Community Profiles – Cameron Park

engesser house smUntil the late 1950s the area just west of Shingle Springs, now known as Cameron Park, remained relatively undeveloped, the land being primarily used for the raising of livestock. However, that did not mean that this area had not played a important part in the early history of El Dorado County. In fact, the opposite it true.

Soon after the discovery of gold in Coloma, many prospectors came to this area hoping to strike it rich in the many small streams and ravines. These Argonauts were soon followed by merchants and other businessmen, along with farmers and cattlemen who would settle in this area.

The road which we know today as Green Valley Road rapidly became the major route between the steamboat docks in Sacramento and the mines in and near Coloma, while what is now generally the route of Highway 50, became the main route between Sacramento, Placerville, Diamond Springs and the immigrant trails.

It was on Green Valley Road, that Steven and William Elliot built the Green Valley Ranch House in 1850. Like many large “gold rush” houses, the lumber for this house was shipped “around the horn” from the East Coast of the United States. A few years later, in 1858, Frederick Engesser, who was in the hauling business, purchased the home in which was also housed the local post office (this building was torn down in the 1970s). In the early 1860s the short-lived Pony Express carried the mail along this route part of the time, stopping just to the west at the Pleasant Grove House to change horses. Some historians believe that this “Green Valley Road” route connected to the “Highway 50 route” along an alignment approximating Cameron Park Drive.

In 1852 a Scotsman named James Skinner arrived in California to search for gold. A few years later he purchased property in the Cameron Park area and established a vineyard and winery. Reportedly, he produced about 15,000 gallons of wine and vinegar at his winery, which is located on the eastern side of Cameron Park Drive, both north and south of Green Valley Road.

In 1865 the tracks of the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad reached the nearby town of Shingle Springs, bringing in hundreds of tons of freight daily, most of which was loaded onto wagons to be drawn by huge teams up what is now approximately the alignment of Highway 50, over the Sierra Nevada to the silver mines of the Comstock, near Virginia City. In 1888, this railroad, by then part of the huge Southern Pacific conglomerate, would arrive in Placerville, ultimately the end of the line, although there are maps showing it reaching Lake Tahoe by way of a tunnel through the Sierra Nevada. El Dorado County still has a toll tunnel authority on the books.

With the construction of the transcontinental railroad miles to the north, in the late 1860s, two things occurred that effected this area. One, the freight traffic on the roads dropped to a trickle and, two, the railroad, as a part of the agreement to build the transcontinental line, acquired from the federal government odd sections of land 10 miles on each side of the tracks, including portions of the Cameron Park area.

By the end of the 19th century, the mines had played out, the population of the area had dropped substantially and there was little traffic along Green Valley Road or even what would become Highway 50. Much of the land was now in control of just a few owners, including Skinner, Meder, Wise, Engesser, Rust, Morrison and the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In the late 1950s Robert L. Cameron acquired several blocks of the property and, by 1961, three units of small lots had been developed north of Highway 50 and a unit of 5-acre parcels to the south of the highway. A few years later the golf course had been completed, followed by the airport and, to the south, the Red Coach Inn (this would become Sam’s Town, which was torn down and replaced by Food 4 Less).

The Arnold Palmer Golf Academy was developed at the northeast corner of Highway 50 and Cameron Park Drive. The Palmer House was built as a dormitory for the students and the building that houses the restaurant “Hemalayas” was the pro shop. After years of operation, the academy closed due to financial problems and on the site of the golf course, the Goldorado Shopping Center was later constructed.

In conjunction with the Cameron Park Airport, a unique subdivision was developed on land that had once been James Skinner’s vineyard. Air Park Estates, with its extra wide streets, underground utilities, and shortened street signs was one of the first residential-aviation integrated subdivisions in California, allowing for joint use of the streets by private aircraft and vehicles and the building of private hangers on residential lots. Its success made it the model for other similar developments.

During the late 1960s, development in Cameron Park slowed due to declining economic conditions in the Sacramento area, including a major layoff at Aerojet. When the economy began to turn around, Dorado Estates developed a master plan for Cameron Park which, in 1981 became integrated into the Cameron Park Area Plan and later, into the County’s General Plans.

A majority of the planned units of Cameron Park have been developed, although not all lots have been built upon. As intended, it is a community of widely mixed uses, providing many economic levels of housing, major and minor shopping centers and numerous recreation areas for its residents.

Sources for this story include: “History of California,” by Theodore Hittell (1897); “History of California,” by H.H. Bancroft (1886); “California Gold Camps,” by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names,” by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “Mother Lode of Learning – One Room Schools of El Dorado County,” by Retired Teachers Association of El Dorado County (1990); “I Remember, Stories and pictures of El Dorado County pioneer families,” researched and written by Betty Yohalem (1977); “Mines and Mineral Resources of El Dorado County, California,” California Division of Mines (1956); “History of El Dorado County,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the archives of the Mountain Democrat (1854-Present); and the wonderful people at the reference desk of the El Dorado County Main Library.

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