House, history will be honored

April 03, 2003 12:00 am
Members of E Clampus Vitus Matuca Chapter work on the monument that will be dedicated Saturday morning.The public is invited to attend. (Jason Eck/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).
Members of E Clampus Vitus Matuca Chapter work on the monument that will be dedicated Saturday morning.The public is invited to attend. (Jason Eck/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).

By JASON ECK

Its barn-red paint and wrap-around white picket fence make the Sugg House one of Sonora's most recognizable buildings.

But while the three-story, seven-bedroom house might draw many looks, it's the history of the pioneer family that lived there for three generations — over 125 years — that make it a symbol to the community.

"It's certainly one of the most interesting homes in Sonora, and the fact that it was owned by a black family is important," said Carlo De Ferrari, a Tuolumne County historian and personal friend of the last member of the Sugg family to live and die in the house.

The buil-ding was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The Sugg House history is now commemorated in a monument members of E Clampus Vitus Matuca Chapter will unveil Saturday. Members of the Clampers last weekend built a brick monument that includes an etched plaque telling the story of the house. The owners of the house, Bob and Sherri Brennan, donated some of the materials and the Clampers donated the labor.

Big red house

William and Mary Sugg built the house in 1857 during a tumultuous time in U.S. history. Debate was brewing among abolitionists and slave owners over the practice of slavery in the early days of California's Gold Rush.

William Sugg came to California about 1850 as a slave belonging to a Texan and obtained his freedom in 1854. He met Mary Snelling in Merced, where they both had settled. Mary was the daughter of a slave who traveled to the Golden State with her master.

Sugg and Snelling married in Sonora and bought a portion of the lot on Theall Street, where they lived in a small cabin. They shared the property with a Spanish couple, whose house was destroyed by fire within a year. After the fire, the Suggs bought the entire lot and made plans to build what would become one of the first brick homes in Sonora. The home was simple: a front room, bedroom and a large living room. A wooden kitchen was added on.

Some say the craftsmanship of the core portion of the Sugg House is what makes it so remarkable. Sugg and a few of his friends made a type of adobe brick using a mixture of mud and straw with water from a well on the property. The large bricks formed walls up to 18 inches thick. A layer of regular-sized bricks was added to the outside, then painted red.