Along White Rock Road – Part 1, White Rock to Clarksville

Courtesy of Steve Crandell, Fine Art, Placerville, CA

Courtesy of Steve Crandell, Fine Art, Placerville, CA

The major immigrant trail through El Dorado County was known by many names. Some called it the Carson – Immigrant Trail, some the Overland Trail, some the Sacramento – Washoe Road and some White Rock Road.

Because hundreds of thousands of immigrants followed this road west and later the long lines of freight traffic followed it east, there became established on it numerous stops and inns to serve these travelers.

We will look at at this road in a west to east direction, starting just west of the El Dorado County line and ending in Placerville. At Placerville, we continue our journey over the summit of the Sierra Nevada, through the American River Canyon, along what is now known as Highway 50.

The White Rock Springs Ranch Hotel, which was located about a mile and a quarter to the west of the El Dorado County line, derived its name from both a natural spring on the south side of the road and an isolated outcropping of white “bull quartz” on the north side of the road.

The ranch and the hotel were purchased by William Chapman in the fall of 1850 and later, sometime after 1880, by Samuel (Sophary?) Euer. Although the hotel started as not much more than a tent in the early days of the Gold Rush, it soon grew into a large hotel and tavern, important enough to give the road its name.

Just west of the County was the Aldridge Ravine House, on the south side of the road across from a grove of cottonwoods. Little is known about this station along the road other than about 1857 the proprietor was a James Douglas.

About a half mile later, on the south side of the road and just inside El Dorado County was the Bar-E Ranch which was also known as the Dennis Philip Bence property.

It was acquired by Samuel Euer in 1864, a number of years before he purchased the White Rock Springs Ranch House. One hundred and twenty years later, much of the Bar E Ranch – by then known as the Euer Ranch – would become the El Dorado Hills Business Park.

A short distance further along the road is the Carson River House, located on the north side of the road on the bank of Carson Creek, a tributary of the Cosumnes River. Little more is known about this stop other than the name of an early proprietor being Paris.

At this point the public road takes a turn to the north and east, more in line with today’s Highway 50. Continuing straight ahead would put a traveler on James Tong’s Toll Road, which had a toll station in Clarksville.

This and a dozen or more toll roads paralleled the public road through El Dorado County, and, although generally longer than the public road, were of more gentle in grade and better maintained. All of the privately owned toll roads would become public roads in 1889.

About a mile further north and east on the public road was one of the oldest and most famous stops on this route, the Mormon Tavern, which was discussed in detail with the town of El Dorado Hills.

Believed to have been started as an inn in 1848 or 1849 by a Mormon named Morgan, although another Mormon, A. Lathrop, is running it in 1850. Within a few years it was sold and expanded by new owners, John Beaver and Franklin F. Winchell.

In 1860 it became a remount station of the Central Overland Pony Express and on April 4, 1860, pony rider Sam (Bill) Hamilton changed horses here on the first eastbound trip. Just to the south of Highway 50, a short distance east of the El Dorado Hills Blvd. – Latrobe Road exit is a historical monument (No. 699) placed by the State of California. The actual site of the tavern is now under the freeway.

From here the road passed through Clarksville, a place named after two early ranchers, Harry Clark and his brother. Mrs. Margaret Tong’s Railroad House was located here, built in hopes that the Placerville & Sacramento Railroad would pass nearby. However, the railroad route passed south of here, creating the town of Latrobe, before continuing to Shingle Springs and, ultimately, Placerville.

Only a half-mile from the Mormon Tavern, the Railroad House was equally crowded with travelers and teamsters. Its seventy foot dining room was always busy, its bar crowded and its dance hall filled in the evenings. It too had an interesting past, when under the early ownership of the Clark brothers.

A small time highwayman, Mickey Free, lived here and is said to have accosted travelers around the junction of the Folsom – Placerville road and the road to Coloma, a few miles north of the Railroad House. One evening in July of 1854, he attempted to steal horses from some travellers staying at the Railroad House. This time he was chased off by the landlord but, his crime spree did not stop, since only a little over a year later, he was caught and hanged for the murder of a Coloma resident named Howe.

He is reported to have entertained himself and the observers by eating peanuts and dancing a jig on the trap door of the scaffold while waiting for it to drop.

The Railroad House was eventually destroyed by fire and in later years a service station was built on the site.

Clarksville would have a post office from July 14, 1855 until August 30, 1924 and again from February 24, 1927 until May 31, 1934, when it was moved to Folsom. David Cummings was the first postmaster.

Note: A major source for this article is a book called “The Early Inns of California 1844-1869,” by Ralph Herbert Cross. Copies can be found in the rare book section of the El Dorado County main library.

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