Road Names of El Dorado County

Where Did That Road Name Come From? W-Z

Washoe Street is named for the Washoe tribe of Native Americans that resided in portions eastern California and western Nevada. One of our adjacent counties in the State of Nevada is named Washoe in their honor.

Weber Creek Drive, like the creek itself, is named for a very early (1841) California pioneer named Charles M. Weber. He settled and named Weberville, a large active mining town located between Placerville and Diamond Springs. However, he is best known for developing and marketing the City of Stockton.

Because Weber was usually pronounced “WE birr”, the creek began to show up on maps and in journals as “Weaver.” Thus, to overcome confusion, many map makers apparently added an additional “b” to the name, making it “Webber”. It still shows up with that spelling on some maps.
Edward Gould Buffum, a soldier and journalist who wrote about the famous hangings in Placerville that gave it the name “Hangtown,” was mining in Weberville in early 1849 when the event occurred.

Wentworth Springs Road, which runs east from Georgetown is named for Nathan Wentworth who discovered the springs named for him. He sailed around Cape Horn to California from Maine in 1851, first mining along the Bear River and at Michigan Bluff, where he also operated a sawmill. When the sawmill burned, he concentrated on mining for six years and then moved to Georgetown, working as a butcher from 1876 – 1880. Then he farmed and operated a team for the Georgetown area merchants. After discovering Wentworth Springs, he built and operated a resort there. He died at the Springs on August 11, 1884.

White Fir Road is named for the common White Fir (Abies concolor), which can be found above 2500 feet on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and as far east as the Rocky Mountains. White fir makes a soft, second-grade lumber.

White Oak Road is named for the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) which often has a paler bark than the other oaks and was sometimes called the White Oak. An area south of Salmon Falls was once known as White Oak Flat because of the number of these trees that grew in there. Prior to that the area was known as Cart Wheel Valley, for a now obscure reason.

Wild Chaparral Road, a frontage road west of Ponderosa Road and north of Highway 50, is so named because of the large “chaparral” plant community, that exists in the area (manzanita, chamise, etc).

Wild Turkey Drive is named for the wild turkeys that thrive in the western part of El Dorado County.

Not native to California, turkeys were planted for sport hunting in the 1960s and have now increased in population to become, in many peoples’ minds, a pest. A group of turkeys moving along the ground is sometimes called a “raft” or “rafter” since they move together in a block, resembling a raft.

Wiloakpine Hill Road is a clever combination of willow, oak and pine, three common foothill trees.

Winnemucca Avenue and Court are named for the eminent Northern Paiute chief at the time of the Paiute War of 1860. Also known as Poito, Chief Winnemucca was the son of another famous Northern Paiute chief, Truckee. His son Natchez and nephew Numaga were known to the white man as Little Winnemucca and Young Winnemucca, respectively.

Wintun Court is named for the Wintun Tribe of Native Americans which resided west and north of El Dorado County, in the Sacramento Valley.

Woodchuck Court is named for the largest of the ground squirrel group, the Marmot, often called the woodchuck or, less often, the groundhog. Living at elevations above 6000 feet, it emerges from hibernation as late as May, quickly fattens up and returns to its burrow as early as September.

Wright’s Lake Road is named for Wrights Lake, which is some thirty-six miles east of Placerville and eight miles north of Highway 50. The area actually consists of several lakes, named for their shapes or color or after a historical family.

Wright’s Lake itself is named for two brothers, Bert and Ed Wright, who were looking for summer mountain dairy sites in the early 1850s, already having winter dairies near Galt. They came across a Sierra lake and since there was adequate water and grass, filed claims on two sections (640 acres each) of land near this lake that would be named after them.

Yellow Brick Road is named for…well, you’ll know if you follow it.

Yellow Pine Drive is named for the Yellow Pine (Pinus ponderosa), the most common and widely distributed western conifer. The lumber industry uses the term “ponderosa pine” to designate its fine and straight-grained, high-resin wood.

Yosemite Lane and Place are named for the famous river valley in north central California.

The derivation of this name has been a subject of considerable controversy over the years. Originally it was “Yo-sem-i-ty”, a name suggested by L. H. Bunnell of the Mariposa Battalion in 1851 to perpetuate the natives they met in the valley. He believed it was their word for “full-grown grizzly bear”. There is also a reference from 1810 to the Jusmites and, around the same time, a Christian Indian village called Josimites, neither of which were near the valley. It is believed by some that the word actually means “a band of killers” the name outsiders called the Awani Tribe who lived in the valley. When Congress granted the land to the State of California in 1864, it was officially called Yo Semite Valley. In 1906 the valley became part of Yosemite National Park.

Zinfandel Way is named for what was once the wine grape most often identified with the foothill vineyards. Some foothill Zinfandel vineyards are nearly as old as the State of California and the wines made from those grapes are marketed as “old vine”, or other similar names.

For years the origin of this grape was a mystery, having just shown up in a shipment of vine cuttings from Europe. A few years ago U.C. Davis, using DNA testing, determined that was effectively identical to an Italian grape known as “Primitivo.” Further research has placed the origin of both of them in Croatia, where the “parent” grape is called Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Sources for this story include: “Atlas of California, by Donley, Allan, Caro and Patton (1979); “A California Flora,” by Munz and Keck (1959); “A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals,” by Frederick Pough (1953); “California Gold Camps,” by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names,” by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “Georgetown, Pride of the Mountains,” by Davis and Rambeau (1987); “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976,” researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “Mother Lode of Learning – One Room Schools of El Dorado County,” by the 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); “Six Months in the Gold Mines,” by Edward G. Buffum (1850); “History of El Dorado County,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); “Natural History of the Sierra Nevada,” by Storer and Usinger (1963); “The Wright’s Lake Story,” by the Wright’s Lake Summer Home Association (1962, revised 1994); the Mountain Democrat, 1854-present; the Empire County Argus (Coloma), 1853-1856; the Californian (Monterey), 1846-47; and the Alta California (San Francisco), 1849-1850

Where Did That Road Name Come From? U – V

Union Mine Road is an early County road that provided access to and from at least two large mines near Martinez Creek, to the south of the town of El Dorado (Mud Springs).

Originally named the Church and Union mines, they were later consolidated under the name Springfield Mine. Towards the end of the 1880s a forty stamp, water powered mill was erected to process the gold bearing quartz from the mines – a mill that was reported to have been not only heard but felt a great distance away. After mining ceased in the mid-1900s, the mine became a landfill for the County under it’s old name, Union Mine. The northern portion of this road was realigned and upgraded to serve the new Union Mine High School.

Uniontown Road is named for the town now known as Lotus on the South Fork of the American River, down river from Coloma.

First named Marshall, after James Wilson Marshall the discoverer of gold, the name of the town was later changed to Uniontown, probably to show solidarity with the North during and after the Civil War. Even later, at the suggestion of a local businessman named Adam Lohry, the name was changed to Lotus. The actual reason why the name was changed from Uniontown to Lotus may be lost history, but some historians report that it was because “The inhabitants of the community were as easy-going as the lotus eaters of Odyssey.”

United Drive, in Cameron Park, is one of a series of roads in Air Park Estates named after airlines or aircraft manufacturers.

Air Park Estates was one of the first, if not the first, subdivisions in California specifically designed with streets wide enough and signs low enough, to allow the residents to taxi their private airplanes from the airport to hangers at their homes.

Upper Truckee Road, in the Lake Tahoe basin, refers to that portion of the Truckee River that feeds into Lake Tahoe.

The entire Truckee River, which also flows out of Lake Tahoe, is believed to be named for the Northern Paiute chief named Truckee, who directed members of the Stevens-Murphy-Townsend party to the river in 1844. John Charles Fremont, who explored this region around the same time, called it the Salmon Trout River possibly believing either the name Truckee was a poor pronunciation of the Spanish word trucha (trout) or as a reference to its fish.

Valley Oaks Court is named for the huge Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) which is mostly found in the fertile valley plains, but does extend its range up to around 3000 – 4000 feet in the foothills, depending upon the soil and availability of water. It’s large, long acorns were a favorite food of the Native Americans and the California Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos). As a side note, the last wild California Grizzly Bear was seen in Sequoia National Park in 1924.

Veerkamp Way is named for the family of Francis Joseph Arnold (Frank) Veerkamp, a gentleman of German descent who left St. Louis with his wife Louisa and son Henry, arriving in Placerville on September 11, 1852.

Settling in the Gold Hill – Granite Hill area they first ran a hotel and miner’s store. In 1873 they purchased the “Japanese Tea Colony” property and moved on to it, ultimately planting some 20,000 trees and vines. Frank and Louisa had ten children and some of their descendants are still residing in the Gold Hill area.

Vineyard Lane, in Coloma, refers to the acres and acres of vineyards that were planted near the town following the gold discovery. Many of the first miners had sophisticated tastes as evidenced by the large number of champagne bottles and oyster shells found when digging in the old townsites.

Grapes for wine became a major agricultural enterprise and, according to some, just a few decades after the Gold Rush there were several thousand acres of wine grapes growing in El Dorado County, making it the largest wine grape producing region in the State. With prohibition in the early 19th century, the vines were let go. Today, El Dorado County is re-emerging as a premium wine grape and wine producing region.

Vista, a Spanish word for “view” appears in so many road names that it, like pine, oak, gold and many others, is on the forbidden list of names for new streets.

Since El Dorado County has a single dispatch center, it was decided that confusion might occur if too many street names sounded similar and emergency vehicles could easily end up at the wrong location.

Volcanoville Road connects the early mining town of Volcanoville with Wentworth Springs Road and the town of Georgetown.

On a point overlooking the Middle Fork of the American River, Volcanoville acquired its name because a nearby mountain seemed to look like an extinct volcano and the miners had to work through lava cement (a hardened ash and mud deposit) to get to the gold.

In 1852 a rich deposit was discovered at this location and only three years later, a twelve stamp steam-driven mill was in operation, noisily separating the gold from the cement.

In 1856 a 42.8 ounce nugget was discovered by a lucky miner and the mining activity increased.

In 1879 a forest fire destroyed most of the buildings in town, however, two years later the Dore (Maurice Dore) Mine was reopened as the Josephine Mine and the town was rebuilt. The mine was so successful that the town itself was actually renamed Josephine and had a post office by that name in 1895.
After the name of the town was changed back to Volcanoville the Volcanoville post office was opened there in 1930.

By the 1960s most everything had shut down an a sign at the entrance to the town read: “Volcanoville. Pop. 4. Elev. 3036. At that time, Vera Frazier and her son Jim owned the town and operated a museum in a building that has once been a dance hall, general store and saloon. The museum burned in 1969, leaving only a few residences and a beer parlor.

Sources for this story include: “Atlas of California,” by Donley, Allan, Caro and Patton (1979); “California Gold Camps,” by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names,” by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “History of El Dorado County,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the Mountain Democrat, 1854-present; the Empire County Argus (Coloma), 1853-1856; the Californian (Monterey), 1846-47; the California Star (1847-48) and the Alta California (San Francisco), 1849-1850.

Where Did That Road Name Come From? – T

The many roads that include the word Tahoe in their name refer to our famous high mountain lake, Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is believed to be a Washoe word meaning “big water”, “high water”, or “water in a high place.” The name the Washoe tribe actually gave it, Tula Tulia, was considered, but rejected.

John C. Fremont named it Lake Bonpland after the French botanist and explorer Jacques Bonpland, but his cartographer, Charles Preuss, simply mapped it as Mountain Lake. Then it was named Lake Bigler to honor one of California’s early governors who led a rescue party into the mountains. Although called Lake Tahoe for years, it was not until 1945 that it became official.

Tallac Avenue refers to Mt. Tallac, in the Tahoe basin, and an early road house nearby known as the Tallac House.

The Tallac House was built in 1873 by “Yank” Clement after he had sold his early way station (Yank’s Station). Around 1879, Clement’s extensive holdings were purchased by Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin, who loved trees and also owned many acres of land in Southern California which would become the Los Angeles County Arboretum. After his death his daughter, Anita, ordered the buildings of the Tallac House demolished. The property, and the trees that Baldwin saved, are now in the care of the U. S. Forest Service.
Tamarack Avenue refers to a name often given to the Lodgepole Pine (Pinus murrayana), which grows at elevations as high as 11,000 feet. The true Tamarack (sp. Larix) does not grow naturally in California.

Tanbark Oak Court, gets its name from the Tan-bark Oak (Lithocarpus densiflora), a small shrub-like tree with sparse distribution on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. When found, it is usually within the 2000 – 5000 foot elevation.

Texas Hill Road is named for the early community of Texas Hill and the Texas Hill Mine, which was hydraulically mined using water that came from as far as Echo Lake by way of tunnels, canals and the American River. The mine and community were located on the hill by that name, on the north side of Weber Creek, near the present Placerville Airport.

Thompson Hill Road is named for the highest peak in the Gold Hill region of El Dorado County. It was previously called Thompson’s Hill, and named after either Davis Thompson, one of the men who in 1850 built the first water ditch in El Dorado County at Coloma, or John Thompson, an early settler in Uniontown, which was later known as Lotus.

It is said that James W. Marshall stood atop Thompson Hill, which he called Prospect Mountain, and first saw the Coloma Valley while searching for a place to build the sawmill.

Tiger Lily Road, along with the early town of Tiger Lily that was east of Diamond Springs, are probably named for one of two similar looking native lilies found on the western slope of El Dorado County.

The Small Tiger Lily (Lilium parvum), found above 6000 feet has small yellow-orange flowers, often dotted with purple spots. But, more than likely it was the often misidentified Leopard Lily (Lilium pardalinum), which is found in that area and up to 6000 feet in elevation. It has larger, but similar flowers.

Tourmaline Court and Way are named for a mineral often found in coarse granite (pegmatite) dikes. In El Dorado County it is usually black while in other localities it may be green, pink, red or many other colors.

Towhee Lane is named for one of two common ground birds in El Dorado County: the Brown Towhee and the Rufous-sided Towhee. Both species have adapted to living near people and are often seen scratching in the ground litter for seeds.

Toyon Court is named for the dark green, very common native shrub known as Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) or California Christmas Berry. From November to January the Toyon produces clusters of bright red berries that provide food for robins , waxwings and similar birds.

Tragedy Springs Road is named for Tragedy Springs on Mormon Emigrant Trail where the bodies of the three men scouting this route over the Sierra Nevada in 1848, Browett, Allen and Cox, were found by the main group of Mormon emigrants. They were supposedly killed and buried by Indians. The group would properly bury the three before proceeding and mark the spot by carving a memorial in a tree.

Trail of Tears is a small road near Sand Ridge Road in the Somerset area.

Although the owner of this road may have a totally different reason for this name, generally it refers to a series of events, including the discovery of gold on Cherokee lands in Georgia in 1829, that resulted in them being forced to march 1000 miles from their Georgia homeland to Oklahoma in 1838. Of the estimated 17,000 Cherokee men, women, and children who started, approximately 4000 of them died along the way.

There is also a similar, but lesser known, “Trail of Tears” in the Round Mountain area of California near Chico.

Traverse Court and Traverse Creek Road are named for the creek by that name near Georgetown, which once was known at Travers creek. If it was named after someone named Travers, nobody seems to know.

Treefrog Lane is named for the most common amphibian in El Dorado County, the Pacific Treefrog (Hyla regilla). Rarely more than two inches in length, they can be green, brown, gray, reddish, tan or black, but always have the distinctive dark stripe on the side of the head.
Their “kreck-ek” call at about one second intervals can seem deafening when large numbers of them are present.

Twin Bridges Road is named for the two, side-by-side bridges that once stood on the main road through the American River canyon just east of Lover’s Leap and Strawberry near a place called Slippery Ford. Before the two bridges were built travellers had to ford the river on an inclined, smooth granite surface. Many horses and mules lost their footing here and, along with wagons and their contents, were swept down the river.

Sources for this story include: “Atlas of California,” by Donley, Allan, Caro and Patton (1979); “California Gold Camps,” by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names,” by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “History of El Dorado County,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the Mountain Democrat, 1854-present; the Empire County Argus (Coloma), 1853-1856; the Californian (Monterey), 1846-47; the California Star (1847-48) and the Alta California (San Francisco), 1849-1850.

Where Did That Road Name Come From? – S (Part 2)

Sly Park Road, which connects Pleasant Valley and Pollock Pines with Sly Park and Jenkinson Lake, is named for James Calvin Sly, a private in Company B of the Mormon Battalion. He was part of an exploring party who were searching out a new route over the Sierra Nevada in 1848. Finding deep snow at Iron Mountain, they camped in the meadow awaiting warmer weather.

Smith Flat Road, Smith Flat Cemetery Road and Smith Flat School Road are all part of the early town known at various times as Smith’s Flat, Smith Flat and Smithflat. Located just three miles east of downtown Placerville, the town was not only an important stop along the Placerville wagon and stage road (3 Mile House), but also a mining town of some renown and one of the few places were diamonds were found in El Dorado County. It is believed to have been named after a pioneer farmer or rancher named Jeb Smith (not to be confused with the famous trapper and explorer Jedediah S. Smith), who was the first person to settle there. Until the freeway was constructed, Smith Flat Road was Highway 50.

Snow’s Road, at one time the major connector between Pleasant Valley, Newtown and what is now Camino, is named for Samuel Snow, and early pioneer who owned land in the Newtown area and ran a store there.

Snowshoe Thompson Drive is named for Jon Torsteinson Rue, better known as John “Snowshoe” Thompson. He carried the mail between from Placerville to Genoa, Nevada, from 1856 until 1876, using a pair of long skis which are now in the El Dorado County Historical Museum. He was not the first to do this but the most famous, having being preceded by Jack C. Johnson, from Johnson’s Ranch. Johnson carried the mail up and down the American River Canyon, crossing the summit over a route known as “Johnson’s Cut-off.”

Soapstone Road is named for a form of the mineral talc that is found in several deposits in El Dorado County. Soft, and easy to carve, it was often used by the local Native Americans to make bowls and other utensils. Now it is most often used for artistic sculpturing. It can contain asbestos fibers.

Somerset Road gets its name from the town by that name at the intersection of Buck’s Bar and Mt. Aukum Roads, between Pleasant Valley and Mt. Aukum. It was first settled in 1856 by some former residents of Somerset, Ohio who probably searched for gold in the nearby North and Middle Forks of the Cosumnes River, along with local streams and ravines. Often the town showed up on maps spelled Sommerset or Summerset.

Sourdough Lane, Trail and Flat honor the “sourdoughs” or early miners who carried their yeast to make bread in the easily transportable form of a piece of unbaked dough, saved from the previous night’s batch. They and the French bakers in San Francisco cooperated to produce the famous San Francisco Sourdough bread.
Gold miners in Alaska were well known for the use of sourdough and also the ability to distill the liquid that forms from the fermentation process called “hooch”, into a high alcohol beverage. The effect of a long winter existing on sourdough bread and the distilled “hooch” produced a condition sometimes referred to as “a bad case of the jim jams.”

South Street shows up in many early mining towns as the name for the first street south of and parallel with the main street.

Spanish Dry Diggings Road, Spanish Flat Road and Spanish Ravine Road are not named for miners from Spain, but for groups of early Spanish speaking miners who explored or settled in these areas. Most of the “Spaniards”, as they were known, were Mexican citizens (Californios) who were in California when it was ceded to the United States. The name was also applied to those miners that came from almost any of the countries in Central and South America.

Stamp Mill Road is a reference to the steam or water powered mills that usually worked in groups to crush the tons of quartz to get at the trapped gold. Some were so large that their vibrations could be felt great distances away.

Starling Court and Lane are named for the European Starling, which was introduced into New York City’s Central Park in 1890. Ancestors of the original 100 birds have spread out over most of temperate North America.

Starthistle Lane refers to the imported Yellow Starthistle (Centaverea solstitialis), a major agricultural pest, which invades lawns, fields and most of the open space in the foothills.

Steely Ridge Road, like the Steely Fork of the Cosumnes River, is named for (Dr.?) Victor J. W. Steely, a real mining entrepreneur in the Mt. Pleasant Mining District near Grizzly Flat. He built several water-powered stamp mills and even a short railroad to serve his many mining claims.

Studebaker Road pays tribute to John Mohler Studebaker who arrived in Placerville in 1853 with fifty cents in his pocket. Soon he became known as “Wheelbarrow Johnny,” because of the strong, reliable wheelbarrows he built for the miners. Five years later, with $8,000 in his money belt, returned east to join his three brothers in building Studebaker wagons. Later the company would graduate into building Studebaker cars and trucks.

Sugar Pine Drive and Road refer to the Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana), a large native pine tree the wood from which is highly resistant to rot. The tree is easily recognized by the large long cones that hang from the branches like ornaments.

Sweeney Road, near Indian Diggings, is named for James Sweeney, an Irishman who arrived in California in 1852, spending the next six years mining in White Rock, Frenchtown and Indian Diggings. He then purchased a farm where he and his wife, Honora Donovan Sweeney raised cows, fruit and several children.

Sources for this story include: “Atlas of California,” by Donley, Allan, Caro and Patton (1979); “California Gold Camps,” by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names,” by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “History of El Dorado County,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the Mountain Democrat, 1854-present; the Empire County Argus (Coloma), 1853-1856; the Californian (Monterey), 1846-47; the California Star (1847-48) and the Alta California (San Francisco), 1849-1850.