Monthly Archives: January 2013

Community Profiles – Mosquito

Mosquito Bridge - 1914

Mosquito Bridge – 1914

The present Swansboro Country, which is located some nine miles northeast of Placerville, is part of an early mining community known as Mosquito.

Originally called Mosquito Valley, placer (gravel) mining occurred there as early as 1849 and soon there were two villages, one known as Nelsonville and the other the Big House or Lower Town, the latter built and inhabited principally by people of Spanish descent.

The mines in the area were quite rich and provided a good living for a large number of miners. One mine, the Little Mosquito, was noted throughout the Mother Lode for producing chunks of gold ranging in size from two ounces to half a pound.

As mining continued and more people moved to the area, around 1851 or 1852 a sawmill was built in One Eye canyon (named after the first miner at that location) by Benjamin Summerfield and John Bennett. With the lumber produced there, two or three stores were constructed in Nelsonville, one being owned by John D. Skinner.

Mr. Skinner’s store remained open for many years while miners came and went and mining shifted from placer to underground (quartz) and hydraulic operations. Like many Gold Rush buildings, Mr. Skinner’s store was ultimately consumed by a fire in the town.

Community Profiles – Mormon Island

Mormon Island - Early Sketch

Mormon Island – Early Sketch

Mormon Island was a mining camp on the South Fork of the American River, some fifteen miles west of Coloma and three miles east of Folsom. It was in actuality a very large gravel bar (it is also known as Mormon Bar) and was first discovered and mined by a group of men from the Mormon Battalion, shortly after James W. Marshall discovered gold in Coloma.

To give a little background on the discoverers of gold at this location, the Mormon Battalion was organized in 1846 when the then President of the United States, James K. Polk, requested of Jessie C. Little, a messenger sent by Brigham Young to Washington D.C., that he and his followers form a battalion to help fight Mexico in the conquest of California.

On July 16, 1846 five hundred and thirty-six enlisted and the Mormon Battalion was formed. Under the command of Captain James Allen and later Colonel P. St. George Cook, the Battalion worked their way west and on January 30, 1847, the group, ragged, fatigued and hungry, arrived in San Diego.

In 1847 the battalion was mustered out at the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Some reenlisted, but the rest turned east and headed over the summit of the Sierra Nevada towards Salt Lake, the place selected by Brigham Young as the future home for the Mormons.

On their way they met Sam Brannan, a Mormon who lived in San Francisco and was travelling back from Salt Lake. He informed the group that there was little food or supplies in Salt Lake and that Brigham Young wanted those without families there to return to California until the next spring.

About half of them turned back, the rest continuing eastward. Of those who arrived back at Sutter’s Fort, some of the men went to work on Sutter’s grist mill at Natomo (Natoma?) and some proceeded to Coloma to work on the sawmill. It was these men who would first mine at and name Mormon Island.

It was simple logic, many at Sutter’s sawmill thought, that if there was gold at Coloma, there would also be gold further down the river. This was proven when three former members of the Mormon Battalion – W. Sidney Willis, Wilford Hudson and Levi Fifield – set out from Sutter’s grist mill at Natomo to “visit with the boys at the sawmill and hunt deer.”

Henry W. Bigler, who was at the sawmill when Marshall found the gold, had secretly sent a letter to them and they were very interested in checking things out – quietly.
After finding several flakes of gold near the sawmill, Willis and Hudson headed back towards Natomo along the river while Fifield and Bigler took the road. When they met at the grist mill, Willis and Hudson told the others about the gold they had taken from a gravel bar about half way between Sutter’s Fort and Coloma.

Willis, Hudson and Fifield immediately headed up river and found that the gravel bar was extremely rich with gold. They named the place Mormon Island and staked out claims on it.

Community Profiles – Lotus

Lotus 1963

Adam Lohry’s store, Lotus 1963

It wasn’t always known as Lotus, this now quiet Gold Rush town on the South Fork of the American river just to the west of Coloma. Originally it was named Marshall, in honor of James Wilson Marshall, the discoverer of gold. Around 1850 the name was changed to Uniontown, likely in honor of California statehood. Finally, at the suggestion of a local businessman, one Mr. Adam Lohry, the name of the town was changed to Lotus.

The actual reason why the name was changed from Uniontown to Lotus may be lost history, but some report that it was because “The inhabitants of the community were as easy-going as the lotus eaters of the Odyssey.”

There is also some confusion about the establishment of the post office, since, according to the Post Office Department, the Lotus post office was established on Jan. 6, 1871 with George W. Gallanar serving as the first postmaster. The Sacramento Daily Union, dated February 6, 1881, includes a story stating that the post office was established only the week before, with the same postmaster.

To add even more confusion, there is some information on a Unionville (not Uniontown) post office that was established on Mar. 6, 1861 with Gaston D’Artois serving as the first postmaster. There is no location given for this post office, yet it is noted that the town was once called Marshall and that it was on the South Fork of the American River. However, neither Marshall or Uniontown had a post office, according to the same records of the Post Office Department, leading one to believe there is some confusion between the names Unionville and Uniontown. The Unionville post office, wherever it was, would last less than a year and be discontinued on Feb. 2, 1862.

The first store was opened by Inglesby & Merrill, followed by ones owned by Franklin Prague (Mr. Prague also built the first Uniontown bridge across the South Fork of the American River) and by Benjamin Smith. Mr. Smith must have been a popular man in his day, because when the town name was changed from Marshall to Uniontown, naming it after him had been a serious consideration.

On what was then known as saw-mill slough, Athens & Vance opened the second saw mill in the county, shortly after Sutter’s was completed. Little is known about its operation or whether it continued to saw lumber after Sutter’s mill stopped.

Community Profiles – Latrobe

Envelope postmarked (received) Latrobe - 1904

Envelope postmarked (received) Latrobe – 1904

It’s hard to imagine that the small town of Latrobe, which is located in the most southwestern part of our County, for a short period of time was a “boomtown.” And, it was a direct result of the discovery of silver in the Comstock Lode at Virginia City, some 150 miles to the east.

In the early 1860s when the Comstock became the center of mining in western North America, the people of Placerville approached the Sacramento Valley Railroad demanding that rail service be extended from Folsom to their town to carry the heavy freight that was heading over the Sierra to Nevada.

The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad eastward through Placer County had commenced and they were concerned that a railroad would not pass through Placerville and extend on along the wagon road to Nevada as they desired.

The owners of the Sacramento Valley Railroad informed the delegation from Placerville that, if El Dorado County would grade the route from Folsom and furnish ties, they would supply the rails for ten percent County Bonds.

For this venture a new company, the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad, was incorporated and the people of El Dorado County approved the issuance of $200,000 in ten percent bonds. The City of Placerville, also anxious for the railroad, pledged $300,000 in bonds towards this end (the railroad would not reach Placerville for another 25 years and Placerville, like El Dorado County, would ultimately default on the bonds).

Construction of the railroad from Folsom Junction towards Placerville began in late 1863 and the trains arrived at what would soon be the town of Latrobe in August of 1864. A station was immediately constructed to serve not only the traffic to the east but also to the south and the new County of Amador that had been created out of portions of El Dorado and Calaveras counties in 1854.