Spanish Flat was once one of the most important mining towns in what was known both as the Kelsey Township and the Kelsey Mining District. It was located on the Placerville to Georgetown stage road (now Highway 193), about six miles south of Georgetown, north of Kelsey, and near another early mining town known as American Flat.
Its name is derived from the fact that it was first settled by Spaniards, which is the term loosely applied to the Mexican citizens who were in California when it was ceded to the United States (Californios) and also those miners that came from almost any of the countries in Central and South America.
The name of this town is known world-wide because of a single daguerreotype (photograph) entitled, “Miners at Spanish Flat, El Dorado County”, that appears in nearly every book about the Gold Rush. Attributed to an early photographer name Joseph Blaney Starkweather, the often printed photo shows four miners, two of whom are black, working together in what appears to be conditions of equality. The original of this photo is kept at the California State Library and was prominently on display at the Oakland Museum’s Sesquicentennial of the Gold Rush exhibition a few years ago. It is believed to have been taken in 1852.
The richest early diggings around Spanish Flat were close to the town, at a claim first worked by the “Spanish” miners. Later this claim was known as the “Frazier Claim” or “Deep Hole”, and was worked by a group known as M. S. Frazier & Co., that consisted of John Kennedy, George Hunsucker, Amos Blundell and John Hunsucker.
Together, this group was able to remove over $100,000 of gold, which is a large amount, since at the time gold was valued at around $16 an ounce.
In 1849 a man from Missouri named Frank Johnson opened Spanish Flat’s first store in a hastily constructed log cabin. Soon, he would add on to the store and open the town’s first saloon.
Mr. and Mrs. Parker ( Mrs. Parker being the first white woman to arrive in town) built the first hotel of any size, which was run by Parker and Perrins.
After a few years the town had grown substantially, adding two or three bakeries, two blacksmith shops (one owned by a Mr. Worthen), a butcher shop, a gambling establishment (known as the Round Tent), which was kept by Alec Alexandria, and a resident town physician named Dr. E. M. Alderman.
The first lodge was established in 1854 by the order of the Sons of Temperance. This was followed by the Masons and, later, the Morning Light Lodge, No. 89, I.O.O.F.
Miss Sarah Tully is reported to have been the first school teacher in Spanish Flat, although there is no found record of Spanish Flat even having a school. There was one located a very short distance away in Dry Creek Diggings, appropriately called the Dry Creek School, which may be where she taught. Little more is know about the Dry Creek School, other than it was only active from 1862 to 1864.
On November 21, 1853, a Post Office was established in Spanish Flat with James Muricey serving as the first postmaster. This Post Office would close on January 22, 1872, then reopen on May 31, 1888 for only a short period, close on October 30 of the same year and then move to Kelsey.
Regular freight and passenger service to and from Spanish Flat started in the spring of 1858, when Theodore F. Tracy of Placerville and J. J. Spear, Jr., of Georgetown, established the Tracy & Spears Express, which served Placerville, Kelsey, Spanish Flat and Georgetown. In Placerville it connected with Wells, Fargo & Co.’s express, which served Sacramento and points west, and Mr. Tracy’s other express line that served Genoa, Nevada, which is in the Carson Valley.
At Georgetown, the Tracy & Spears Express connected with the Great Pioneer Express that served places with wonderful names like Volcanoville, Last Chance, Ground Hog’s Glory, Mount Gregory, Hell’s Delight and Bogus Thunder.
About a mile east of Spanish Flat is located one of the more famous underground gold mines in El Dorado County, the Alhambra.
This mine was first worked in 1883, when a pocket at the 29 foot level yielded nearly $28,000. By 1890, the mine was full of activity and a five stamp mill had been installed, noisily hammering the gold from its encasing quartz.
Apparently the mine stopped producing and became idle until 1934 when Jensen and Schneider took over the operation of the mine. Almost immediately they deepened the mine and found two high-grade pockets of gold at the 90 foot level, profiting some $20,000 for their venture. Soon thereafter, the Alhambra-Shumway Mining Company was formed and the mine was significantly deepened.
In 1939, a huge pocket of high-grade ore was found between the 225 and 275 foot levels that yielded over a half a million dollars in gold. Word of this discovery quickly spread, resulting is numerous newspaper and magazine articles, world-wide.
Very active through the late part of the 19th century, Spanish Flat soon faded from being the large mining town that brought it fame, to become, like many of these early towns, the quiet, rural community that it is today.
Spanish Flat is one of the communities discussed in depth in Phyllis Gernes’ book, “Hidden in the Chaparral.” Copies of this book are available at several of the El Dorado County libraries and local bookstores.
Other sources for this story include: “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976”, researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “History of California”, by Theodore Hittell (1897); “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); “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); and the wonderful people at the reference desk of the El Dorado County Main Library.