The Vaca Valley & Clear Lake line ran from Madison to Esparto (then called Esperanza) in 1888, and on up the Capay Valley to Rumsey, building depots along the way. As you pass north through Esparto, on the right will be the newer version of the second oldest high school in Yolo County, the art-deco auditorium was built by the WPA; sitting across from a lovely home built in 1900 by the builder of the 1891 high school; and in the center of the business district among 1880s buildings is, on the left, an adobe building that was the first Bank of Esparto built in 1913, now a hair salon. At the end of Yolo Avenue, before you turn left toward Capay, you can see the 1888 Esparto depot, recently being restored and painted. Continuing on Highway 16 to Capay, on the right is a memorial plaque and bell from the Capay School in front of its empty lot. And at the intersection with County Road 85 you can see the Capay Depot on the right, now renovated beyond recognition, built in 1888, sitting at an odd angle that allowed for a railroad spur that ran northwest to Cache Creek for gravel on the 8000 acre Duncan Ranch. The railroad tracks ran straight up Main Street, now Highway 16--I am told they paved right over them! f you travel north a quarter mile on county road 85 you cross Cache Creek, where the original bridge was build in 1884, and then see on your left one of the oldest homes built in Capay Valley still standing, built in 1879 by the Duncan brothers, with gold they pulled out of the El Dorado mines beginning in 1850, after they worked driving cattle from Missouri--at 18 & 12 years old! About 5 miles farther north on 85, in this area known as Hungry Hollow, you will drive by the old “German School” on the left, being used as storage on the Fritz Durst Farm, moved from the corner of roads 85 and 14 when it was no longer in use as a school by the numerous German “dry-farmers” who settled in this area. A better representation of the typical 1-2 room schoolhouses once dotting the area is on county road 19, about 5 miles east of 85 as you return back toward Capay: Clover School, lovingly restored by local descendants of families who used the school beginning in the late 1800s.
Back in Capay, continuing west on Main Street/Highway 16, on your right will be the 1860’s Tandy Store peeking between two modern structures, one of the few once-familiar wooden stores in the area. Turn right onto West 1st Street and see on your right a small building in Railroad Orange—probably a bunkhouse built in the late 1880s. A few miles farther up Highway 16, on the left will be another historic school near the town of Brooks at County Road 78: this Canon School was built in 1884 after a fire took the earlier building built in 1868 when the school was founded--it is now a National Historic landmark. Continuing up the valley to Guinda you will see on your left the Guinda Store, built in 1891 and in continuous use as a store. Turning left on Forrest you will see on the left Guinda’s Western Yolo Grange Hall built in 1909, originally as a community hall. Continuing up this road to a locked metal gate provides a hike up to Casey Flats, a once-flourishing settlement, now known for its derelict buildings and homesteads, wildflowers, and a small stream with springtime waterfalls—and great views of the valley! I am cautioned that you should not park your car up at the gate if you wish to walk the trail, so park down in the town and walk up. Sadly, the Guinda hotel, built in 1893, was demolished in the 1990s, leaving only the concrete foundation seen on the left just as you pass the store and continue on Highway 16 up the valley.
The “ghost towns” of Cadenasso and Tancred had depots, as did the remaining towns of Guinda and Rumsey—alas, all gone, along with many of the old schools, hotels, churches and stores. But in Rumsey you can still see the original depot sign on the front of the restored Rumsey Hall on your right, built in 1903. It is also a National Historic landmark. Just next to it are historic almond sheds and farm equipment--a private property, but you are welcome to view what is on display by Donny Hayes, a local collector and descendent of early Capay Valley pioneers. In Rumsey, the school and the top floor of the depot are still standing, but used as private residences off the main highway. Just past the Rumsey Hall a right turn takes you to the beautiful concrete, arched bridge, originally built in 1930 with a long abutment added in 1949 due to continuous flooding of Cache Creek. It replaced a steel and wood bridge built here in 1910, replacing several built—and washed out—since 1893. This road is no longer maintained by the county beyond the bridge, but does continue over the mountains through what is known as Rumsey-Arbuckle Grade through Cortina Valley--with spectacular views of the Capay Valley one way and Mount Shasta in the opposite direction--continuing on to Arbuckle, but a 4-wheel drive jeep or truck is recommended! If you continue on past Rumsey on Highway 16 a few miles you come to a pullout on the right at Camp Haswell, with the remnants of the stone Boy Scout Cabin; a popular picnic area and haul-out for kayakers and rafters. Above this point the Cache Creek rapids are rough and challenging; swimming is not recommended! Throughout your drive up the Capay Valley you will be among one of the world’s largest remaining Oak Groves. More than just numerous scattered Valley (and other) oaks, this is an interrelated forest of mostly acorn-producing trees that can get to be 600 years old, over 100 feet tall and over ten feet wide at the base. Just west of Capay, near the Winters Canal, there remain many of the historic oaks of the Spanish-dubbed “Los Robles,” later known as “Duncan Grove,” this one stretching several miles north and west over Cache Creek and up the valley in a dense riparian forest.