Monthly Archives: January 2013

Community Profiles – High Road to Georgetown

Remains of Georgetown Junction - 1940s

Remains of Georgetown Junction – 1940s

Most people assume that all the early miners that worked the mines around Georgetown arrived there by first passing through one of the other mining areas, such as Coloma or Hangtown (Placerville). This is generally true, since a majority of the very early Argonauts came by ship to San Francisco and headed directly up the Sacramento River to Sutter’s Fort at New Helvetica (Sacramento) and then by land to one of the two most well known mining camps. However, there were also many early pioneers had crossed the continent by wagon or on foot and who had left the well traveled westward trail high in the mountains and headed over a lesser known trail through small settlements,directly to Georgetown and its surroundings.

There are numerous journals written by these pioneers who traveled to directly Georgetown over what were not much more than a foot trail in the beginning days of California’s Gold Rush. With a few exceptions, they all speak of following a trail up into the Tahoe Basin and then crossing the summit of the Sierra Nevada at Johnson’s Pass, to the south of the present Highway 50 crossing at Echo Summit. From there they followed what was known as Johnson’s Cutoff to a point a short distance west of today’s Strawberry – a place appropriately known as Georgetown Junction. There, they would leave the well travelled trail and strike out to the north, up the mountainside to what is now known as Peavine Ridge. At that point, if they wished, they could still follow the ridge and reach Placerville (then known as Hangtown) by way of any number of routes. But, as many did, they could continue along the Georgetown road, through Onion (Union) Valley to the town of Georgetown.

Community Profiles – Grizzly Flat

Grizzly Flat settlement

Grizzly Flat settlement 1850s

It was only a couple of years after James Marshall picked up the first flakes of gold at the sawmill in Coloma, that “Buck” Ramsey and some other men went prospecting for gold in the area between the North and Middle forks of the Cosumnes river, in the eastern part of El Dorado County. After a long hard day, they at last picked a place near one of the many springs that dotted the area to camp for the night.

After laying out their camp, they set to preparing the usual miner’s feast for those times: bread, bacon and coffee. All at once they were surprised by an unexpected guest who had smelled their dinner and came crashing through the brush towards their camp. At first they thought it might be another prospector, tired and hungry. But, to the surprise of the men, it turned out to be a very large specimen of one of California’s most noble beasts, the now extinct California Grizzly Bear.

Immediately, Ramsey grabbed his rifle and fired a single shot at the bear. The bear turned and ran back through the brush, across the flat and down into a steep canyon, where he was found dead by the surprised prospector. The word rapidly spread and from this incident, the town was named Grizzly Flat.

Soon after Ramsey’s adventure with the bear, hundreds of other miners arrived in Grizzly Flat and worked the beds of the rivers and canyons, along with the hillside gravel deposits, taking out much of the precious gold. As these areas became more and more crowded, some prospectors set out to look for and ultimately found riches in the numerous veins of quartz that crossed the area in a north-south direction. By the mid 1850’s the amount of gold taken from the hard rock mines exceeded that taken by placer or river mining, but only by a little bit.

Victor J. W. Steely was one of the earliest operators of a quartz mine in the area, having made his gold discovery in 1852. He erected two mills at different points along the branch of the Cosumnes river that still bears his name (Steely Fork) and, leading away from these he added a wooden railroad nearly a mile in length that terminated at his mines southwest of the town. A man of great energy of character and perseverance, and obviously full of hope, he invested all of his money, along with that of his friends and employees, in the venture. However, in spite of all of their work, like many similar mining ventures, this one also ended in failure, leaving only the ruins of his mills, the cut on Mt. Pleasant where the railroad once ran and his name on a fork of the river.

Shortly after Steely opened his mine, a Dr. Clark, and others, opened the Eagle Quartz Mine, which proved to be a better financial investment than Steely’s. In 1855 a Mr. Roberts opened a mine with his name which proved rich for one season and then closed for lack of funding. Sometime in the late 1860’s, the Steely mine was reopened for a few years as the Mt. Pleasant and then closed again in 1872. Gabe Wentz and Dave Brandover worked for years south of the town at Henry’s Diggings, where their perseverance ultimately paid off when they located a quartz ledge rich in gold. In June of 1874, F. W. Earl arrived in the area and started prospecting near the Mt. Pleasant and Irish lodes. There he struck a quartz ledge that soon proved its worth to be half a million dollars. Among other mines in the area were the Driesbach, Spencer and Morey, Eagle King, Bullard, Melton Bros., Ohio extreme of the Mt. Pleasant and the Arctic.

Community Profiles – Greenwood

Stereo view, Greenwood - c. 1866

Stereo view, Greenwood – c. 1866

Greenwood was originally called “Long Valley” and it was at this location, about five miles south of Georgetown on the road between Georgetown and Cave Valley, that Caleb Greenwood, with his sons Britain and John, opened a trading post in 1848 or early 1849.

Soon thereafter the first general store was opened by Lewis B. Myers, Nathan Fairbanks and Louis Lane. Unfortunately, Lane soon passed away and a butcher named William Crone was taken on as a partner to replace him.

On the 25th of March in 1850, a son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Myers and for a time the town was called Lewisville (Louisville) after him, the first child born in the township.
The Louisville Post Office was established about six months prior to July 28, 1851, the date when the first postmaster, George C. Blodgett, was confirmed by Washington, D.C. On Oct. 9, 1852 the Louisville Post Office had its name changed to Greenwood to avoid confusion with other towns with the same name.

Much earlier than this, soon after gold was first discovered in Coloma, a gentleman by the name of Cuthbert Nattrass arrived in the area and found gold in Illinois Canyon, which lies to the north of Georgetown. A lead miner from Wisconsin, he had left his family with his brother and struck out to see what California was all about. He arrived in Los Angeles in late 1847 (quite likely in the company of Kit Carson) and had made it to Monterey by Christmas of that year. It was there that he heard of Marshall’s discovery and set out for Coloma. As winter approached he took his gold and headed back to Wisconsin. But that is not the last that California was to see of Mr. Nattrass.

In Wisconsin he had a hotel built and disassembled for shipping. In 1850 he, the hotel, and his family, including a newborn son, boarded a ship for Panama. Crossing the isthmus by burro, they caught a ship to San Francisco where they loaded everything and everybody on a riverboat which carried them up the river to Sacramento. Once in Sacramento, he traded the riverboat for wagons and teams by which they and the hotel reached Greenwood.

The hotel was soon up and in the fall of 1850, the Hoboken House opened for business at a location (now Sliger Mine Road) that Nattrass had selected on this first trip to California. Later the hotel became a school and, around the turn of the century, burned to the ground.

Community Profiles – Gold Hill

Okei's Grave

Okei’s Grave

Gold Hill is one of the more common names for early Gold Rush towns in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Towns with this name are found in Amador County, Calaveras County (several towns), Mariposa County, Placer County, Nevada County (two towns), El Dorado County and perhaps even more counties. In fact, there were so many, that the San Francisco’s “Alta California” newspaper of December 17, 1855 states that the citizens of El Dorado County’s Gold Hill had changed the name from Gold Hill to Granite Hill in order to avoid the enormous confusion that had resulted from this proliferation of towns with the same name. In spite of this confusion, the name would soon change back to Gold Hill.

The actual town of Gold Hill was located near the intersection of Gold Hill Road and Cold Springs Road. However, today the name Gold Hill is generally associated with that portion of El Dorado County between Coloma and Gold Hill Road on the north and south and Highway 49 and Lotus Road on the east and west.

During its heyday Gold Hill was one of the county’s larger mining towns. With more than 1000 residents – albeit temporary – it boasted banking and telegraph facilities, hotels, bars, stores and even a daily stage coach to and from Sacramento.

The miners that lived around Gold Hill found gold most everywhere they looked. They were on top of an ancient river bed, that ran in a north-south direction, and the many ravines, creeks and even open fields, often gave up riches to those willing to work for it.

Although it wasn’t fully developed until much later in the 20th century, one of the larger gold mines in the area was the Funny Bug (Pendelco) mine, which was located south of Gold Hill Road, just north of Weber Creek. It was an underground mine, developed by crosscuts from a 200 foot deep shaft.