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New Owners Breathe New Life Into Historic Hotel

Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013 8:05 am | Updated: 11:21 am, Fri Jun 21, 2013.
By Joel Metzger


The businesses run out of the historic Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill were purchased by a Ventura County woman and she took over operations late last week. Doralee Rees, 51, of Moorpark, purchased the hotel, restaurant and bar businesses from Ashley Canty, who retained ownership of the buildings and property.

At first Rees wanted to buy the property as well, but after negotiating with Canty it seemed best to start with buying the businesses and going forward from there. After getting her feet on the ground, Rees said she doesn’t plan to make any huge changes, but she does want to increase what the hotel offers.

“We want to bring in seven-days-a-week hotel services, dinner service,” Rees said. “We’ll start in with some breakfast and lunch. Gradually I’ll bring it into full seven-day-a-week operations.”
She also plans to cash in on the fame garnered by the filming of an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” last year.

“Business is picking up, because of ‘Hotel Impossible,’” Rees said. “We appreciate that. We will work on marketing strategies that will try to bring people from the younger crowd and all around the region to this historic hotel and get them interested in the history of this area.”
In order to make her dream come true, Rees moved from Moorpark to Mokelumne Hill.
What led up to that move was 12 years as a Kempo martial arts teacher in Ventura. Then she realized she was ready for a change of pace and passion.

She started looking around the state for a bed and breakfast last year, but nothing jumped out at her.
“Then I saw the Hotel Leger online,” Rees said. “I decided I wanted to look for a bed and breakfast, and I found the hotel instead.” She’s been interested in the hotel since July of last year with many facets of the business and area jumping out at her. “It just looked historic,” she said. “I love the history of the area. I think it took me about two months before I got up here to visit in person. I arrived the day after they shot the ‘Hotel Impossible’ episode.”

“It was bigger than I thought. I absolutely loved the back yard area with the brick work and stone work. I just thought it had a lot of character. I thought it was so cool that even though with ‘Hotel Impossible’ just being over – they were just crazy trying to get everything worked out – they were still so friendly and accommodating. We stayed in the hotel for four days.”

After visiting the hotel, Rees realized she would love to live in the foothills, but she still wasn’t sold on buying the hotel.  “I wanted the hotel, but I also wanted to move up here no matter what,” she said. “I really connected with the people and the town itself. We came up again and went to the turkey-in-the-barrel event in town. That was the clincher. I really enjoyed the town and the people here. They drew me in.”

Perhaps the aspect of small-town Mokelumne Hill Rees likes best is how friendly everyone is. “It’s just the friendliness,” she said. “It’s not a big city friendly. People are always in a hurry in the city, so they don’t always look you in the eye when you’re talking. Here, everybody always is smiling and they look you in the eye.”


Along with making a connection with the community, Rees is excited to lace up her hiking shoes and step into the wild. “I can’t wait to explore,” she enthused. “I’m an outdoorsy person. I really enjoy hiking.”
She also loves cooking, gardening and amateur photography.” “My favorite thing to photograph around here is the old buildings,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Rees believes she will be successful with a blend of the old and the new. “I would just like to thank everybody for their support of the hotel and the welcome I received,” she said. “I’d really like to share the historic significance of Moke Hill with a younger generation and outside people and find a really good blend of tourist and local camaraderie. The people love this place, and we don’t want to take that away from them.”


For more information on the hotel call 209-286-1401 or visit hotelleger.com.

Moke Hill family Resurrects Hotel Leger

By Mike Taylor (From the Tuesday, March 25 edition of the Calaveras Enterprise: http://www.calaverasenterprise.com)

Running a historic hotel that is over 150 years old might be a daunting proposition for some, but for Ashley Canty and her mother, Jane, and her partner Ron Pitman, it's a labor of love. The Mokelumne Hill family completed a "lease-to-own" deal on the Hotel Leger in November.

"Ron and I met at the Hotel Leger as employees about 20 years ago," Jane Canty said. Ron was a maintenance worker and Jane tended bar.

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George Leger first operated the hotel - originally a wood-framed tent that sat on the corner of Main and Lafayette streets. In 1851, records have shown that the hotel - then called the Hotel de France - initially catered to a large French population that had settled into Moke Hill during the Gold Rush.

The present hotel is actually three separate buildings, one of which served as the Calaveras County Courthouse from 1855 to 1866. That stone building is the only portion of the three-building structure that survived three devastating fires that razed most of the town in 1854, 1865 and 1874. Inside the old courthouse structure was also the county jail.

Today the old courthouse contains rooms upstairs, a large room that used to house a small theater and the cellar, where what appears to be old jail cells are located. The previous owner elected to remove the stage from the theater building and put in an arcade. A wall has been erected that now sets the room apart from a Calaveras County Sheriff's substation office that opens up onto Main Street.

The new owners have painted the large room and will soon open it up as a banquet room for the facility.

"The kitchen is really nice," Jane said. The restaurant has been open for a few months serving dinner on Thursday through Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m., a light lunch on Saturdays from 12 to 2 p.m. and a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The intimate restaurant serves a simple menu that usually includes a pasta dish, other entrees and freshly made soups and salads. "The Pickle Patch (a San Andreas eatery) will soon be creating special desserts for us," Ashley said. "We're developing a good local following."

Ashley said she agreed to partner with her mother and Pitman because she fondly remembers growing up inside the historic hotel.

The family is slowly but surely renovating all 13 rooms that are on the second story. Leaks in the roof have been patched - a few requiring the replacement of the entire ceiling - and plumbing fixtures that had been neglected have been replaced. Because Ashley also operates an interior design business in Burlingame, she will soon begin redecorating the entire hotel.

Some of her new vision for the comfortable establishment can be seen downstairs in the historic saloon. An antique couch and chairs now occupy space near the bar's only source of heat - a large wood stove. In what used to be the hotel's lobby, Ashley has placed the pool table so that there is more room in the actual saloon for folks to gather and enjoy a libation before dining.

The Hotel Leger has long held a reputation for being haunted. Stories have circulated from people who swear they've seen something out of the corner of their eyes and strange noises can sometimes be heard. Hotel guests have also reported waking up to find an apparition standing in their room, only to find the spirit disappear when they look more closely. Jane Canty said that Room No. 7, George Leger's old domicile, is often where the unusual goings on occur. "I've walked in there and seen the rocking chair rocking," Jane said, as if someone had just gotten out of it, yet there's no one else upstairs.

In an underground chamber that appears to have been a part of the old jail, Ashley hopes to one day serve elegant meals and hold special wine-tasting dinners. At one end of the catacomb, there is a sealed over entrance to a tunnel that used to cross under Main Street from the hotel to the town's bank.

"Miners would often pay for their drinks and hotel rooms with gold dust," Pitman said, "and (the hotel's owners) didn't want to just carry all that dust across the street."

The brick-lined room currently has a dirt floor and is not used. While other improvements might be made to the hotel before the special dining area is opened, Ashley still hopes to create an intimate space where guests can savor a little bit of Mother Lode history.

The family insists they are not running the hotel to get rich. Rather, they see their labor as a means of preserving a place that once held a very special place in all of their hearts. "Everyone in Moke Hill used to meet at the hotel when there were storms and the power went out," Jane remembers.

As the family has resurrected the special hotel, residents and guests alike have pitched in to help. "A lot of people have donated time," Ashley said. "They'd show up and say 'Where do you want me?' We can't thank them enough." One San Diego couple who spent a weekend at the hotel, offered to return and help with the chores in exchange for their room. "And they did it," Jane enthused.

"We purchased the hotel out of passion," Ashley said. "We never really went after it," Pitman said. "Ashley put it all together. When we walked through at the close of escrow, we'd forgotten how much space there is."

Ashley looks forward to a time when the streets of Moke Hill are once again teeming with visitors during the town's annual Fourth of July celebration. She has already started talking with community service groups to make that happen.
She has also returned the pronunciation of the hotel's name back to what she remembers as a child: "Le-ZHAY."

"The hotel used to be the hub of this community and we want to get it back to that place; to bring its glory back."

Contact Mike Taylor at mtaylor@calaverasenterprise.com.

Special thanks to Mike and the Calaveras Enterprise for the great article, and for permission to include it here.

Rooms with a 'Boo'

Ghost stories haunt Lode's Hotel Leger
By Antoinette May - From the Sunday, October 26, 2003 edition of the Stockton Record.

They don't have TVs at the Hotel Leger. They don't even have telephones. Guests make their own entertainment. Or someone ... or something ... makes it for them. One of the most historic hostelries in the Mother Lode, Mokelumne Hill's Hotel Leger (pronounced "luh zhay") has always been the hub of town activity. Now, it's getting attention for supposedly being haunted by its founder and early guests.

Dark history
A hotel on the corner of Lafayette and Main dates to 1851. Until 1866, the building included the county courthouse with a convenient downstairs dungeon and a hanging tree out back. Since "the Hill" was the biggest, baddest, most important mining camp in Calaveras County (according to records, 17 people killed there in 17 weeks, then five more were shot the following weekend), it scarcely seems surprising that such riotous history would inspire a legion of restless spirits.

At least that's one theory. Very little is known for sure. George Leger, born in Germany but claiming French descent, came to Mokelumne Hill in 1851. Catering to the town's large French population, already ensconced on Lafayette Street, he erected his "inn" -- probably a tent -- fronting Center Street. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1854 but left the stone courthouse still intact. Within a year, the 40-year-old bon vivant was not only back in business, but also had acquired a wife, 23-year-old Louisa Wilkin. The 1860 census lists the couple with two children. Ten years later, there's no mention of Mrs. Leger, but there are three children, the youngest named Louisa. The story goes that the mother died in childbirth. Does that explain the eerie sounds of a woman crying reported over the years by hotel guests? Some think so.

Leger added a stone annex to his hotel and changed the name to Hotel de Europa, then to the Grand Hotel. He could call it anything he pleased; for townspeople, it was "Leger's place." In 1874, fire gutted the hotel once again, a loss estimated at $50,000. But on April 26, 1875, Leger celebrated its phoenix-like rise with a grand ball. More than 100 carriages pulled up in front conveying couples from every town in Calaveras and Amador counties.

Today, the hotel looks exactly as it did then -- including original stones dating from 1851 and the 1862 annex addition. People love to embellish the story by saying Leger was gunned down by an irate husband. Whatever his indiscretions, the man died of natural causes in 1879. His remains were taken from the hotel and interred in a nearby graveyard. Some say that was the end. Some say not.

Ghost stories
"George walks the town," says Ron Miller, the Leger's former owner. "I've seen him. He looks exactly like his picture on the stairs." Miller's wife, Joyce, remembers the time she showed a prospective guest through the hotel. Suddenly the woman turned pale and ran outside, later explaining that a spectral man had stood behind Joyce, nodding his head approvingly as she recounted the building's history.

Shortly afterward, the Millers' son, Ronnie, asked them who was staying in "George's room."

"No one right now," his mother replied.

"Oh, yes there is," the boy answered. "A man just came out and asked me to be quiet."

Stories proliferate. In Room 2, guests report seeing a Victorian woman -- maybe one of George's girlfriends. In Room 3, they see a little boy. Maids make the beds in rooms 10 and 11, returning later to find them torn up. The wildest story is the midnight cattle drive down Main Street -- sounds of mooing, hoof beats and cowbells.

Guests -- as well as Ashley Canty, a current owner -- have rushed to the window only to see a dark, deserted street. Ashley's mother, Jane Canty, cleaned the dining room after a party, using three keys to lock three doors before leaving late at night. She returned the next morning, unlocked all the doors and found the room in disarray. Tables were shoved together. Dishes, glasses and silver used. "A hoax seems unlikely," she says. "It was so elaborate -- a lot of trouble to execute and difficult to conceal."

Then there's the afternoon that hotel manager Shana Molotch leaned against the ice machine in the former dungeon chatting with a plumber. "Is this place haunted?" he asked. Molotch shrugged. "People believe what they want to believe." The next moment, Molotch became an instant believer when something shoved hard enough to knock her forward, leaving red marks on her shoulder for two days.

Toni Marie Ostronski, who manages the hotel coffeehouse, has also had strange experiences. Her truck unlocks itself -- but only in front of the hotel. On one occasion, she packed up for the day, locking her computer in the truck, only to recall some soiled linens she'd intended to take home. Ostronski returned to the coffeehouse, picked up her laundry and walked back to the truck. As she scrambled for her keys, the lock jumped up before her eyes.

Another day, while sitting in front of the hotel with Pat Martin, a volunteer at the sheriff's substation next door, Ostronski's lock began to pop up and down. Click! Click! Click! Martin said, "That's funny. When I parked in front of the office this morning, my car locked itself. To get out, I had to roll down the window and unlock it with a key from the outside."

The best tale is Toni Dark's. Late one evening while working alone, Dark, the hotel bookkeeper, gathered up her papers and opened the door leading to the basement/dungeon. To her amazement, the stairwell was filled with colored balloons. "I pushed them aside and descended the stairs," she recalls. "After placing the books in the safe, I turned to find the stairwell completely empty--the balloons gone."

Ghostbusters
The hotel owners decided to call in a team of "ghostbusters." Mark Boccuzzi heads Bay Area Paranormal Investigators, assisted by Scott Mossbaugh, co-founder, and five field technicians, Nancy Benson, Stacey Ellis, Ryan Morris and Lori and Jamie Fike. Their "day jobs" include teaching, engineering and accounting. The team began its case study by drawing a detailed floorplan to establish a frame of reference. Experiments were recorded on the map, tests for environmental anomalies--anything out of the norm. "Cold, hard science is where it's at for us," Boccuzzi says. "We get a visceral rush from exploring something new, finding ways to best examine the situation to determine what's really going on."

The team uses a tri field meter to measure electric magnetic frequencies. They have thermometers to record cold spots, compasses to mark deviations from the field map and a wide variety of cameras and recorders -- thousands of dollars worth of highly advanced equipment.

Dagmar Morrow, a Mountain View medium, accompanied the team. At first, she felt overwhelmed by impressions. "So many spirits have memories of the hotel," she said. "Imagine 150 years of passion and intrigue. Some of them are rather mischievous. It's as though they're teasing, 'Find out about us if you can.' " Slowly, Morrow sorted them out. In the dungeon, she saw drunken men, heard them speculate on their fate. In the lobby she saw George, "still an entrepreneur, on to other projects somewhere else, but still keeping tabs on the hotel."

Morrow's most vivid image was the "Gray Lady," a thirtyish woman wearing Victorian clothing -- nipped-in waist, lace at the cuffs and neckline, a short frilly apron. "She was shy, diffident, looked at me questioningly as if asking, 'Is everything all right?' Some of the young women investigators were drawing diagrams of the hotel. She didn't approve of them sitting on the floor, didn't think it ladylike." While Morrow communed with her Gray Lady, Boccuzzi detected an electromagnetic anomaly, a column of energy recorded on his tri field meter. When he tested the spot later, the anomaly was gone. The paranormal investigator is cautious. "Other things can cause this type of disturbance, so I'm hesitant to say that what I detected was directly related to what Dagmar was picking up, but I did find the timing of it very interesting."

Boccuzzi and his team were up until 5 a.m., prowling every room with their video cameras and recorders. Their data proved inconclusive, but no one's giving up. "We hope to return soon to the Leger to resume our investigations," Boccuzzi says. "What better use is there for our spare time than the attempt to document the survival of the human spirit?"

* Antoinette May is author of "Haunted Houses of California" and "Adventures of a Psychic." E-mail her at features@recordnet.com