Community Profiles – El Dorado Hills

Mormon Tavern - about 1860

Mormon Tavern – about 1860

Most of the early history of the El Dorado Hills area occurred on and along two of the earliest major immigration and trade routes in early California, Green Valley Road to the north and to the south what is now generally Highway 50, but was historically known by many names including the Carson-Immigrant Trail, the Overland Trail, the Sacramento-Washoe Road and White Rock Road.

Green Valley Road is the oldest of these two and a major portion of it was the old Coloma road, which led from Sacramento via Folsom, Mormon Island, Green Valley, Rose Springs (Rescue) to Uniontown (Lotus) and Coloma. There were also important branches of this road, including one forking off at New York ravine, crossing the South Fork of the American River at Salmon Falls into the northern part of the county and running up to Greenwood Valley and Georgetown. From there the road branched out in all directions, even back to Placerville via Kelsey’s, Spanish Flat and American Flat.

The old immigrant road on the south entered California State from the east and followed the Carson River up the Carson Valley. After crossing the Sierra Nevada it descended along the divide between the headwaters of the American and Cosumnes rivers. It followed this divide through Sly Park, Pleasant Valley, Diamond Springs, Mud Springs (El Dorado) and Shingle Springs, Clarksville and White Rock Springs into Sacramento County. This was the “Carson immigrant route” listed in all of the guide books.

From its main route through the county, it branched at places like Grizzly Flat south to Brownsville, Indian Diggin’s and Fiddletown; at Diamond Springs via Placerville to Coloma, Georgetown and the northern mines; at Mud Springs south to Logtown, Saratoga, Drytown and the southern mines; and at Clarksville to Folsom. The main part of the emigrant route is loosely approximated today by portions of Highway 50, Mother Lode Drive, Pleasant Valley Road, Mormon Immigrant Trail and Highway 88.

For years these two roads were indisputably the most traveled in California, one bringing tired but excited immigrants westward into the state and the other filled with anxious miners heading in the direction of Coloma and beyond. Both roads were also heavily traveled by the wagon loads of supplies needed to support the quest for gold, numerous stage lines and, for a short time, the Pony Express. Even with all of this going on, most of the land now known as El Dorado Hills remained as a quiet place where wildlife browsed — with a few exceptions.

On the northern end of El Dorado Hills were the busy mining communities along the South Fork of the American river and the creeks leading into it. On the south was Clarksville, the Euer Ranch and the Mormon Tavern, a 22-room hotel, restaurant, saloon and dance hall with an interesting history.

The Mormon Tavern is believed to have been started as an inn about 1848 by a Mormon named Morgan, although another Mormon, A. Lathrop, is shown as running it in 1850. Within a few years it was sold to John Beaver and Franklin F. Winchell, who expanded it.

In 1860 it became a remount station for the Central Overland Pony Express and on April 4, 1860, pony rider Sam (Bill) Hamilton changed horses here on the first eastbound trip.

The Mormon Tavern would be later sold to Joseph Joerger, Sr., who, with his son, Joseph Joerger, Jr. operated it for many years. Much of the nearby Joerger ranch would be purchased in the 1960s and developed into El Dorado Hills.

Located at the junction of a main north-south road connecting this route with Green Valley Road and the mines along the South Fork of the American River, the Mormon Tavern was quite busy. The dining room at this establishment was around 100 feet in length and often filled three times at each meal by hungry teamsters.

On one evening in the 1870s, a dance and general celebration was being held. A “practical joker” named James K. Page, who had perhaps celebrated too much, decided it would be funny to lace the coffee with croton oil, a well known purgative of that era. The result was disastrous, with at least three deaths and several close calls. In 1883, Page, who had previously served time in San Quentin for another crime, had unfortunately failed to learn his lesson and was hung in Placerville for murdering a man in New York Ravine, near Folsom.

Just to the south of Highway 50, a short distance east of  El Dorado Hills Blvd. — Latrobe Road exit is a historical monument (No. 699) placed by the State of California. Unfortunately, the actual site of the tavern is now under the freeway.

The history of Clarksville could easily fill a book by itself, but to take a quick look, it was named after two early ranchers, Harry Clark and his brother. Mrs. Margaret Tong’s Railroad House was located there, built in hopes that the Placerville & Sacramento Railroad would pass nearby. However, the railroad route passed to the south, 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 travellers and teamsters. Its 70-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 ownership of the Clark brothers.

A small time highwayman named 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 travelers 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.

Slightly to the west of the Mormon Tavern and Clarksville was the Euer Ranch, a 1500-acre dairy operation that is now mostly the El Dorado Hills Business Park.

Sophary Euer, according to the historians of his era, was one of the leading dairymen in El Dorado County. Born into a Swiss dairying family in December of 1840, he came to America in 1855. He arrived in California two years later and, after trying his hand as a cattleman for several years, in 1867 he and a partner named A. Jewell purchased a dairy of 80 cows. A year later he bought out his partner and his descendants continued to farm the property for the next 100-plus years.

Development of El Dorado Hills proper really started in 1957 when Allan Lindsey first submitted a plan to the county to develop the middle portion of it into a group of individual villages. This plan, commonly known as the Gruen Plan after its designer, Victor Gruen, remained in effect for many years and the community continued to develop in accordance with it and, later, the County General Plan and the El Dorado Hills Area Plan.

In the early 1980s the Euer Ranch was removed from its Williamson agricultural contract, and started developing into the El Dorado Hills Business park.

In 1987 the Northwest El Dorado Hills Specific Plan was adopted and then, two years later, the large El Dorado Hills Specific Plan, setting standards for further development in El Dorado Hills.

Next to develop was a large shopping center just south of Highway 50 known as Town Center and an industrial park to the west. These were later followed by the development of another large agricultural property to the west known as the Russell Ranch, much of the portion in El Dorado County becoming known as The Promontory.

El Dorado Hills continues to expand as land on all sides is developed. A few years ago it reached the point were cityhood was being seriously considered, but it did not make it — yet.

Sources for this story include: “History of California,” by Theodore Hittell (1897); “The Early Inns of California, 1844-1869,” by Ralph Herbert Cross (1954); “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); “Mines and Mineral Resources of El Dorado County, California,” California Division of Mines (1956);”History of El Dorado County,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the archives of the Mountain Democrat (1854-Present); and the wonderful people at the reference desk of the El Dorado County Main Library.

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