Community Profiles – High Road to Georgetown

Remains of Georgetown Junction - 1940s

Remains of Georgetown Junction – 1940s

Most people assume that all the early miners that worked the mines around Georgetown arrived there by first passing through one of the other mining areas, such as Coloma or Hangtown (Placerville). This is generally true, since a majority of the very early Argonauts came by ship to San Francisco and headed directly up the Sacramento River to Sutter’s Fort at New Helvetica (Sacramento) and then by land to one of the two most well known mining camps. However, there were also many early pioneers had crossed the continent by wagon or on foot and who had left the well traveled westward trail high in the mountains and headed over a lesser known trail through small settlements,directly to Georgetown and its surroundings.

There are numerous journals written by these pioneers who traveled to directly Georgetown over what were not much more than a foot trail in the beginning days of California’s Gold Rush. With a few exceptions, they all speak of following a trail up into the Tahoe Basin and then crossing the summit of the Sierra Nevada at Johnson’s Pass, to the south of the present Highway 50 crossing at Echo Summit. From there they followed what was known as Johnson’s Cutoff to a point a short distance west of today’s Strawberry – a place appropriately known as Georgetown Junction. There, they would leave the well travelled trail and strike out to the north, up the mountainside to what is now known as Peavine Ridge. At that point, if they wished, they could still follow the ridge and reach Placerville (then known as Hangtown) by way of any number of routes. But, as many did, they could continue along the Georgetown road, through Onion (Union) Valley to the town of Georgetown.

Why, many ask, did early gold seekers want to go to Georgetown with all the stories of mountains of gold in and around Placerville and Coloma that had reached the immigrants headed west. Well, in reading these early journals we find that some came just because they had extraordinary pioneering spirits and others because enterprising land owners and merchants from the Georgetown area met them on the trail and offered to guide them to their town, knowing that they would profit from new residents.

The miners who decided to take the trail to Georgetown found there were not as many locations along it where they could replenish their meager supplies. They speak of buying pork, sugar and flour along the trail – paying a dollar a pound or more for each. However, they do not mention if these supplies were purchased from a merchant or other travelers, which was often the case. Although in their journals the first few days of travel from Peavine Ridge towards Georgetown are always spoken about in glowing terms, pointing out the huge trees, the beautiful, often snow capped mountains and the many cold, refreshing springs, there is no real reference to signs of human habitation.

The trail they followed would head generally northwest until connecting with what is now roughly Wentworth Springs Road around Eleven Pines (Eleven Pines is near where the road across the Rubicon, or South Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River, goes to French Meadow). From there it would turn west, generally following Wentworth Springs Road.

It would be at a spot about a days travel from Georgetown that their journal entries would mention coming upon the first permanent, inhabited location along the trail.
Known as Works Station, Works Ranch or Twelve Mile House. Being approximately twelve miles east of Georgetown, it was not much more than a simple log and canvas building, but it meant civilization to these men who often reported more bears than people along the trail. Besides, here they could purchase badly needed supplies, often trading what ever they had for them, having usually run out of money many miles before.

If one looks at today’s maps of El Dorado County, there is still a town near this location, a town known as Quintette (see: Small Towns East of Georgetown). Are Quintette and Works Station one in the same? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Unfortunately, one finds little to prove this often mentioned theory on way or another.

Quintette would become a large enough town in the early 1900’s to warrant a Post Office, but only for nine years when it was closed and moved four miles west to Virner, a town now known as Camp Virner. Although it is only eight miles from Georgetown, some historians contend that Virner, not Quintette is the former location of Works Station.

The area between Works Station and Georgetown was easily covered in one day, so the early miners, in the excitement of reaching their goal, wrote little about this part of their trip. Who knows, perhaps they went directly to Georgetown or maybe stopped for awhile along the way to try their luck at one of the other mining communities, they would pass by, such as Volcanoville, Mameluke Hill or Bottle Hill.

Sources for this story include: “History of California”, by Theodore Hittell (1897); “California Gold Camps”, by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names”, by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976”, researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “I Remember…, Stories and pictures of El Dorado County pioneer families”, researched and written by Betty Yohalem (1977); “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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