By SUNNY LOCKWOOD
The two-story stone house with tumbling walls and rusted tin roof stands along Highway 49 south of Angels Camp like a gravestone reminder of the Gold Rush world of which it was once a part.
Built in 1852 by Italian stone mason James Romaggi, it was the home where he raised his six children. It also at times served as a stage stop, store, card room and saloon.
"It was the social center of Albany Flat," said Jill Gray of the Calaveras County Historical Society. "Didn't Joaquin Murietta come through there drinking and carousing?"
There is more than one story of Murietta and his crowd enjoying dinner and drinks at the Romaggi house in the boomtown of Albany Flat, at one time a "home" to 3,000 gold prospectors.
But Albany Flat withered when the gold ran out, and Romaggi and his wife, Louisa, grew old and died.
The house has stood vacant for more than 70 years. Built with loving craftsmanship, however, its window and door casings are still square after a century and a half of wet winters and summers hot enough to fry the nearby hills.
Twain Harte resident Carmen Caton, the great-granddaughter of James Romaggi, remembers family picnics out behind the old house, but says as far back as she can recall, it has always been in a state of decay.
"I remember looking into the empty house," she says. "The floor was there, but you had to be careful even then. I love that old house and would hate to see it go."
The dying house might have a second life yet.
Angels Camp resident Adrian Nestor wants to reconstruct the building and turn it into a museum of Gold Rush family history. When he talks of his dream, his hands take flight and his eyes sparkle behind silver-rimmed glasses.
He wants the museum to demonstrate for all who enter what it was like for Gold Rush families living in this area.
A retired salesman from Danville, Nestor and his wife, Sue, moved to Angels Camp in September of 2001. Three months later, he read a newspaper story about the Romaggi house.