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For some, it’s not easy to leave Cloverdale

Sunday, October 28th, 2012 | Posted by

Christo Potter is pictured in front of his coffee shop in 1932 with his son, Billie, and Evalyn Frost Scatena, who graduated from Cloverdale High School that year. (CHS Collection)


A number of buildings in Cloverdale’s downtown seem to be inhabited by “spirits of residents past.”

This article will explore just a few of them.

The Gould-Shaw House, located at 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd. and home of the Cloverdale Historical Society’s Museum, was once the residence of prominent local banker Isaac Shaw. His second wife, Minerva, was the daughter of Pop McCray, who had a popular resort north of town near what is now the Hamburger Ranch. She lived in this house from 1879 until her death in 1938.

Minerva was known to keep a tidy house; a place for everything and everything in its place, if you will. In fact, some might even say she was a bit of a “neat freak.”

Apparently, some things never change. Today, more than 70 years after her death, it’s not unusual for Museum staff to rearrange items displayed in the house, only to come in the following day to find everything returned to its original place.

A few years ago, when a couple of paranormal investigators spent the night here, they heard beautiful music coming from the piano in the parlor. Anyone playing it under ordinary circumstances would quickly realize it has not been tuned for years, and yet the music they heard that night was perfectly in tune.

Since the 1870’s, the building at 219 N. Cloverdale Blvd., currently home to Low Knob Press,  has housed a number of different businesses, including a newspaper office, a jewelry store and several restaurants. In the 1930’s, it was known as Potter’s Coffee Shop, owned and operated by Christo Potter, the single father of a young son.

Potter’s only son, Billie, became an Army pilot in WWII and records indicate his plane was shot down over Belgium. His body was never returned. Mr. Potter died in 1952 and it’s believed his spirit still inhabits the old coffee shop waiting for Billie to come home.

Shaw home – Circa 1900. (CHS collection)

Employees of other businesses located there have reported hearing heavy footsteps upstairs in what was once Potter’s apartment. Office chairs placed neatly under desks at night are found bunched together in the middle of the room the following morning. At least one former employee said she didn’t like being in the building by herself because she never ever felt she was really alone. “It makes the hair on my neck stand up just talking about it,” she confessed.

A little further up the block, the back portion of the building where Plank Coffee and Edward Jones are located used to be a morgue. The late Edna Gordon tended to her funeral business in the back and operated a furniture store up front. The upstairs is comprised of several apartments.

When Doreen Brezil Cunningham moved back to town with her two sons a few years ago, she rented one of these apartments. At the time, she knew nothing about the morgue or the furniture store; just that strange things seemed to happen – many of them after midnight.

There were nights the family would be awakened by something that sounded like heavy furniture being dragged, end over end, across a concrete floor on the other side of the wall. Thinking to herself that the neighbors must be really rude to be doing this so late, she suddenly realized there was no other apartment on that side of the wall.

Lying in bed one night, she looked towards her bedroom door and saw what she perceived to be a small child in a white wispy fog. Just then, her son came into the room and asked if she’d seen something in the doorway that looked like a little kid.

To get to the bathroom required going through the living room. In the middle of the night, she says the living room would always feel cold as ice, unlike the rest of the apartment which was a comfortable temperature.

Once, while in the kitchen cooking, she said she felt something in the room. “I felt it walk right through me. It gave me a very uneasy feeling and all I wanted to do was get out of there” – which is exactly what they did three years ago and have not experienced anything like it since.

Around the corner on W. Third St., a young couple moved into an 1880’s-era home earlier this year and have since had several unexplained things happen. For one, water suddenly turns on by itself in the back bathroom. They also hear the sounds of people walking around upstairs when no one is up there. And, after a life-long habit of locking the doors when they go out, they now return home to find them unlocked.

Not all of the unexplained activity happens downtown.

Before moving into town earlier this year, Jude Gibson lived in the Palomino Lakes subdivision on the east side of the river above River Rd.  The area was once part of the Crocker Ranch, owned by Charles Crocker, founder of the Central Pacific Railroad. He had a hunting lodge there and often played host to guests like Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington and Ulysses S. Grant.

It’s still unclear how a big log rolled up the hill, stopping outside her garden gate. She says it happened just before the tall grass was to be cut down in preparation for fire season, so it was evident no one had been walking around outside. There were no drag marks, nothing was trampled, and the rest of the logs were still stacked at the bottom of the hill.

Another time, she was trying to hang a hummingbird feeder off the side of one of the decks that jutted out over the hillside. While standing on a ladder, she felt someone hook their fingers through her belt loops and heard a man’s voice tell her to be careful because she could get hurt. Thinking it was her tenant, she turned around only to find no one there. It was then she realized she was the only one home that day.

Tony Bennett is famous for saying he left his heart in San Francisco. While that may be true, it seems there may be more than a few former residents who left their heart in Cloverdale, as well.

  • Bonnie Asien

    While working for the Cloverdale Historical Society I often felt that someone else was in the Gould-Shaw House with me and I would discover things moved about. But, I never felt uncomfortable, and got into the habit of greeting Minerva every morning when I arrived.

  • Doreen Brezil Cunningham

    Great article Mary Jo!

    • Mary Jo Winter

      Thank you for your contribution to it, Doreen.

  • Michele Leonard

    Love thinking about the possibility of spirits roaming the town. Hopefully they’ll contribute to keeping our history alive.

  • Billie Jean Slotkin

    Mary Jo, I love reading your articles. You leave no stone unturned. It’s nice hearing about Cloverdale. There is a lot of history there, and thank you for sharing it.

  • Nancy Turpen Lucas

    Well, since I just moved from Cloverdale, I can really tell you that it was the hardest decision I have made in a very long time. So many memories, good and not so, but my heart is still there. If I could only take everyone with me I would have. Well, maybe not everyone :)

  • arlene

    Excellent article, and just in time for haunting Cloverdale’s Halloween! BOOOooooo!

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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