By Betty Sparagna

For The Union Democrat

Considered the largest and most elegant hotel in Tuolumne County at the time of its construction, the Hotel Nevills in Jamestown was located on an elevated site next to the railroad tracks of the Sierra Railway.

Open for business on April 18, 1898, the hotel was designed by architect George Rushforth and constructed by Robert Powell, both from Stockton. William A. Nevills, owner of the Rawhide Mine, constructed the hotel as a joint venture with the Jamestown Improvement Company, composed of people interested in promoting the Sierra Railway Company.

Nevills and Thomas Bullock had an agreement that Jamestown would be the terminus of the Sierra Railway for at least five years. The agreement was broken by Bullock; litigation was finally resolved in 1901.

Hotel Nevills was a major tourist attraction for travelers heading to the Sierras or by stage to Yosemite Valley. It faced Pulpit Rock on Table Mountain and Peppermint Falls, which could be seen flowing during winter rains. The building was 74 feet by 184 feet, with two stories and an attic, containing 65 rooms.

The exterior was Japanese-style architecture, with cupolas, and upturned corners on the roof. The verandahs were 10-feet wide and extended almost entirely around the building, with the lower columns constructed of green colored quartz from the Rawhide Mine. The main floor consisted of a large reception hall and office, dining room with mirrored sideboards seating 200 people, billiard room, saloon with mahogany, mirrors, and crystal chandeliers, barber shop and kitchen.

Upstairs were the general parlors, private suites with bathrooms, bridal suites, and hallways with exits to the balconies. The main rooms had large open marble fireplaces, but the building also was furnished with a gravity system of hot water heating and direct radiation. The building had electricity and was wired for fire alarm bells. Hotel Nevills was reported to cost close to $30,000 to build.

On Sunday, Aug. 22, 1915, three years after the death of William A. Nevills, a fire broke out in the kitchen, probably from a defective kitchen flue. The fire had been burning sometime before flames emerged from the roof and it was discovered. Twenty-five minutes later the Hotel Nevills was virtually leveled.

Betty Sparagna is a volunteer for Tuolumne County Historical Society.