Once it was decided that Pollock Pines needed to establish a post office, it was time to give the place a name and the winning idea that was drawn from the hat was that it should be named for an early pioneer family by the name of Pollock. In 1936, H. R. Pollock was still prominent thanks to his lumber mill of 1900. The name of the old Cedar Grove School, serving the children of the parents working the lumber business, was changed to Pollock Pines School and so when the first post office was built in 1936, Pollock Pines was the most logical name for this old Pony Express remount station.
There still isn’t much there today, but there is the El Dorado National Forrest that envelopes it and the many joys of Sly Park’s Jenkinson Lake, the infamous road stops of the Fifty Grand Steakhouse and the Sportsman’s Hall built upon that very famous Pony Express station, which is registered as California Landmark 704. A plaque before the Sportsman’s Hall reads:
This was the site of Sportsman's Hall, also known as Twelve-Mile House, the hotel operated in the latter 1850s and 1860s by John and James Blair. A stopping place for stages and teams of the Comstock, it became a relay station of the Central Overland Pony Express. Here, at 7:40 A.M., April 4, 1860, pony rider William (Sam) Hamilton riding in from Placerville, handed the express mail to Warren Upson, who, two minutes later, sped on his way eastward.
The Blair brothers (there were four altogether), were diversified in business in El Dorado County and immediately set up the Blair Brothers Lumber Company in Pollock Pines and had their retail lumber yard in Placerville at the corner of Main Street and Broadway, which was run by the family until 1985.
Sportsman’s Hall continues on at 5622 Old Pony Express Trail and is best known for its breakfast, though it serves lunch and dinner as well. However, the real establishment of Pony Express Trail is at 6401. It is the great Fifty Grand Steakhouse, which in its current incarnation isn’t even as old as it seems, for it was rebuilt after a fire in 1983. The original business really made up the basis of the only strip you could call “town.” The spot sprang up in the early 1930s as a combination grocery store, gas pump, restaurant and then later that game changing post office. There was a little saloon called Frenchie’s there, which by 1943 was under new management and the new name of the Fifty Grand, because it was on Highway 50 in a grand place to live. In 1945 the management changed again and the place was serving Chinese American food. There was a movie house in operation for a time in the aluminum building next door, so with movies, post office, grocery, gas and the Fifty Grand, there was nearly a proper Main Street U.S.A. developing.
Eventually the post office moved across the street to what is now the Pony Express Village business strip. When a big super market came in, the old grocery store closed and was usurped by the Fifty Grand. The expanded road stop served a good steak and potatoes dinner, ribs, roast chicken and a salad with good blue cheese dressing––still does. The combination restaurant and bar became a well known spot on the way to and from Lake Tahoe and was known as a kind of legend when my family frequented the place in the 1970s. Back then, there weren’t too many good places to go out for dinner in Placerville and so we often took visiting friends and family up to the Fifty Grand for a good night out. My parents still enjoy going there today and the restaurant has managed to continue to serve a good meal at fair prices in a warm atmosphere. Call it outdated or call it retro charm, but it is one of the few long time establishments of El Dorado County that has refused to disappear.
One important establishment that has disappeared was The Triangle––a kind of a sandwich counter meets dance hall opened by Arthur Berrill that served the social needs of the community in the 1930s when the folks working on the W.P.A. projects roamed the pines. The Pine Lodge now sits on that site.
Near by Sly Park is full of boating, hiking and camping and as a kid I spent plenty of time on Jenkinson Lake doing all of those things. The aspect that left the greatest impression on me was the winter week the 6th grade of Sierra School spent at the Sly Park Environmental Education Center––a camp with cabins to sleep 22 and a wonderful dining hall that served robust meals. We spent days on hikes and learned about surviving in the wilderness. We learned to eat worms and anyone who managed to swallow a worm got to make his own silk screened t-shirt that said “Worm Power” on it. My favorite use of my new swallowing worms skill was to do it before a group of girls on the playground and watch them scream in horror. There was also crafts and singing around camp fires and the first proper dance I ever attended at the end of the week. Of course we were essentially going to school, but we were out from behind our desks and there were no math or spelling tests. This was hands on learning and it was the kind of learning I did best, so it didn’t really feel like school at all, but a kind of vacation.
The kids from Pollock Pines end up down in Placerville going to El Dorado High School, so that Pony Express stop never grew into the kind of place that could really be considered a town. Pollock Pines is sort of an extension of Placerville, like the other surrounding named areas such as Camino, Shingle Springs, Coloma and El Dorado. However, that particular area of the forest marked by the American River to the north to Jenkinson Lake and the Mormon Emigrant Trail to the south, with the Fifty Grand and the Sportsman’s Hall right at the center of it all, maintains its reputation as a special spot on the map––special enough to be numbered Landmark 704.