so he took over the holdings in May of 1864. He added a much larger saloon to the roadhouse, which now featured good food, unlimited gambling, and “superb” home-made whiskey. In 1865, the Collins Overland Telegraph line was put through, providing great communication advances to the Cariboo roadhouses. At the 150 Mile House, the telegraph key was located in a little room just off the store. As the demand for cattle and livestock in the Cariboo increased, Edward Tormey and his associate Jerome Harper of the Gang Ranch built up a sizeable business at 150 Mile during the latter part of the 1860s.
In August of 1869, Edward Tormey decided to split the business. His cattle ranching and butcher businesses were doing very well and demanding more and more of his time.
He kept the land, but sold the roadhouse and store to Samuel Adler and Thomas Barry.
They were the former owners of the Gazelle Saloon in Barkerville. (It was at the Gazelle that the fire which levelled Barkerville in Sept. of 1868 was said to have started.)
To be continued next month.