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Legends of the Mt. Madonna Inn

Posted by Maryanne Porter on June 27, 2013 at 8:00 PM


The Mt. Madonna Inn, a former hot spot for dining, dancing and drinking, is located off Hecker Pass Rd. on Highway 152 in the winding mountain hills of Mt. Madonna between the cities of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County and Gilroy in Santa Clara County. The inn spreads out over 14,000 square feet, but its doors have remained chained and locked for more than eight years.

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The Mt. Madonna Hills, with their flourishing hunting grounds and clean, clear waters, have a lengthy history dating back to the Ohlone Indians who called them home. These hills were resident to hundreds, if not thousands, of thriving Native American families and tribes for more than three thousand years.

The Spaniards arrived in the late 1800’s and ultimately converted the native tribes to their Spanish Catholic beliefs and ideals, changing the identity of this proud culture forever. As a result, the once thriving and healthy population of the Native American came to a standstill as hundreds of natives became enslaved and died of abuse from their captors. Sickness ultimately riddled the land with disease, killing most of the population of the Native American culture and leaving tribal women no longer able to bear children. Within a few years, the Ohlone Indians were all but extinct as hundreds of the tribe’s men were left to die or their bodies buried or burned on the hills of Mt. Madonna.

To this day, the remaining Ohlone descendants gather in the nearby Mt. Madonna County Park each summer solstice to celebrate the memory of their Ohlone ancestors and pay homage to their spirits that once lived on these sacred lands.

                          2010 Ohlone Festival / Santa Cruz Sentinel

In the early 19th century, Henry Miller, “the cattle king” and one of Gilroy’s founding fathers, bought up hundreds of acres in the hills of Mt. Madonna and began plans to build his mountain estate located at what is now Mt. Madonna County Park. Despite his great wealth, Miller succumbed to much tragedy throughout his life. One of the most memorable tragedies was the death of his youngest child, 8-year-old Sarah, who, while riding her stallion through the mountain area, was thrown from her horse and then crushed by its enormous weight as the horse stumbled and fell upon her frail little body, killing her. Some say young Sarah actually died on the land where the Mt. Madonna Inn now stands. Throughout the years many people claim to have seen the apparition of young Sarah in a white dress wandering from the county park and walking the road towards the Inn.


Provided by Gilroy History Museum

It was because of young Sarah’s death that Mt. Madonna got its name. According to Gene Beadnell, whose family originally owned the Mt. Madonna Inn until he sold the property in 2004, who states a large statue had been fashioned “by two Italian designers” on Henry Miller’s Mt. Madonna estate. After Sarah’s death, the statue was erected in her memory beneath where her body was said to have been laid to rest. The statue portrayed a life size depiction of the Virgin Mary or “The Madonna,” hence the name Mt. Madonna.

After further research S.C.G.H was not able to confirm or deny that Sarah Miller’s body was ever in fact buried on the Mt. Madonna estate. We were able to confirm that her body was moved to San Francisco and we were able to obtain evidence to confirm that a statue of the Virgin Mary was in fact erected on the Henry Miller estate and later removed in 1916 after Henry Miller’s death (Santa Cruz County Place Names, by Donald Thomas Clark). Beadnell says that after Henry Miller died, not only was the statue removed, but Sarah’s remains were exhumed from Mt. Madonna and moved to San Francisco where the rest of the Miller family resided. The Miller family estate on Mt. Madonna was sold and eventually burned down. Mt. Madonna County Park now stands on what was once the Miller ranchland.

Photo provided by Gene Beadnell

In 1929, Amilla Rienero opened up a small mom and pop grocery store which also served as her home. The small convenience store later burned to the ground and the property was sold in the 1930’s to a well known Italian Santa Cruz restaurant family by the name of Garbini. The Garbinis built the “Mt. Madonna Inn – Italian Dinners,” a restaurant complete with its own gas station.

Photo Provided by Gene Beadnell 1934 owned by Garbini family

This building, too, ended up burning to the ground and once again the property was sold and a new structure erected, this time to James and Theresa Beadnell in 1943. The Beadnells resurrected the “Mt. Madonna Inn” and continued family ownership throughout the years until it was sold in 2004. The sprawling restaurant and banquet hall has remained vacant ever since.

Beadnell told S.C.G.H that during the 1940’s the Inn was leased out to Red and Bessy Barker, who renamed it the “El Corral Café.”

Photo Provided by Gene Beadnell 1941

El Corral was not only a café, but also a horse ranch complete with two stables and a roping arena. The Barkers rented horses out by the hour for patrons to take a tour of the county park via horseback. A horse stable remains on the Mt. Madonna Inn property to this day and through the years, people have claimed to have heard the phantom charging of horse hooves on the land. The horse is believed to be that of little Sarah Miller or even Native American tribes men.

In the 1950s, shortly after the lease of “El Corral Café” had expired, the Beadnell family took over the inn once again, adding features such as slot machines, a bar, and dance floor and increasing the square-footage for more seating. In the 1960s, the Beadnells’ Mt. Madonna Inn dance floor was packed to the walls with patrons and even played host to afternoon tea dances for the elderly on Sundays. Rumor has it that a Gilroy man and police officer / former E.M.T unexpectedly died on the dance floor from a faulty heart valve at the young age of 36.

Photo Provided by Gene Beadnell 1968

Ultimately, Theresa and James Beadnell retired and left the Inn to their sons, Gene and James Beadnell. James resided in the caretaker’s house below the Inn for many years while together the brothers worked feverishly throughout the years expanding the Inn to its current size while they ran a profitable and lucrative business for all to enjoy. During the Inn’s peak in the 1970s, tragedy struck near the Inn as three young boys, aged 12 to 16, were found brutally murdered, their bodies found nude and scattered in various areas surrounding the property of the Inn. One young boy was said to have been stabbed up to 70 times.

In 1983, tragedy struck yet again when James Beadnell, who had lived in the caretaker’s unit, unexpectedly passed away.

Gene continued to run the Inn until his retirement in 2004 and sold the business to an unknown party. In 2005, another tragedy unfolded when a 19-year-old woman was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds slumped over in her truck parked near the Inn.

The Inn has remained closed with its doors locked and chained shut for several years after the last purchase.

On Nov. 18, 2011, Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters was invited to do a paranormal investigation of the Mt. Madonna Inn. Founder and paranormal investigator Maryanne Porter, S.C.G.H.’s own Sarinah and Arrianna, and this seasons new S.C.G.H paranormal investigators researcher Rhiannon Mai, retired sheriff Tim Loe, videographer Bryan Coleman, crime journalist/editor Susie Dryden Fowkes, and published author and musician Jonathan Dryden.

As the rain poured heavily, S.C.G.H members gathered outside and awaited for our host, Joshua Fisher from Sterling Financial to arrive. As we anticipate our investigation for the evening, standing before the chained doors of the dark and lonely Inn, one can only be reminded that these doors have remained locked to the general public for nearly a decade. As traffic drives slowly through the mountain curves, with an occasional passerby pulling alongside the large parking lot to let the rain subside a bit, discussions arise of the many car accidents that have taken place on a night just like this.

Upon entering the Inn, our host Joshua Fisher, gives us a tour of the grand establishment, although his skepticism of the paranormal is apparent, the known history of the mountain itself and legends passed down through the decades, persuades us to differ.

Using a ghost radar, which can detect fluxuations and changes in  the environment and relay to us in words in real time we are able to establish a simple dialog in hopes to promote communication. Incorporating a ghost box, also known as a "Franks Box" we can use radio frequencies which allows an entity to manipulate the frequencies projecting phrases they are trying to communicate, along with mini mag flashlights. It is beleived an entity can maniuplate a mini-mag light through its own energy or heat allowing it to turn the light on and off, using yes and no questions we can also establish a dialog with a willing entity.

This is what we found:

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Reply Mack
2:07 AM on March 28, 2013 
Just few corrections for this site. James and Theresa purchased the Mt. Madonna Inn in 1946, not before. Their partner was Joseph (Joe) Sacco, who was Teresa's brother. Joe was the main cook for many years. My dad fronted his brother Joe's share of the down payment, which was 50%.

Though the little stream that ran down the north side of Mt Madonna had sweet clear clean water, the water for years at the Mt. Madonna Inn was a serious problem. The water was full of iron. The Beadnells finally solved the problem with a new water filter system, probably at the same time that they enlarged the restaurant to its present size.

Correction: According to a book about Henry Miller...his daughter, Sarah, was killed near their Bloomfield Field Road
home between Gilroy and Hollister, not riding a horse on the mountain. There house in the Mt Madonna Park was a summer home. It was where they did a great deal of entertaining.

My brothers and I spend many nights at the Beadnells home and in the cabin. They had an old upright piano in the little cabin which I loved playing when our family went to visit. They always served good quality food. In the forties, large groups of motorcyclers would gather on the mouton.

The horse's stables formed a large u-shaped structure with approximately stalls for 24 horse or more. The doors were all double-door. The main house below the stables also had a Dutch doors on each side of the chimney.

Nothing was spookier at the top of Mt. Madonna Inn than when the fog rolled in. We used to stand in the corral area and yell down the mountain in a southwesterly direction towards a grove of trees....a clear echo would answer us back. I remember seeing wild pigs in this grove of trees.

About a year ago, who ever is responsible for the property, put a new roof on the facility. Good move, since the old roof was almost totally degraded.
Reply Mary Ann
9:35 PM on November 5, 2013 
From what I have been told, Sarah Miller was buried in the family plot that is at the end of Santa Theresa Blvd past Gavilan College. You can still see the iron fence that surrounded the family plot. And according to a book I read on Henry Miller she was killed on the road while riding her horse back to the Bloomfield Ranch home.
Mack, I wonder if your family knew my family. My dad was Richard Kannely and he spent a lot of time up at Mt. Madonna Inn. He used to like to ride his motorcycle up there after work and drink a few beers with the Beadnells.
Reply Maryanne Porter
11:48 PM on November 5, 2013 
Actually Sarah Alice Miller, is in fact buried in Colma California at a family plot, her remains were removed from the Bloomfield Ranch before the property was sold and taken to San Francisco. S.C.G.H was able to confirm her where abouts and visited the Henry Miller family plot. According to a news paper article Sarah Alice was killed when her horse was spooked and fell on top of her, immediately after the weight of the horse was removed from her little body she died where she lay from internal injuries. There are a couple contradicting stories and books available to the public- most of our research is via old news articles as well as speaking with the former owner of Mt. Madonna Inn in person, and traveling to Colma, to research the cemeteries. A fun adventure, thank you for all of your input!