Lake County History, Chapter 96: Coming Home

Lilly’s tour through the West in America covered her with money, and Lake County was already becoming known as a good wine country. She met Freddie Gebbard, a wealthy American playboy and man about town. Handsome Freddie lavished the beautiful Lilly with attention. They wanted to be married, but divorce was not possible.

 Unable to divorce Edward Gantry, a Belfast shipping merchant, Lilly purchased the Guenoc Ranch in Lake County to live with Freddie, her real love. She ignored the scandal, and since California was known for its liberal views, California is where Lilly set her sights.

On 27 May 1888, Lilly wrote about her first glimpse of the Guenoc Grant:

“The seventeen miles we had to drive led us, by a corkscrew road, up to the summit and over the highest mountain of the group. The way was rough and narrow. As the only springs of the coach were leather thongs, we felt every stone. The beauty of the well-wooded gorges, green and cool, with rapid rivers hurrying through them, repaid us well for our bumps and thumps. As we descended the mountain on the farther side, the panorama opened out. For the first time, I caught a bird’s eye view of my property. The huge plateau appeared as a dream of loveliness.”

“Vast masses of ripe corn waved golden in the light summer breeze. Dotted here and there were centenarian evergreen oaks. It was, without exaggeration, entrancing. In the distance were the boundary hills on the far side of my land, hazy and blue as the Alps sometimes are… On and on we drove, each turn of the road making us gasp with the new picture disclosed ’till, threading our way through the vineyards and peach orchards laden with fruit and covering a great part of the near hills, we reached HOME.”

As Lilly recalls, “A crowd of nonchalant longing cowboys, picturesquely clothed in red or khaki flannel shirts and leather, bead-embroidered trousers, some on ponies and some on foot, loitered about the front door.”

Once inside, Lilly wrote, “I found the ground floor was a single large living room. The house door opened directly with a dining room and a kitchen at the rear. A staircase from the dining room led to a gallery that ran entirely around the rooms. On this were doors for the bedrooms, so no space wasted in halls or passages.”

“We found dinner ready. There was trout, beef, and quail, all contributed by the ranch and prepared by Indians from the neighborhood reservation.”

 “Making plans for avenues of Eucalyptus and gardens and designs for the house was a golden time. The keynote of the ranch was ‘Liberty.’ My cowboys walked in and out of my house in search of whatever they needed. Redskins from the reservation rode over my land at will from dawn until sunset, galloping with rifles slung on their backs, shooting the game, and poaching the trout. My neighboring ranchers shot my deer out of season and presented me with them in token of welcome. Squatters annexed cows clearly marked with the brand of my ranch. It was Communism at its best.”

Lilly described Middletown:

“It was a street of wooden shanties. It boasted a General Store, a Bar, and a Barber Shop. From what I saw of the population of the country around, I don’t think there was much practice for a hairstylist or a barber.”

The village of Guenoc, and most of the things that might remind one of Lilly Langtry are gone. Herrick and Getz had a store north of Guenoc, but that closed in 1860. Orrin Armstrong had a saloon, and there was an Odd Fellows hall, but they are all one with the sands of time. When that town became the junction of two important stage lines, everybody, that was left in Guenoc in that now deserted place, packed up and went to Middletown. That settlement was closer to the mines, and miners spent their money freely.

In the tumble-down bones of Guenoc, there are yet a couple of houses, a store and what’s left of a blacksmith shop; sorry dwellings and a testament to hope. All that remains of Guenoc is brush, chaparral, a few oak trees, and grass.

Freddie Gebhardt was the love of Lilly Langtry’s life. A handsome, rich young debonair American playboy, Freddie swept her off her feet.

 The days of Lilly and Freddie faded into the past. Freddie died at forty-six after leaving Lilly and a series of disasters. Lilly lived on until she was seventy-four, still lovely.

Next Episode: A Perilous Beginning.


To enjoy all Gene’s books, visit his website; http://genepaleno.com/

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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