The first school in Georgetown was taught in J. W. Slette’s store, one of the few buildings saved from the fire of 1852. Mrs. Dr. Ray was the first teacher. On May 22, 1854 the first Public School in town was established with Miss Minerva A. Horsford as teacher and S. Knox, William T. Gibbs and B. C. Currier as Trustees.
By 1859, the town had grown large enough that several fraternal and other organizations had been established there. These included a Temple of Honor, No. 11; the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 37; Georgetown Lodge No. 25, F. and A. M.; a Lodge of the Ancient Society of E. Clampus Vitus and a military company that went by the name of the Georgetown Blues.
Like many of the rapidly growing towns in the Mother Lode, Georgetown was always faced with a continuing danger from the scourge of wooden towns – uncontrolled fire. As a result of the 1852 fire, a hook and ladder company had been organized and boasted a very large volunteer membership.
On July 7, 1856, within a month of the very suspicious and quite large fires at Placerville and Diamond Springs, flames mysteriously appeared at the rear of a saloon on the east side of Main Street. Despite the efforts of the brave fireman, all that was saved was the Knox and Sharp dwellings and the buildings on the west side of Church Street. Two years later another fire again destroyed most of the buildings on the east side of Main Street. For obvious reasons, only some of the buildings were rebuilt this time.
May 28, 1869 brought with it a fire in the Miner’s Hotel, which some believed was set to possibly cover up a murder. Although the proprietor, Mr. Stahlman, escaped with his eldest child, it took as victims his wife, three of their other children and a Miss Stanton.
On July 13, 1869, Mr. Stahlman was tried on suspicion of arson before Judge Charles F. Irwin. The trial lasted two days and the jury could not reach a verdict. A second trial was held on February 1, 1870, and the jury handed down a verdict of not guilty.
On June 14, 1870 the entire business district was lost in a fire that started in the Tahoe Saloon. At the time, mining was at its height in Georgetown and blasting powder was stored in many of the basements, hampering the ability of the firemen to extinguish the flames. Bolts of cloth, huge iron doors and kegs of nails were thrown hundreds of feet through the air by an explosion that killed two unfortunate onlookers.
s a result of fear from continuing fire, a brick kiln was soon constructed and many of the destroyed buildings were replaced with much safer brick structures.
In the early 20th century, the mines in and around Georgetown began to close, due to the high cost of operation and the lack of cheap power. The thriving town would start into a decline and, like many Gold Rush towns, become only little more than a ghost of its once proud self. Then, in 1928 electric power was brought to town in an attempt to resurrect the Woodside-Eureka mine. Apparently the mine didn’t reopen, but now Georgetown had electric power.
When 1929 and the depression arrived in the rest of the country, Georgetown began to thrive. The Beebe Mine and the Alpine Mine reopened and within five years were employing over a hundred men. Businesses thrived, housing was at a premium and building started. After being vacant for as many as twenty years, all the stores in town were occupied and flourishing.
Once one of the largest and most important centers of mining in El Dorado County, the entire Georgetown Divide has now become an important timber and recreational center attracting untold tourists to this area of beautiful scenery and excellent hunting and fishing.
Each year, from downtown Georgetown, a large contingent of four-wheel drive vehicles known as the Jeeper’s Jamboree sets out on a trip eastward through many of the historical mining and recreational areas towards their destination, Lake Tahoe.
The town that the pioneering citizens of 1852 laid out, with its broad streets, remains today, thoroughly sprinkled with century old buildings and uncountable bits of Gold Rush history.
Sources for this story include: “History of California”, by Theodore Hittell (1897); “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); “Narrow Gauge Nostalgia” by George Turner (1965); “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.