Originally called Centerville, the name of this early Gold Rush town was officially changed to Pilot Hill on April 18,1854, when the post office was established with Silas Hayes as its postmaster.
There were three nearby villages: Pilot Hill, a town named Pittsfield that had been started in the Spring of 1851 by some immigrants from Pittsfield, Illinois and Centerville, all collectively known as Centerville. But in time, probably because of the post office designation, the other names would disappear and the whole area would ultimately become known as Pilot Hill.
The town of Pilot Hill was originally located further north of its present location on Highway 49, closer to the base of Pilot Hill, the namesake for the town.
A miner from New York named John Woods was one of the first to arrive in the area some time in the fall of 1849. He had been mining at Salmon Falls before arriving here and he was soon followed by other miners and several businessmen, including a James H. Rose, who opened the first store in a rapidly constructed log cabin.
The miners located very rich deposits of placer gold, but there was neither nearby water available to wash the gravel nor nearby creeks from which they could easily divert water to this location. Thus, serious mining had to be delayed until the winter rains came.
When the rain finally arrived, miners that had been working both south and north, along the forks of the American River moved to the Pilot Hill area to mine and business boomed.