For centuries, country inns and town hotels have been a place of respite for travelers. So it became when gold seekers came to these foothills.
Enos Mendenhall built the first lodging in Illinoistown, completed by the winter of 1949. Barzilla Brickell’s hotel and Robert Egbert’s establishment soon followed this. Early pioneer M.D. Fairchild recalled, in the History of Placer County, around 50 men claimed Illinoistown as their home that winter, with every building serving as a dormitory. Miners paid proprietors a dollar to spread their own blankets on the floor and “men of all conditions would be stowed thickly, side by side.” The buildings were located along the supply road that led to Auburn.
Illinoistown developed as a wayfarer’s stop and supply station for the next 15 years. At that time, the Central Pacific Railroad Company laid out the plat for Colfax. An exodus of businesses took place to get trackside locations near the new depot. Mendenhall was the first among them; he constructed the Pioneer House on Grass Valley Street.
Another, which shows up in early photos of Front Street – now Main Street – is a three-story structure named the Hotel Flesor. It stood at the corner of Main and Depot streets, but its year of completion is uncertain.
During these early years, and especially after the Nevada County Narrow Gauge railroad came to town, Colfax became a hub of activity. There was an obvious need for housing for travelers. The original Colfax Hotel, later known as the May Hotel, was located on Depot Street at the corner of the alley leading to the Colfax Laundry. The site is now occupied by the house next to the Caltrans building, formerly Bank of America. The 1898 Sanborn maps show the Central Hotel across the narrow gauge track from the first depot.
The Union was located right next to the main track at the south end of Main Street.
Fire devastated Colfax on many occasions. The first destroyed the Pioneer House in 1874. In 1879, a fire began in the Chinese quarter and spread down Pleasant Street, taking down the Exchange Hotel. The fire of 1887 started in the May and burned much of the north end of town.
The Marvin was built by Fred Marvin after he lost his business in the passenger depot to fire in 1905. It, too, was lost in 1939 to a blaze in a matter of minutes.
A two-story stone structure was rebuilt on the corner of Main and Depot streets. It became the Mountain View. This was damaged so badly by fire that it had to be torn down in 1983, the last major fire in town. The lot remains empty to this day.
Another structure, the Fowler, is a great mystery. Located between Auburn and Railroad avenues and just south of Oak Street, it was a majestic three-story building. It may have been taken out to make room for the expansion of the fruit exchange.
The Union and the Central were removed for railroad expansions.
The only remaining – albeit empty – hotel was built in 1903, by Daniel C. Gillen. It has also been known as the Marvin and finally the Colfax Hotel. It saw the last of its active days in 1971. at that time passenger service had ceased at the neighboring station. The structure has stood unused since that time.