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Hills Pride Inn graces new phone directory cover

The Hills Pride Inn, built by the Terragno family in 1915, has been selected as the 2015 Sierra Telephone phone directory cover. Distribution of the more than 25,000 copies of the 544-page phone directory will begin soon to residents of both Eastern Madera and Mariposa counties.

“With its 100th birthday coming up, this inn holding a special place in Harry Baker’s heart, and his having known the family forever, it seemed the perfect choice,” Debbie Peters, special project manager for Sierra Tel said.

When he heard the news, the bar’s owner Robert Casaurang, and Sierra Tel employee working in purchasing and warehousing, was surprised. Once he got used to the idea, “It put a big smile on my face, and maybe just a few tears in my eyes,” he said.

In April 1915, Hills Pride Inn was the 13th establishment to receive a second-class liquor license from Madera County; a few months later, Joseph Terragno applied for a pool-license, offering the town’s first pool hall; in 1933, he was licensed to sell merchandise, and 10 years later, he was licensed to house coin-operated amusement devices on the premises.

Everything in the bar is not only original, but is connected to the community somehow. Initially serving stone cutters and quarry workers, it is still heated today by the woodstove that warmed the old Knowles Boarding Home near the turn of the 20th century. The road where the saloon sits (Road 606) was once a railroad track for the quarry.

In its heyday, Knowles had a population of 6,000-7,000 and everything was owned by the quarries. Most of the town worked for the five larger quarries (500 employees at each), and for several smaller ones. Now, Knowles has a population of 60, and the sole quarry - Raymond Granite - employes 50, relying more on automation than manpower. The only non-residential buildings remaining in Knowles today are Hills Pride, the church and the quarry.

In 1980 Casaurang became the bar’s owner, thanks to Helen, daughter of the Terragnos.

“She was like a second mother to me,” Casaurang, who grew up in Knowles, said. “She got sick and called me one day, telling me to come home to take care of her and the bar.”

At the time, Casaurang was working in the valley. He returned to Knowles that very weekend to see for himself what was going on.

“I saw that Helen wasn’t getting the care she needed and the bar wasn’t getting the care it needed,” Casaurang continued, “so I quit my job in 1979. Helen died in 1980. She had no children, and willed the bar to me.”

Casaurang plans on keeping the establishment in the family. Even though he has no children, his three nieces are very involved. He plans on retiring this February to devote his full-time attention to the bar, which is open 365 days a year (Monday - Thursday, 1-8 p.m.; Friday, 1:30 p.m. until the last patron leaves; and Saturday and Sunday, noon and closing, again, when the last patron leaves).

“I always tell everyone who visits the saloon,” Casaurang said, “that they can go to the quarry to order their tombstone, stop by the church to pray for their souls, and then come to the bar .. have a few drinks and forget about what they’ve done.”

Hills Pride Inn was designated a local historical site Jan. 28, 2014.

The first directory, distributed in the early 1900s, was a 5 1/2 X 13 1/2 single sheet of paper that listed 27 phone numbers — 24 two-digit numbers and three three-digit numbers. Additional copies of the 2015 directory can be picked up at an area office Feb. 1. For those wishing to recycle their old phone book, collection tubs will be set up at each office beginning April.

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