Old Zentgraf homestead stands today

Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.

One fine, sunny spring day in 1975 I was driving along Green Valley Road, looking for inspiration. On this particular morning, I was hoping for something special. When I turned off Green Valley onto Deer Valley Road, I knew I had found it.

Just yards ahead I saw an elderly woman on the left side of the road, in front of what I assumed was her home, a long stone job with a full-length porch across the front. The old woman was pulling weeds that were trying to crowd in among the beautiful flowers that lined the road almost all the way back to Green Valley.

Mrs. Gerkin's appearance caught my interest. She wore a flowery, cotton housedress. An apron was tied around her waist and covered the front of her dress. Her hair was twisted into a bun in back and she wore not a trace of makeup. On her feet, she wore sensible, lace-up shoes and her nylon stockings were rolled down to her ankles.

I pulled to the side of the road and soon Mrs. Gerkin and I were deep in conversation about her very special home. She told me its history, of how it had once been the home of the Zentgraf family, who settled on the property and developed one of the area's first vineyards there. In fact, a wine cellar was built across the road from the house.

What a house. Built by Jacob Zentgraf in 1871, the outer walls were more than a foot thick. Inside walls hung loosely from the ceiling, where they were attached by hooks. This arrangement made it a simple chore to swing the walls up and attach them to the ceiling with more hooks, thereby effectively turning the house into a hall that could then be used for parties and dances.

Mrs. Gerkin said the house became the area's gathering spot and folks came from miles around to attend the dances that took place under its roof. When Jacob Zentgraf was just 16 and living in his native Germany, his father taught him the stone cutting trade. In 1852, when he was 31, Jacob emigrated to the United States and settled briefly in Butler, Penna., where he followed the stone cutting trade.

The following year found him mining along Weber Creek, here in El Dorado County. In the fall of 1854, Jacob and his brother Antone bought the property that Mrs. Gerkin would later call home. The original farm consisted of 520 acres. Many believe that the 32 grape vines planted here in 1849 provided the starting seed for all the grape vineyards that sprang up in the area.

In 1857, besides Jacob producing 1,800 gallons of wine that sold for $1.50 per gallon, two things happened. Jacob bought his brother out, becoming the sole owner of the property, and his mother, now a widow, came to America. The following August, Jacob married German-born Mary Fisher. They would have nine children - seven boys and two girls. Mrs. Gerkin said that none of the boys had sons of their own, so the Zentgrafs never had the chance of becoming a gold country dynasty.

That spring day I was delighted when Mrs. Gerkin gave me a tour of the inside of the house. It was easy to imagine the old Zentgraf homestead in its prime. In honor of the home's proud history, Mrs. Gerkin had furnished the front bedroom with period furnishings that captured the essence of what the room must have once been.

During the next year or so, I made several stops at the Zentgraf house and always found her there. Recently, nearly 30 years after my first visit, a Sunday drive revealed that the old Zentgraf place still exists, none the worse for wear.

Permission is granted by the author to use or republish this article, but proper attribution to the author -- Joanne Burkett -- is requested.

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