Along White Rock Road – Part 4, Mud Springs (El Dorado) to Placerville

Diamond Springs 1856

Diamond Springs 1856

At the eastern end of the town of Mud Springs a toll road owned by Michael O’Keefe left the main road and proceeded north towards Placerville. This road was probably along a portion of Forni Road, which at one time was part of the state highway system, before being replaced by the extension of Mother Lode Drive.

The only roadhouse on the toll road was one owned by William Madison Tanner. It was located about three miles north of Mud Springs and two miles west of Placerville. Some years later, a slaughterhouse was constructed on that site.

Eastward from Mud Springs along the main road (Pleasant Valley Road), about half way to Diamond Springs, was “Doc” Bradford Hammill’s (B. Hammel?) roadhouse and stage station. There is little information about this stop, other that it and its supporting barns were located on the south side of the road and were operated by Hammill in 1869. It then passed into the hands of a William Voss (“Van Voss”?).

Another mile to the east the road enters the mining town of Diamond Springs.

Known by this name because of the crystal clear springs that made it a favorite camping place for immigrants (some contend the clear quartz crystals found in the area were the source for the name), Diamond Spring (later Diamond Springs), was a major stop along the immigrant trail.

Early on gold was discovered in Diamond Springs and in a short time buildings of all kinds sprung up. The first was a log cabin built in 1849, followed the next year by the first roadhouse, which was built by Andrew Carbly Bloom.

In 1855 he sold this hotel and bakery and, like many of the early immigrants, simply moved on. The place was operated by different people until it and most of the town were destroyed by what became known as the Great Fire of 1856. Luckily, one roadhouse survived the fire, the California House.

The California House, the second hotel in Diamond Springs, has a confusing beginning, being attributed to two different men.

One version is that it was built in 1851 by John Reed out of lumber that came by ship around Cape Horn. Others say that it was built by Louis Lepetit, a gentleman who owned the Baltic mill and other buildings, and went on to run the roadhouse at Hangtown Crossing (Mills Station) in Sacramento County.

At the time of the great fire, it was in the ownership of Alexander Siesbuttel, and was know as Siesbuttel’s. A decade later it passed into the hands of John Frederick David Ilsohn and, even though it burned down and was rebuilt in 1907, his family continued to run it under the name of Ilsohn’s Hotel until 1925. From that year until it burned down for the last time in 1939, it was owned and managed by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Ball.

The Howard House, which was also known as Titus’ Hotel, stood on the north side of the road in the center of town. In November of 1852, it was upgraded by Titus and Hughes (perhaps Dr. Isaac Sutthen Titus and William Carson Hughes), who then sold it to Vining Barker and John S. Ellis.

It was at 9 o’clock on the morning of August 5, 1856, that the Great Fire of that year broke out in the Howard House. Fanned by strong breezes, it rapidly spread outward, sweeping everything before it.

The third suspicious fire within a month (the other two destroying much of Placerville and Georgetown) it caused a million and half 1856 dollars in damage.

On the former site of the Howard House, Michael Rickert built a small boarding house, which was soon sold to John Bartholo Koch. Koch also acquired a large amount of land in the area on which he planted 17,000 grape vines and opened a winery.

Soon he rebuilt the hotel, making it into a two and a half story structure, with a 20,000 gallon wine and brandy cellar. In 1878 it was renamed the Diamond Hotel and run by Koch and his descendants until at least 1884. It was said to be the best stopping place on the road between Folsom and Placerville.

Around 1924 (1916 in some reports), a new Diamond Hotel, managed by Antone Meyer, was built across the street, on the south side of the road. Carl Meyer was still operating it in 1937. This is the present Diamond Springs Hotel.

Another early hotel that burned in 1856 was the Crescent City Hotel, built on the south side of the road. It was replaced by the Golden West Hotel, which was destroyed by fire on July 19, 1937. For years the stone walls and doorway, which had a keystone carved with the date 1856, stood as a reminder of the past. The Firehouse Café now stands on this site.

Just east of the town was the Sacramento Hotel, run by a Frenchman named John Schneider, Sr. Because of the number of French settlers nearby, the area to the east of this hotel was often referred to as “Pollywog Settlement”.

At this point, the road to Placerville turns north, away from the Carson route (Pleasant Valley Road).

At the crossing of Weber Creek (often spelled Webber on old maps) was Smith Morrill’s bridge tollhouse. One mile further, the road reached Coon Hollow, one of the richest mining camps around.

At Coon Hollow stood the Champion Hotel, another mystery with little history.

From Coon Hollow, the road drops sharply into the ravine of Hangtown Creek, and reaches the city of Placerville.

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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