It could be said that Murphys Historic Hotel is a doorway to another time, but its doorway is literally from another time. Upon entering the establishment, one might notice the doorknob is a mere two feet off the ground; a design choice implemented so that patrons would have to dismount their horses before entering.
This is but a taste of the rich history within the walls of California’s oldest continually-operating hotel. Established in 1856 as the Sperry and Perry Hotel, its ownership has changed hands seven times in its 162-year history.
Deanna Broglio has worked at the hotel off and on for the past 30 years. Currently the front desk manager, Broglio has a wealth of historical knowledge about the hotel and the area in which it sits.
“The hotel was originally built as a stop for the rich and famous people that were coming up to visit the Calaveras Big Trees,” she said. “After the Gold Rush started, the Big Trees were discovered, and they were considered one of the seven wonders of the world.”
Each of the nine “historic” rooms in the main hotel building is named after a notable person who has occupied it. Among the rich and famous people who have stayed at the hotel over the years are Mark Twain, William Randolph Hearst, J.P. Morgan, Susan B. Anthony and former President Ulysses S. Grant. Copies of their signatures of the original hotel register can be viewed in the lobby.
Twain’s first big break into writing was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a story set in nearby Angel’s Camp, California. Twain visited the Murphys Hotel in 1877, 12 years after its publication.
The hotel walks a fine line between maintaining the historical integrity of the building and catering to modern visitors.
“We’re on the National Register of Historic Places,” Broglio said. “There are certain things we can and can’t do … certain things we cannot change. People keep saying we need an elevator to get upstairs and that’s something they can’t do. We don’t have the ADA handicapped bathrooms and things like that, because there’s really no way to do it in here with the way things are.”
While there is a two-story motel wing with modern amenities just west of the main structure (one of which does feature an ADA-compliant bathroom) it is the main building containing the original hotel and saloon that maintains that historic character.
“In the rooms upstairs, it’s all 1856 period furniture,” Broglio said. “If it’s not original, it’s close to [original].”
Within the renovation limits imposed by the hotel’s historic status, the current owners, Brian Goss, Kevin Clerico and Joel Lacitigonola have been modernizing the building as much as possible.
“Originally, all of the rooms had a separate shared bathroom down the hall, but they’ve been doing some renovating this year, so I now have one room with a half-bath, three with a full-bath and the other five are still the separate shared bathroom down the hall,” Broglio said.
Over the past 162 years, the town of Murphys has evolved from a quiet waypoint in the heart of Calaveras County to a booming destination over the past 20 years. Not surprisingly, Murphys Historic Hotel is right in the middle of it all.
“A lot of [guests] stay in town,” Broglio said. “You can come to Murphys four times a year, never do the same thing twice and stay right here on Main Street.”
One of the reasons for this boom has been the flourishing of wine tasting rooms in the area.
“There were four or maybe five wineries, and then around 2000 I think was when the wine tasting rooms started to come in, and then by 2010 it was on.” recalls Broglio. There are now 24 wine tasting rooms within walking distance of the hotel.
On the first Friday in December, the town holds an event called Murphys Open House. There is a Christmas Parade and the local shops stay open late for the occasion.
“Everybody has Christmas cookies and cider or chocolate. Over at the Spice Tin, they have the roasted chestnuts on an open fire. After the parade, Santa goes down to the Native Sons Hall and takes pictures with the kids, and the Boy Scouts set up fire kettles down Main Street to have little warming stations,” Broglio said.
After Murphys Open house, tourism tends to die down for six to eight weeks until President’s Weekend in February, when Murphys holds President’s Wine Weekend.
“You can buy a commemorative glass for $20, $25, and that basically gets you into limited tastings to all the tasting rooms here on Main Street,” Broglio said.
For those who want to travel beyond the limits of Murphys, there is no shortage of attractions in the area. The hotel itself is only a mile and a half away from Ironstone Vineyards, with its amphitheater and museum. Likewise, Mercer Caverns is just up the hill from the hotel. Calaveras Big Trees remains a big draw for its natural beauty, about a half-hour drive from the hotel. Bear Valley Ski Resort is about an hour away, and Yosemite National Park can be reached in an hour and a half.
“We like to say we’re two and a half hours from everywhere,” Broglio said.