Monthly Archives: January 2013

Community Profiles – Pilot Hill

Pilot Hill Postmark - 1855

Pilot Hill Postmark – 1855

Originally called Centerville, the name of this early Gold Rush town was officially changed to Pilot Hill on April 18,1854, when the post office was established with Silas Hayes as its postmaster.

There were three nearby villages: Pilot Hill, a town named Pittsfield that had been started in the Spring of 1851 by some immigrants from Pittsfield, Illinois and Centerville, all collectively known as Centerville. But in time, probably because of the post office designation, the other names would disappear and the whole area would ultimately become known as Pilot Hill.

The town of Pilot Hill was originally located further north of its present location on Highway 49, closer to the base of Pilot Hill, the namesake for the town.

A miner from New York named John Woods was one of the first to arrive in the area some time in the fall of 1849. He had been mining at Salmon Falls before arriving here and he was soon followed by other miners and several businessmen, including a James H. Rose, who opened the first store in a rapidly constructed log cabin.

The miners located very rich deposits of placer gold, but there was neither nearby water available to wash the gravel nor nearby creeks from which they could easily divert water to this location. Thus, serious mining had to be delayed until the winter rains came.

When the rain finally arrived, miners that had been working both south and north, along the forks of the American River moved to the Pilot Hill area to mine and business boomed.

Community Profiles – Omo Ranch

Some believe that Omo Ranch is named after a Miwok Indian village that had been located on this site. The name of the village was Omo, which some anthropologists think may have been an Indian word meaning “water.” Others disagree with this – although they acknowledge the existence of the Indian Village – pointing out that Omo could have easily been someone’s name or even an old cattle brand. Omo, even others are quick to point out, is the Latin root for the word “man.”

Envelope with two cancellations, 26 years apart. Unknown reason.

Envelope with two cancellations, 26 years apart. Unknown reason.

No matter its source, Omo Ranch is the name of this once fairly large logging, agricultural and mining community that is located in the southern part of El Dorado County, to the east of Mt. Aukum and Fair Play.

The community of Omo Ranch came about in the 1880s, mostly as a result of the growing need for lumber and the availability of water power at this site, which is adjacent to Perry Creek. However, that is not to say that mining was not an important part of its economy.

In 1898 it was reported that there were four mines and stamp mills operating near Omo Ranch: the Crystal, Independence, Polk and Parker, and Stillwagon. Early mining records also show that the Oak Mine was active in 1894, the Omo in 1896 and the Potosi in 1908.

The reports of the California Mining Bureau list the two last mines, the Omo and Potosi, to be operating as late as 1938.

In addition to logging and mining, farming and ranching were also important in the Omo Ranch area. Grain, hay, various fruits and vegetables and cattle were raised, supplying both the local and Sacramento Valley markets.

Agriculture continues to be important to the area as there are still active walnut and fruit orchards and a continuously increasing acreage devoted to vineyards.

Omo Ranch was commissioned with a Post Office in 1888, when the Mendon (Brownsville) Post Office was closed and moved back to Indian Diggings. William Frey was named the first postmaster for the town. The Post Office was later combined with an assay office and stage stop in a building built by George Perry (Perry Creek namesake?)

Community Profiles – Newtown

Newtown School - 1880s

Newtown School – 1880s

Although once a thriving mining community to the southeast of Placerville, time has reduced Newtown to just a few buildings and a host of memories.

The history of Newtown goes back to the early days of the gold rush when a party of Mormons started for Salt Lake. Bringing along a large number of horses and cattle, they left Old Dry Diggings (Placerville) and followed a trail along the ridge between Weber Creek and the Cosumnes River until they came to a valley about two miles in length and one mile wide. They called the place Pleasant Valley, a name that remains to this day.

At the north end of the valley part of the group built a corral for their stock, while several others went even further north, over a low ridge to the South Fork of Weber Creek, where they built a second corral.

The grass was good in the valley so they decided to allow the animals to fatten up for the long trip to Salt Lake. They had also found some gold in a ravine near the creek, enough to make the stop worthwhile.

After about three weeks, they gathered the animals and continued their trip over the mountains, through the Carson Valley and on to Salt Lake.

In early 1849, five of these men returned to what was now known as Hangtown, where one of them mentioned their find to a friend named O. Russell. Provided with landmarks from which he could find the location, Russell and six others secretly left town in the middle of night.

They easily found the location since the Mormons had left a ditch some three-hundred feet in length, four feet wide and about two feet deep.

They soon determined that a man, using a pan, could probably recover about $8 a day in gold (about a half ounce) from the ground and set to work. Three days later they discovered that their “secret” was out as a party of thirty more miners arrived by following their trail.

After a day or more of prospecting, both groups came to the conclusion that they had left better diggings than this and headed back to town, abandoning the site.

Around May of the same year, some of the party procured some pack animals and, this time with more equipment and supplies, headed back to try again. Mining proceeded quietly until July of 1849, when the miners were surprised by the first of the groups of fortune seekers, arriving in California by following the Carson and Mormon trails over the mountains.

In a short time, hundreds of gold seekers arrived, many stopping to prospect. Some just dug around for a while, but others built log cabins and stayed.

Community Profiles – Negro Hill

Negro Hill Cemetery before being flooded by Folsom Lake - 1950s

Negro Hill Cemetery graves marked for removal before being moved flooded by Folsom Lake – 1950s

Negro Hill, a town on the South Fork of the American River about one-tenth of a mile east of the Sacramento County line, is just one of many early California mining camps named for the miners of African-American descent.

There are two towns by this name in El Dorado County, this one and another three miles northeast of Placerville, along with one each in Tuolumne, Calaveras and Placer counties.

There are also a number of towns in the Mother Lode with names like Negro Bar, Negro Gulch, Negro Flat, Negro Slide and Negro Bluff. According to Gudde’s “California Gold Camps” the presence of only one “blackamoor” in a camp was a good enough reason enough to give it this name.

The first mining done in the area of Negro Hill was by a company of Mormons in 1848. They worked on the east side of the hill, near the American River. Later in the same year, a group of Spaniards started mining on the south side of the hill in a place that would be called Spanish Ravine.

In the fall of 1849, August B. Newhall, from Lynn, MA, an African-American by the name of Kelsey, a Methodist preacher and others, started working a deep sand bank at the mouth of Spanish Ravine. The gravel in this area, located between the river and Negro Hill and near what would be called Little Negro Hill, yielded $300 dollars or more per day to the company of five men.

The deposits of gold on Little Negro Hill itself were discovered in the fall of 1849 by Cornelius Van Noy, George Denett, Thomas Burns, Platt Southard, M. Fogety, John Farley and John Donelly. They carried the dirt to the river and washed it in a “long tom” (a long sluice box) earning two or three ounces of gold each per day. Soon, three men, Messrs. Vosey, Long and French started a store and boarding house known as the Civil Usage House at this location. Shortly thereafter, a Mr. Fish built another store nearby and did a good business up until 1852.