Tom Butt
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  Butts to the Buttes
January 7, 2024

It is now almost one year since I termed out as mayor of Richmond, concluding a 28-year run of public service that included serving as a City Council member, mayor, and representing Richmond on numerous regional and statewide organizations, many of which I chaired.

One of the tangible benefits of leaving public life as an elected official has been time for Shirley and me to pursue other interests, many outside Richmond.

The most significant was the acquisition of a vacation home in 2022, a historic building in Sierra City, CA, the “Old Sierra City Schoolhouse” that served the Gold Rush town of Sierra City from 1883 until 1952, when an avalanche blew out the front wall, and it had to be abandoned as a school. By that time, there were only six students, who moved to another nearby building for a couple of years and then finally 12 miles down the mountain to the school in Downieville. The Old Sierra City Schoolhouse went into private ownership and passed though a couple of owners until we bought it in 2022.

Sierra City, population 84 (2020 Census) is located on Highway 49 along the North Yuba River at elevation 4,200 feet. The Sierra Buttes rise to nearly 9,000 feet just north of Sierra City. The Main Street (Highway 49) remains lined with Gold Rush era buildings, but there are hundreds of vacation homes hidden in the forested hills above and below Highway 49. Within a few minutes’ drive is the Lakes Basin Recreation Area with dozens of alpine lakes and hundreds of miles of trails. The area is known as the “Lost Sierra” because it is relatively unpopulated and uncrowded by visitors compared to better known destinations like Lake Tahoe.

The Pacific Crest Trail cross Highway 49 in Sierra City.

The Old Schoolhouse is not a rehab project. The previous owner took good care of it and substantially upgraded the structure and exterior envelope. Originally, the building consisted of two large classrooms. The one in front remains largely intact, including even the original blackboards. The one in back was converted to an apartment by a previous owner.

In November of 2023, the Sierra City School was successfully nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

Sierra City School is a vernacular wooden schoolhouse located in Sierra City, an unincorporated community of Sierra County, adjacent to Highway 49. Built in 1883, it was the principal education facility of this mountain community until it closed in 1952. In addition to being the center of education, the school also served as a local community center.

Sierra City School             

The only “project” contemplated for the Old Schoolhouse is reconstruction of the belfry, removed decades ago, and reinstallation of the original bell, currently residing at the nearby Kentucky Mine Museum. The project is featured in the Fall-Winter edition of The Sierran, and we hope to start on it this coming summer.

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Figure 3 – The Fall-Winter 2023-2024 Sierran, page 1,A close-up of a house  Description automatically generated

Our most recent visit was over the 2023 Christmas holidays when 11 Butts and Kim’s mother, Myrna martin, (making a dozen) converged on the Old Schoolhouse. Luckily, we have a dining table that seats 12. There were jigsaw puzzles, poker games, hiking, mountain biking, eating and drinking. We had cut a Christmas tree at Thanksgiving and left it outside in a bucket of water. We brought it inside, and the kids decorated it.

Opening presents Christmas morning

Andrew and Harlan prepare to go mountain biking 

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Shirley and Cecilia on the Sardine Lakes Trail

Trail to Buttes Mine Tunnel #6

A table for 12

Shirley on the Bear Lakes Loop trail

Shirley at Upper Sardine Lake

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New Years' Eve at Sarroccos Salon in Sierra City

Bunch of Btts, plus Myrna Martin

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North side of the Buttes after a snow

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Bear Lakes Loop Trail

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Wild Plum Loop Trail

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Dog tired

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It finally snowed after we left the schoolhouse

There weren’t as many of us, but we also spent Thanksgiving week at Sierra City. It was our 52nd anniversary!

Shirley and I started off perhaps a little overambitious by taking the trail to the Sierra Buttes lookout. While there was no snow yet in Sierra City, snow on the trail to the lookout got deeper and slipperier as we climbed.

Trail to Sierra Buttes Lookout

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Sierra Buttes Lookout, elevation 7,797

Sierra Buttes Lookout

Andrew and I made some final measurements for the belfry replacement

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It turned out one wire of the electrical service drop had burned up, and half the
schoolhouse was out of power. Fortunately, PG&E got right on it, and we were back in business.

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S'mores will be roasting

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Shirley and Andrew at the North Yuba River in Sierra City  

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Cutting Christmas trees ion the Lakes Basin

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Wild Plum Loop Trail

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Sunset on the Sierra Buttes