The Hammond Houses
Owners Hammond/Billeb/Cunningham; Renters Rule/Nay/Peigne
Cabin (1892) and Residence (1915)
by David Carle, November 2018
The “Mono Lake and Lake District Toll Road” was established by Andrew Thompson and Archibald McNabb in October 1878. The road ran north-south about 45 miles between Casa Diablo Springs to Mormon Ranch, just north of Mono Lake, where it connected with the toll road to Bridgeport, roughly following the current alignment of US 395.
By around 1885, Thompson and McNabb had 40 acres of land along this section of their toll road that included the parcel where the “Hammond’s Cabin,” residence, and other buildings would later be built. Andrew Thompson was the first to be buried in the Mono Lake Cemetery, overlooking Mono Lake.
Hammond’s Cabin was built by J.P. Hammond in 1892 on Thompson and McNabb’s land north of the toll station. Hammond was a miner who also identified himself as a carpenter and millwright. He prospected extensively in the Lundy area, eventually locating two quartz mines, the High Grade and Halley, which produced gold-bearing ore from about 1882 to 1886. Hammond acquired 160 acres on Mill Creek, just downstream from Lundy, made water rights claims on the creek, and built a lumber mill. Hammond also operated a toll house on the Mill Creek property for the Lundy Toll Road, which connected Lundy with the roads to Bridgeport and Bodie.
At the small cabin he constructed on McNabb’s holding, county records show that he also had machinery, a wagon, two cows, and four horses in 1895.
In 1900, Hammond bought out McNabb’s toll house and blacksmith shop and also secured title to the parcel where his cabin stood as a homestead claim. Hammond’s Station had a general merchandise store, lodging house, blacksmith shop, and gas pump. He also let rooms to long-term boarders. In 1910, four boarders lived at Hammond’s along with three employees: Margaret Rule as a housekeeper/hotel manager; Sing Lee, a cook; and Robert Murray, a blacksmith. Hammond identified himself as a merchant/retail grocer and his store provided wares and food to the local residents of the western Mono Lake Basin and was a community gathering place. The Mono Basin History Museum has the store ledger and a large safe from Hammond’s. A 1909 ledger page is in Man From Mono by Lily Mathieu, noting that Mrs. Filosena traded potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables for overalls, candles, tobacco, chimney lamps, etc.. Thompson Creek (on maps today as Post Office Creek) passed by buildings and Hammond utilized the water to generate electricity to power lights and machinery at the Station.
Journalists for Sunset Magazine stopped at “Hammond’s Inn” in 1912 and wrote that it was the only place between Bridgeport and Mono Lake for travelers to get gas, lodging, and food. They wrote: “You would never choose Hammond’s outside of Mono County, but in Mono County Hammond’s is really above the average. The beds are clean and only four in a room, and the meals, while plain, are well cooked and enjoyable” (Kyne 1912:163)
Hammond was a Mono Lake Basin entrepreneur. He established the Parker Creek sawmill southwest of present-day Lee Vining, was an early shareholder in the Log Cabin Mine, and acquired the “Charleston Group” of eight quartz claims about one mile west of his cabin on the upper part of Wilson Creek (which runs near the cabin and house property). This included a small, five-stamp mill powered by water from the creek. The Charleston Group produced only a modest amount of ore and operated intermittently into the 1910s. He owned oil machinery serving Mono Lake Basin’s small oil boom in 1910, and eventually, the oil derrick built on Paoha Island in Mono Lake by the Great Western Oil Company. The Mono Basin never produced marketable amounts of oil.
Hammond bought the 160-acre Moyle Ranch on Rush Creek in 1901. Five years later, in 1906, he purchased the former W. P. Nay Ranch, totaling 235 acres and water rights to Lee Vining Creek (which he lost in a poker game within a year) and in 1907, an adjacent 157.76-acre tract of land from Margaret Rule known as the Rule Ranch. By 1910, he had sold all of this land to the Mono County Irrigation Company.
Even after acquiring Hammond’s Station, J.P. continued to live in the small cabin he had built north of there, until he constructed the larger, 2-room residence about 1915 (the cabin would become a storage shed). He planted an apple orchard, and cottonwood and poplar trees. “Hammond’s ditch” diverted water all the way from Thompson Creek and from Wilson Creek (which runs near the cabin), for irrigation, and also piped water into a hollow ice-age tufa for cold storage. J.P. lived in the small cabin for 23 years before moving into his new house.
For a short time, around 1904, he rented the cabin to Thomas and Margaret Rule. The Rules had come from Lundy. In 1905 they moved to their homestead near to present-day Lee Vining. After Thomas died in 1910, Margaret resided at Hammond’s Station as a housekeeper/hotel manager. [Thomas and Margaret only lived in the small cabin about a year]
Hammond sold the Hammond Station complex in 1918 (title settled 1919) to William and Ruby Cunningham who renamed it the Tioga Lodge. But Hammond kept title to his residence and land parcel to the north (though, at this time, he moved to San Diego). [Hammond actually only lived in the larger residence about 4 years].
Orvis W. and May Nay and three children, Mary, William and Ruby, leased the house from Hammond in 1920. O. W. worked the Lundy mines and May was a midwife. The school-age children, Mary (Nay) Perry and William (Bill Nay’s grandfather) walked 2 miles to school with Augie and Clara Hess (Gus Hess hired by Ruby Cunningham in 1918 as a mechanic/blacksmith). The Nay family moved to Reno in 1925. [Nays lived in the residence about 5 years]
Thomas and Margaret Rule’s son, Albert (Al) Rule who had mined in Bodie, then leased the house. In 1926, Al moved into “Lakeview” (the new town that would soon be renamed “Lee Vining”). Al was Notary Public by 1930 for Homer Township and became a Justice of the Peace, and so, was locally called “Judge Rule.” [Al Rule in residence only about a year]
In 1926, Emil (E.W.) and Jessie D. Billeb purchased the house parcel from Hammond. They may not have ever lived in the house, as their 1929 mailing address was in Bodie. Later, while living in San Francisco, E.W. became part of the effort to make Bodie a State Historic Park. August (Gus) Billeb, lived in the house after 1930 while working as a farm laborer. [Billeb’s owned 1926 to 1938, about 12 years; Gus lived in the residence at least 8 years]
Ruby Cunningham purchased the parcel from Billeb and lived in the residence between 1938 and 1956 [she died in ’56; had lived in the house about 18 years; her husband William had killed himself in 1927]. The kitchen addition may have been added to the west side early in that span of years. Ruby’s sons Norman and Kenneth continued operating the Tioga Lodge. Kenneth died in 1962 (suicide). In 1966, Norman sold the Lodge to Richard Meyers. He kept ownership of the north parcel and lived in the residence during the 1960s. He died in 1973; a grave marker was on the property, uphill, north of the stream. Cunningham heirs leased the house to a series of tenants. Pat and Ernie Peigne lived there from the early 1970s until 2002 (about 30 years). In 2007, William S. Cunningham, Norman’s son, sold the land and associated structures to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.