Monthly Archives: January 2014

Post Offices of El Dorado County, Part 3 – “B” and “C”

Bijou Postmark. Last Day.

Bijou Postmark. Last Day.

In El Dorado County there were, at one time or another, over 100 post offices with some 120 different names. Some had a short life and some apparently never even existed at all, although history books make reference to them. The latter were appropriately called phantom post offices. Many others, once established, continue to operate until this day.

BIJOU: This early post office was established at this town on the south end of Lake Tahoe on September 11, 1888, when it was moved here from Rowland, about one and one-half miles to the west. The Rowland Post Office had been established on June 26, 1874, and was named for Bernard F. Rowland who developed this vacation and recreation resort and it’s first postmaster was Sophonia Rowland.

Bijou was named for the French word for “jewel” and was originally a lumber center, before becoming a vacation resort. The Bijou Post Office was discontinued on March 24, 1967, when mail service was taken over by South Lake Tahoe Post Office. Bijou’s first postmaster was Anthony W. Ransey.

Bottle Hill 1857

Bottle Hill 1857

BOTTLE HILL: There are at least three stories behind why this mining camp near Georgetown, where a post office was established on May 28, 1855, was named Bottle Hill or Bottle Hill Diggings.

The first story contends that some miners paused here in 1849 while searching for gold and saw a bottle under a bush. Picking it up, they found it was full of whiskey, which they soon consumed. Believing it was an omen, they went to mining on the hill, starting this camp four miles north of Georgetown.

The second story mentions some miners coming across a pile of bottles at this location.

The third, and most likely story, says that the town was named after a nearby bottle shaped hill in the Hornblende Mountains.

The Bottle Hill Post Office, where Samuel M. Jamison had been the first postmaster, was discontinued on August 17, 1859 and moved to Georgetown.

CaminoCAMINO: The Camino Post Office, most likely named for the Spanish word for road, was established on June 22, 1904.

The community, seven miles to the east of Placerville, was at one time was known as Seven Mile House, although there was no post office by that name.

The Camino Post Office, which is still in operation, is listed as being four miles east of Smith’s Flat and two miles west of Fyffe (believed to be Sportsman’s Hall, although the distances are incorrect). The first postmaster for Camino was Margaret S. Hoff.

CAMP RICHARDSON: This summer or seasonal post office, located at the south end of Lake Tahoe, was named after the first postmaster, Alonzo L. Richardson and has a confusing history involving other post offices and name changes.

Originally, there was a post office called Lake Valley. It was officially established on September 17, 1861. However, the August 2, 1858 issue of the Sacramento Union reports a Lake Valley Post Office with Martin Smith serving as postmaster. It should be noted that this same issue of the Union listed another Tahoe basin post office, Job’s Store, with Mosses Job as postmaster and there is no official record of such a post office ever existing.

The “official” Lake Valley Post Office, which was at the location of the Pioneer Stage Line Company station known as “Yank’s Station”, was discontinued on December 26, 1863 when its name was changed to Taho, a corruption of the Washoe Indian word “tahooee” meaning “much water”, with Underhill Van Wagner as its first postmaster.

The Taho Post Office was discontinued on December 20, 1870 when its name was changed to Tallac, an Indian word meaning “large mountain”, and Ephraim “Yank” Clement designated as the postmaster. A few months later, on February 15, 1871, the name of the post office was changed back to Lake Valley.

A Tallac Post Office was reestablished, apparently at a different location, on March 12, 1875 and on November 13, 1883, moved one-half mile to the east. On March 10, 1888 the post office was moved back again, one-half mile to the west. Service at the Tallac Post Office ended on June 16, 1927 when its name was changed to Camp Richardson.

The Camp Richardson Post Office was discontinued on October 9, 1964. It was reestablished as an Independent Rural Station of Tahoe Valley on June 1, 1965 and became a Rural Branch of South Lake Tahoe on March 24, 1967. It was discontinued on January 15, 1973.

Sources for this story include, “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976”, researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “The Gold Rush Mail Agents to California and Their Postal Markings”, by Theron Wierenga” (1987); “California Town Postmarks, 1849-1935”, by John H. Williams (1997); “Short Stories Regarding The History of South El Dorado County”, by D. A. Wright (undated); the “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); and the archives of the Mountain Democrat, Empire County Argus and Placer Times (on microfilm at the El Dorado County Main Library).

Post Offices of El Dorado County, Part 2 – Starting with “A”

Al Tahoe Postmark

Al Tahoe Postmark

In El Dorado County alone there were, at one time or another, over 100 post offices with some 120 different names ranging through the alphabet from Alabaster to Zodok. Some had a very short life and some, like Coloma, the first post office in El Dorado County, continue to this day. Then there are a few, like Job’s Store, Lake Bigler and Macksville, that apparently never even existed at all, although mentioned in history books from the period. Because of this confusing information, these are often referred to as phantom post offices.

Because a majority of the early population of El Dorado County was made up of miners – a transient group if there ever was one – many post offices were established and then, moved, discontinued (closed) and even reestablished, all in a very short period of time.

If someone found gold in a different place over the mountain or up or down the river, the whole town might move overnight to the new location, always believing that there they would finally strike it rich.

In order to serve the miners, the local post office often just picked up and moved with them. If there was an existing post office at the new location, the two were combined. If none existed, the relocated post office simply reopened, sometimes changing its name and sometimes not. In fact, occasionally the name changed even when the post office didn’t move. All of this provides an interesting view of the history of El Dorado County, its post offices and the movement of its residents over the past century and a half.

ALABASTER: Named for the limestone that was mined in the area, this post office was established on March 23, 1883, having been moved to this location on the western edge of El Dorado County from Rattlesnake (Bar) in Placer County, were it was first established on November 1, 1854 with Thomas Woods as postmaster. The first postmaster at the Alabaster Post Office was William E. Donahoo.

On July 10, 1888, the post office was closed and moved to Newcastle in Placer County. Most of the Alabaster area is now part of Folsom Lake Recreation Area.

AL TAHOE: Located at the south end of Lake Tahoe, two miles west of Bijou, the name of this post office was derived from two things, the name of the lake and the diminutive of the first postmaster’s given name – Almerin R. Sprague. It was first established on August 11, 1908 and changed to a branch of the Bijou Post Office on October 12, 1963. On August 10, 1964 it was made an Independent Branch of Bijou and on March 24, 1967, after the incorporation of the City of South Lake Tahoe, it became a Station of the South Lake Tahoe Post Office.

Aukum 1899

Aukum 1899

AUKUM: This post office in the southern part of El Dorado County was established on September 23, 1895 and discontinued on August 31, 1914, the mail then being directed to the post office in the town of Uno.

On April 9, 1920 the Uno Post Office was discontinued and the mail moved back to Aukum. Because much of the mail destined for Aukum went instead to Auburn, the U. S. Post Office Department officially changed the name of this post office to its present Mt. Aukum on October 28, 1961.

The location for this town named for the nearby peak is officially listed as five miles north of Oleta, the original name of the post office at Fiddletown in Amador County. Aukum, often spelled Aurum, Oakum or Orcum, is apparently derived from a Miwok word, which may be the word Ochum, one of the names they gave their dwellings. The first postmaster at Aukum was Lydia A. Wrigglesworth (Wigglesworth?)

Aurum City 1853

Aurum City 1853

AURUM CITY: Named for the Latin word for “gold”, Aurum City was not a city at all, but a gold camp two miles to the southeast of the townsite of El Dorado. The post office at this camp that was often spelled “Auram” on maps of the time, was established on July 6, 1852 and discontinued on November 22, 1853 when it was moved to the town of El Dorado, which was also known as Mud Springs. The first postmaster at Aurum City was John S. Bostick.

Sources for this story include, “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976”, researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “The Gold Rush Mail Agents to California and Their Postal Markings”, by Theron Wierenga” (1987); “California Town Postmarks, 1849-1935”, by John H. Williams (1997); “Short Stories Regarding The History of South El Dorado County”, by D. A. Wright (undated); the “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); and the archives of the Mountain Democrat (on microfilm and computer accessible at the El Dorado County Main Library).

Post Offices of El Dorado County, Part 1 – The Beginning

Site of First Post Office in California - Monterey

Site of First Post Office in California – Monterey

Prior to both the Gold Rush and the ceding of California to the United States by Mexico in early 1848, the mail system in California consisted of numerous “unofficial” post offices and a simple, but efficient, military mail delivery system.

Following these two events, the Postmaster General of the United States realized the immediate need for an efficient system of government operated post offices in California and sent a special agent to establish them, wherever the agent might feel they were needed.

Special Agent William Van Voorhees was the first of these men and was instructed to proceed to San Francisco and establish post offices at San Diego, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey en route. Had the ship carrying him from Panama to San Francisco not run short of coal it probably would have made all of the intermediate stops he needed, but it only made one, at Monterey.

There, on February 23, 1849, the first official US Post Office on the west coast was established with Captain William G. Marcy serving as its first postmaster, his appointment having been confirmed by Washington D. C. in advance the previous November. Less than a week later, on February 28, 1849, Van Voorhees appointed Mr. C. L. Rose to open and distribute the mail in San Francisco, pending arrival of Mr. Stephan J. Dallas, who, like Captain Marcy, had been previously confirmed as postmaster.

Mr. Dallas did not take the job, so on April 1, 1849, Van Voorhees appointed Colonel John W. Geary as postmaster. On June 4 of the same year, Geary was replaced by Jacob B. Moore.

For some unknown reason, on June 15, 1849 the Postmaster General replaced Van Voorhees with another special agent, R. T. P. Allen. Like Van Voorhees, he carried on the job of establishing the postal system in California, all the time attempting to overcome what it turned out was a list of serious problems faced by his predecessor.

First of all, the post offices were ordered to pay expenses out of receipts, which often didn’t work and the salaries offered postmasters and clerks was less than that earned by an unskilled laborer.Secondly, transportation for the mail was hard to find and, when found, very expensive. All in all, the process of establishing post offices and appointing postmasters was not the simple job the special agents thought it would be.

As an example, when the need for a new post office was established by the special agent, he would authorize it and try to find a postmaster, who, if he was successful, often turned out to be the owner of a business in the same building were the post office would be located – someone who knew the advantage of having the entire population of the area passing through his or her business to get the mail.

The postmaster would be appointed and assume office, however, this was just the start of a long process. The agent would then request confirmation the post office and postmaster from the Postmaster General in Washington D.C. That, including getting the message there and back by ship, could take many months or even longer, depending upon the route the message took and the amount of bureaucratic red tape involved.

Because the population of a California community could grow and decline in just a few months a new post office could easily be established and discontinued before it was even officially open. Worse yet, postmasters were political appointees and, depending how the fickle winds of politics in the nation’s capitol blew, the newly appointed postmaster might find that after nearly a year of working at the job, he or she was not confirmed at all and someone else was. Needless to say, this did not make the special agent’s job any easier.

Fortunately, in 1853 the Postmaster General had this changed so that a Post Office did not open and an appointed Postmaster did not take office until confirmed. However, as in most bureaucracies, the former practice continued for some time thereafter.

Sources for this story include, “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976”, researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “The Gold Rush Mail Agents to California and Their Postal Markings”, by Theron Wierenga” (1987); “California Town Postmarks, 1849-1935”, by John H. Williams (1997); “Short Stories Regarding The History of South El Dorado County”, by D. A. Wright (undated); the “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); and the archives of the Mountain Democrat (on microfilm and accessible by computer at the El Dorado County Main Library).