There are benefits to being off the beaten path.
Richard Bellows cites location as key to the preservation of Woodland’s downtown, filled with buildings a century old or more.
“We’re not on Highway 99,” said Bellows, a local historian. “A lot of (central California) cities probably had mansions like these, but they were on Highway 99. Their Main Streets got torn down (to make room for cars and traffic).
“(In the 1800s), many of your best homes were built on Main Street or near it,” he added. “(In Woodland), they didn’t tear down buildings in our downtown to put up parking lots.”
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Always a prosperous community, Woodland takes pride in its history and, fortunately, much of that history has survived. Early residents built stately Victorians and impressive mansions, scattered throughout the town’s picturesque downtown.
Next Saturday, residents and visitors are invited to walk about Woodland’s historic district and discover the treasures waiting in plain sight during the annual Stroll Through History.
“We have a real interesting collection of homes and buildings,” said Bellows, the event’s chairman. “It’s unique. It’s a real good place for people to walk around and see a lot of different styles.”
Many houses date back to the 1870s to ’90s, he said. There’s a home for almost every taste. Architectural styles include a wide variety of Victorians such as Gothic, Italianate, East Lake, Stick and Queen Anne. There are fine examples of California Craftsman bungalows, Tudor mansions and English cottages. Other homes represent Federal, Cape Cod and Mediterranean styles.
“On the Stroll, we’re highlighting Beamer Park, Woodland’s first residential community,” Bellows said. “It started in 1914. There was so much hoopla for its grand opening, they actually scheduled a special train from Sacramento to Woodland.”
World war and economic downturns slowed Beamer’s progress, but it remained a coveted address.
“It took about 30 years to build it out,” Bellows said. “The homes that were built represent quite a range of styles. One builder – Joseph Motroni – got into these fanciful revivals. They’re one-of-a-kind houses.”
Many of these great houses are within walking distance of one another. That was the impetus of Stroll Through History, now in its 26th year.
“We have four homes (next Saturday) that have never been on the tour before,” Bellows said. That includes a beautiful blue Queen Anne mansion on First Street built in 1890 by the Lowe family.
With six homes, the tour’s star attraction is the Gable Mansion. Also on First Street, that 1885 house is one of Woodland’s most beloved Victorians and a California State Landmark.
But the Stroll is more than a home tour. On Saturday morning, docents in vintage dress will lead visitors on free tours, 10 walking and two 90-minute bicycle. For folks who want to see the town in air-conditioned comfort, two 90-minute bus tours (at an additional charge) are scheduled for the afternoon.
In addition, patrons can take self-guided walking tours anytime during the event. Such historic landmarks as the Woodland Opera House and train depot will be open for tours. At the corner of Lincoln Avenue and College Street, the Woodland Christian Church will celebrate its 160th anniversary with an open house for “Strollers.”
At Dingle Elementary School, students, teachers and volunteers will host a Victorian-era play day with old-fashioned games (Graces, anyone?) and hands-on demonstrations.
“We have about 200 volunteers,” Bellows said. “It’s all nonprofit. It’s a lot of work.”
Closed to traffic next Saturday, Woodland’s Main Street will become a gathering place. (From 9 a.m. to noon, the popular farmers market at Heritage Plaza will be open, too.)
“We’ll have 17 musical groups performing at the homes or on Main Street,” Bellows said. “The Main Street merchants are holding a sidewalk sale. We’ll have Model A’s and vintage farm equipment (on display). It’s a glimpse of Woodland’s past.”
Just remember: Wear comfortable shoes.