Cottonwood House is one of the most famous of the road houses along the Cariboo Wagon Road. It was built in 1864 by John Ryder and Allen Smith. The early years of its operation as a business saw it change owners several times. However, when John Boyd gained title to the house in March of 1874, stability was achieved. The Boyd family operated the house continuously until the fall of 1951.
A landmark, Cottonwood House developed a reputation among travelers as a stopping place of high quality. The barns, fields and Cottonwood River relieved the freight animals of their burden and gave an opportunity to regain their strength. The “hotel” offered fresh wholesome foods as well as a comfortable rest in clean rooms. Both private and dormitory rooms were available and dinner was served in a large dining room.
The hotel was not the only business at Cottonwood. The Boyd farm supplied feed for freight and dairy animals and supplies for the miners were also stocked. Messages could be left here for others travelling or living in the area. News was circulated and a post office was established helping to make the farm a focal point of the community.
In 1909, John Boyd died after a brief illness. John’s wife Janet, continued to run Cottonwood assisted largely by some of her children. In 1951 the property was sold to Vagn and Anna Olrik. The Province of British Columbia bought Cottonwood House in 1963 and designated it as a Provincial Historic Site.
John Boyd was the youngest of eight children, born on June 22nd, 1833 in Belfast, Ireland. At the tender age of 15 he immigrated to the United States to take advantage of all there was to offer in the land of opportunity. He followed the gold rush to California where he married Elizabeth Mullen on October 28, 1860. The next year in November, their daughter Mary Ann was born in Smartville-Marysville, California, and a few days later Elizabeth died. John left his daughter in the care of friends, and traveled north, following the gold rush to the Cariboo in 1862. It was on his travels to the San Jaun Islands that he met and then married Janet Fleming on May 16, 1868.
The following year the first of their ten children, John Charles, was born. After establishing a roadhouse along the Cariboo Wagon Road at Cold Spring, John purchased Cottonwood House and Ranch on March 19th, 1874 and operated it as a farm with the help of his brother-in-law John Fleming.
In 1886 John moved 5 of the 7 children to Cottonwood House and three more children were born there: Archibald (1887), Chester (1889), and Walter (1891). For the next 23 years Cottonwood House prospered with a combination of farm and roadhouse income.
However, John’s death in 1909 and the loss of Archie and Chester in the First World War devastated the family. These tribulations coupled with the country-wide depression in the 1930’s, resulted in a substantial downturn for the business. Despite this decline, the operation of a post office and addition of a gas pump helped to ensure the roadhouse remain a significant hub in the region.
The beginning of the Second World War in 1939 and Janet’s death in 1940 marked the beginning of the end of the Boyd family’s tenure at Cottonwood, as the absence of manpower made the property unsustainable for the family. In 1951 the property was sold to Vagn and Anna Olrik, ending over 75 years of Boyd family hospitality in the region.