Although once a thriving mining community to the southeast of Placerville, time has reduced Newtown to just a few buildings and a host of memories.
The history of Newtown goes back to the early days of the gold rush when a party of Mormons started for Salt Lake. Bringing along a large number of horses and cattle, they left Old Dry Diggings (Placerville) and followed a trail along the ridge between Weber Creek and the Cosumnes River until they came to a valley about two miles in length and one mile wide. They called the place Pleasant Valley, a name that remains to this day.
At the north end of the valley part of the group built a corral for their stock, while several others went even further north, over a low ridge to the South Fork of Weber Creek, where they built a second corral.
The grass was good in the valley so they decided to allow the animals to fatten up for the long trip to Salt Lake. They had also found some gold in a ravine near the creek, enough to make the stop worthwhile.
After about three weeks, they gathered the animals and continued their trip over the mountains, through the Carson Valley and on to Salt Lake.
In early 1849, five of these men returned to what was now known as Hangtown, where one of them mentioned their find to a friend named O. Russell. Provided with landmarks from which he could find the location, Russell and six others secretly left town in the middle of night.
They easily found the location since the Mormons had left a ditch some three-hundred feet in length, four feet wide and about two feet deep.
They soon determined that a man, using a pan, could probably recover about $8 a day in gold (about a half ounce) from the ground and set to work. Three days later they discovered that their “secret” was out as a party of thirty more miners arrived by following their trail.
After a day or more of prospecting, both groups came to the conclusion that they had left better diggings than this and headed back to town, abandoning the site.
Around May of the same year, some of the party procured some pack animals and, this time with more equipment and supplies, headed back to try again. Mining proceeded quietly until July of 1849, when the miners were surprised by the first of the groups of fortune seekers, arriving in California by following the Carson and Mormon trails over the mountains.
In a short time, hundreds of gold seekers arrived, many stopping to prospect. Some just dug around for a while, but others built log cabins and stayed.
Soon there was a group of cabins between the forks of Weber Creek, that they named Iowaville. Around the one of the corrals another town grew, this one called Dog Town.
In Dog Town a man named Smith opened a store which afterwards became owned by Samuel Snow, after whom Snow’s Road was later named.
With more and more miners arriving, by 1852 it became apparent that the gold would be easier to separate from the surrounding soil if water was brought into the area by ditch. Soon three ditches had been constructed by the “Eureka Company,” two from Weber Creek and one from the North Fork of the Cosumnes River.
With water available, a sawmill was built in Pleasant Valley and construction on a new town began a half mile to the southwest of Dog Town, on a bench about a hundred feet above the creek.
The new town started with a store built by Israel Clapp. This was soon followed by another store erected by Lewis Foster, W. F. Leon’s hotel and then a butcher shop, blacksmith shops, a ten-pin alley and a brewery, which got its water through a wooden pipeline from a spring high on a hill to the south. Along with these, of course, were built the requisite number of billiard parlors and drinking establishments.
A post office was established on June 17, 1854 with Wilber Fisher serving as the first postmaster. Believing that Dog Town was an inelegant name, it was called Newtown. For some reason service was discontinued on Sept. 23, 1875 and reestablished less than a month later. On Dec. 31, 1912, service was again discontinued and the mail moved to the Smithflat (Smith’s Flat, Smith Flat) Post Office.
By the time the post office was established, the road leading directly from Newtown to what was by this time Placerville, was completed and Newtown had become, as Paolo Sioli so aptly put it in his History of El Dorado County (1883) “…a full-fledged California mining town, with all its appliances, even to a dance house in the suburbs.”
Local historian George W. Peabody, in an article entitled “How About That! #30,” relates that amongst the residents of Newtown was one pioneer affectionately named John “Black Jack” Perkins, a slave who had arrived in Mud Springs (now the town of El Dorado) with his master in 1849. Through his hard work he was able to find enough gold to buy his freedom and move to the meadow between Newtown and Pleasant Valley where he raised swine. A friendly and peaceable citizen, he entertained his neighbors and their children with his many songs, accompanying himself on “dry bones” (two polished pieces of wood that he held between his fingers and tapped together with a flick of his wrist).
In his honor, the small hill along Newtown Road, between Stark’s Grade Road and Snow’s Road, is still known as Perkin’s Rise.
On October 12, 1872 a fire started in the brewery and rapidly spread to the remainder of the town. Soon nearly every building in this prosperous town became nothing but a pile of ashes. No lives were lost and small portions of the town were rebuilt, but many of the residents moved elsewhere.
In 1885 the Newtown School District would be organized. In 1907 it would become part of the Placerville Unified School District.
Although it would continue to exist for many years, Newtown, a town that once had more citizens than Placerville, would be only a shadow of its once prosperous youth.
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); “How About That #30,” George Peabody; “I Remember…, Stories and pictures of El Dorado County pioneer families”, researched and written by Betty Yohalem (1977); “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); and the wonderful people at the reference desk of the El Dorado County Main Library.