'Halfway House' served as stopping point on way to Reno
Many of the homes in this territory have fascinating stories and people behind the tale. The two-story Victorian at the foot of “Big Hill” is no exception.
By the time of the house’s construction in 1897, Jacob (Jake) Kuenzly was a respected citizen and family man with two children. Born in Switzerland June 1, 1839, he immigrated to America at age 19 with his father Henry Kuenzly. He began his California career as a placer and drift miner at Dutch Flat.
The bright young man learned telegraphy and became an operator with the Western Union Telegraph Company for 15 years. He next turned his interests to real estate
Kuenzly moved to Colfax in 1871; it was here he met and married Marie Kearine in January 1873. They had a son, Frank, and a daughter, Mary Louisa (Lulu).
He was known to be a short (5-feet 5-inches tall), rather quiet man with a short, dark beard and keen, dark hazel eyes behind gold-rimmed spectacles. A pipe was usually in his hand, but occasionally he took a puff.
Kuenzly was appointed Colfax postmaster in 1887 and then again from 1895 through 1899. He served the community as justice of the peace for many years, first appointed in 1874 at age 34. He served for 13 successive years and relinquished the office in 1908, when he was appointed by the board of supervisors to fill out the vacancy for justice of the peace that was created by the death of Edward Kilgo. He was elected two times after the appointment, and he was in office as justice of the peace at the time of his death in 1915 (his son Frank was later to become justice of the peace as well).
In 1895, Lulu Kuenzly married Henry (Hiny) Lobner. They lived in the house along with the elder parents and eventually inherited its ownership. Lobner was the owner of the general merchandise store in Colfax. He had been postmaster from 1890 to 1895 and was vice president of the Rising Sun Mine.
The ensuing history of the house was reported to the Cobblestone – the Colfax Area Historical Society’s newsletter – in 1987 by Hope Cahill, then of Palo Alto. She was the daughter of Henry Lobner’s brother, Morris Lobner.
Cahill remembered the house as a “large (for Colfax), two-story white edifice, built on a steep hill, actually the lower slope of Big Hill.” That is what the locals called Colfax Hill before the advent of flight, but that is another story. The home was known as the “Halfway House” for many years as it was the stopping off point for many of the Kuenzly’s friends traveling through Colfax to Reno on the train. Cahill said that Lulu and Henry continued to live there, with their one daughter, Lorene, after Jacob and Marie died. Hiny died there in 1921.
“Lulu and Lorene continued to reside in this house for many years, until they decided it was too large for them to keep up. They moved to a smaller dwelling they owned on Auburn Street,” Cahill wrote.
In 1954, Lulu sold the house to Frank and Violet Small for $9,000. The property went through a series of ownerships – Hindman (1959), Taylor (1964) and Hedin (1971) – until Bertha Hedin, who had purchased it for $19,900, sold it to her daughter and son-in-law, Ella and Ray Heffern.
The Hefferns retained the house until selling to a group called Colfax Victorian Investors in 1982, sale price unknown.
Gloria Beverage, former Colfax Record editor, was community life editor for the Auburn Journal at the time. In her article of March 17, 1982, she reported the plans of the group that consisted of G. Brantley Reade, Joanne Neft and Bob Eckard of Auburn. The group intended to invest $500,000 renovating the structure and converting it to a restaurant of elegant, gourmet dining.
The property went into tax default in 1983 and county appraisal at the time was $156,060. It was purchased by Alice Godsil, M.D. of Robbers Ravine, Colfax. Godsil retained the property until 2007 when she sold to Marceline Aycock. Two years later, in 2009, the house was sold to Franklin Phraner.
A recent “face lift” has rendered the majestic home to its former beauty as it stands proudly overlooking Colfax.