Not all that much has changed in the wooded Abbott Valley east of Martin City since a trapper named Abbott ventured there in the 1890s to put down a homestead claim.
That step back in time holds the allure for visitors who seek out vacation rentals at the historic Abbott Valley Homestead ranch, which sprawls over 270 acres.
A feisty Russian immigrant who went by the Americanized nickname of Mickey Wagner put down homestead roots in Abbott Valley in 1910, drawn to the region to help fight forest fires during that particularly bad fire season.
It was Wagner who cleared much of the land with horse teams, opening up meadows where horses and cattle still graze. As the story goes, Wagner got in trouble with the U.S. Forest Service for stealing dynamite from the federal agency to blow up tree stumps on his property.
The feds retaliated by confiscating some of Wagner’s land.
“They took seven acres,” Abbott Valley Homestead Manager Doyle Foley said, pointing to a patch of forestland between two meadows originally cleared by Wagner.
The Foley family has owned the Abbott Valley Homestead since Foley’s parents, Tom and Edna “Jaybird” Foley, bought the homestead and additional acreage near the base of Desert Mountain along the Abbott Creek drainage and South Fork Road in the 1950s.
Tom Foley and two business partners started FK&L Lumber Co. on the land and operated a sawmill until 1964.
Jaybird, so nicknamed because she was sent to Kansas (home of the Jayhawks) to be raised by a couple of aunts after her father died of the flu and her mother was deathly ill, was the one who saw the potential to turn the homestead buildings and other cabins on the property into vacation rentals in the 1990s.
She had six of the original cabins renovated and began renting them out to tourists. After her death in 2009, the family turned Tom and Jaybird’s home on Spotted Bear Road into another rental home called the Jaybird.
“She would have liked that,” Doyle said.
The two oldest cabins on the homestead, named the Mickey and Baptiste, date to 1910. Maintaining the historic buildings is a never-ending job.
“There’s a lot of maintenance and there’s always a list of things to do — new roofs, new floors,” Doyle said.
While Doyle manages the homestead, his sister, Rose Mattick, does the bookkeeping. It’s a lean operation, staff-wise. Abbott Valley has one housekeeper during the summer season, and Doyle’s wife, Ginny, also helps out.
As Doyle received a notification on his cellphone of a reservation for one of the cabins next summer while giving the Daily Inter Lake a tour of the ranch, he marveled at the contrast between the technology that drives the family’s vacation-rental business and the historic cabins where it all began 108 years ago.
Members of the Foley family continue to farm the homestead, and as their website explains to guests: “The cabins are in the proximity of our farm, but not close to our homes. Our activities may occasionally parallel yours with children and adults frequently missing.”
A conservation easement was placed on the property in 2009, ensuring that the heritage of the old homestead endures in perpetuity.
Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or email@example.com.