The Home and Property….

Blue Mountain Chamber Music Retreat is situated on one of the oldest inhabited properties in California, with American settlers likely predating the gold rush of 1849. Archeological evidence confirms that the property was inhabited before that by the local Miwok Indians, who still live in the area. The property has a long musical history. In the 1930s it was purchased by Charles Hollingshead, a noted international educator and amateur composer. From 1946, he was joined by his daughter Elma (Bim) Hollingshead, an accomplished pianist and diplomat who studied in Rome under a pupil of Liszt and who frequented several Italian composers of the day, such as Pizzetti. In 1984, the property came under the ownership of her pupil, your host, Ron Brickman.

Early history

In the late 19th century, the property was the home for many years of Dr. Reed, a noted horticulturist with a state-wide reputation. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Reed promoted the idea of grafting English walnut trees onto black walnut rootstock, opening up the area for large-scale commercial planting of walnuts.

It is believed that Dr. Reed was responsible for planting many of the fruit and nut trees still bearing on the property. These include chestnuts, walnuts, some old apple varieties including Rhode Island Greening and Early Harvest, cherries, pears and plums. An article published in the 1950s in the Calaveras Enterprise relates that in the 1880s, Dr. Reed, together with his neighbor Smith, sent back East for two maple trees. The century-old flaming maple tree at the end of the driveway remains the crowning glory of the property.


Wood bloc depiction of the old homestead from the 1950s by Bim’s college friend Mildred Biddick

It is not known at what point the 10-acre lot across from what is now Highway 26 became part of the farm. But together the two lots were sold to Dr. Charles Hollingshead in 1933. Dr. Hollingshead was a prominent international educator. His last position was Director of the Vocational School in Tirana, Albania, created by the International Red Cross. Upon retirement, Dr. Hollingshead followed the advice of his physician that he live at higher altitude to help cope with the malaria that he had contracted in Albania. Upon arriving in West Point, Dr. Hollingshead set about recreating on the property the terraced orchards that he had observed in Albania. In several sections, he planted walnuts and Concord grapes in terraced, alternate rows and planted the land across the highway in apples, preferring the winesap, Newton pippin, and Stayman winesap varieties. Some of these trees are still producing. To this day, the residence is filled with a number of unusual artifacts fron Albania acquired by Dr. Hollingshead and his daughter.

Dr. Hollingshead’s daughter, Elma, was a prominent diplomat who worked in the American Embassy in Rome until the Americans were forced to leave by Mussolini. Throughout her adult life, she was better known by her nickname “Bim” (a diminuative of “cherubim”). After continuing for a while at the State Department in Washington, DC, Elma retired in 1946 to take up residence in West Point with her father, who was becoming enfeebled and blind. Elma was a distinguished amateur pianist and started teaching piano to local schoolchildren to supplement her income. One of her first pupils was your host, the then 8-year-old Ronnie Brickman….

The original homestead dated back to the gold rush era. It became inadequate for the family’s needs, so Bim, who by that time had married local chiropractor “Doc” Brockman, arranged in the early 1950s to build the new home next door. The point of departure was the two-story water storage structure whose upper level is now the upstairs bathroom of the new home. The large second floor living room was designed from the outset to be the piano teaching studio, as evidenced by the unusual built-in music shelves behind the piano (not to mention Beethoven’s portrait on the wall and the diagram in chalk of the circle of keys on the wall, both of which have been there as long as your host can remember). Pupils could gain direct access to the studio by the outside staircase (originally there was no inside staircase). The downstairs was divided between an apartment for Bim’s aging mother and Doc’s chiropractic office.

Teacher and pupil forged a strong friendship that lasted until Elma’s (“Bim’s”) death in 1984. At this point, Ron became owner of the property.

Elma was very knowledgeable in the kitchen, combining the American farm tradition of her family with her long residences in Albania and Italy. She perfected many of her own recipes, such as fruit-flavored nut caramels using the produce from the property. Ron has continued this tradition with an extensive home-canning and food preparation activity of his own in his cottage industry, Blue Mountain Orchards.

Recent History

Over the last 30 years, Ron has extensively upgraded both the residential and agricultural components of the property. The old homestead was torn down in the early 1970s, leaving only the root cellar and the garage, both of which date from the 1930s if not earlier.  (The favored “board and batten” mode of construction of the gold rush era suggests that the garage dates from the 19th century.)  The “new” house has been modernized and improved, with an inside staircase and upper-level deck, a formal dining room with French doors, a modern kitchen, a front door and entryway all added.


Western courtyard, front entrance and century-old garage

The property now has over 200 fruit and nut trees as well as large vegetable and berry gardens and extensive landscaping around the house. The apple orchard has been mostly replanted in heirloom varieties. Depending on availability, produce is sold during the summer and fall in the apple sales room located at the end of driveway, next to the historic root cellar and the new guest cottage with its farm kitchen.