Community Profiles – Shingle Springs, Part 1

Sacramento Valley Railroad locomotive L. L. Robinson

Sacramento Valley Railroad locomotive L. L. Robinson

In March of 1849, a company of ten men left Monroe, Michigan determined to cross the plains and settle in California.

A man named Kertland was the captain of the company, which consisted of David B. Scott, D. Ashley, A. Lawyer, George Withington, and Messrs. Sweeney, Stephens, Bisby, Buckley and Wilson.

They proceeded to a place that would later be called Ragtown, where they camped and sent Scott ahead to scout the countryside as far as Sacramento and look around for the place where they could do the best in California (Ragtown was a trading post set up around 1850 on the Carson route, just west of the Nevada desert and east of the mountains of the Sierra Nevada).

In the company of a Dr. Richard Ormsby, Scott scouted westerly and camped at a site heavily dotted with sugar pine and oak, near beautiful clear springs. Delighted with the location, he returned to his company, which by that time had crossed the Sierra Nevada and reached Sly Park. He then travelled with them west to Sutterville (Sacramento), where the company ultimately split up.

Ormsby and Scott then joined forces with Withington, William Van Alstine and the Bartlett brothers, Henry and Edward. Together, they travelled back to the place where Ormsby and Scott had earlier camped and erected a horse powered shingle machine that could produce sixteen thousand shingles a day, worth $50 to $60 a thousand in Sacramento. From this simple beginning, grew the town we now know as Shingle Springs.

The first public house was built by Edward Bartlett in 1850 on a hill near the springs. Called the Shingle Springs House (and later the Locust Inn), it was a popular stopping place for travellers looking for food, drink and a place to stay the night. Some time later it became a general store kept by E. M Hiatt, a gentleman from Missouri, and then the town’s first U. S. Post Office, which opened for business on February 3, 1853 with D. T. Hall as postmaster.

In 1851, a year after the Shingle Springs House was constructed, another public house, the Missouri House, was built a short distance to the east, followed the next year by R. S. Wakefield’s Planter’s House. Behind the Planter’s House, on Shingle Creek, A. P. Catlin and S. C. Cutler built a steam saw mill. The mill was in operation for about two years, selling lumber for as much as one hundred and fifty dollars a thousand board feet immediately after the fire of 1852 in Sacramento.

Although the shingle and lumber business was profitable, the place was also surrounded by rich placer mines and the canyons and gulches were soon full of prospectors and their simple cabins.

For the first seven years or so, there were no stores in Shingle Springs so miners had to travel about one mile east to the former village of Buckeye Flat for supplies.

Named for the first settlers, some men from Ohio, it had three stores, kept by Henry Kingsley, Henry Yealing and Fred Heldman, and one hotel, which was owned by a Mr. Rockwell. Now only a named spot on old maps, it’s demise started in 1857 when the first store in Shingle Springs opened near the Planter’s House, much closer and more convenient to the mines.

Within a few years Shingle Springs became not much more than a way-station for travelers between Sacramento, Placerville and the east. Nearly all of the small mining claims had played out and had been consolidated into vast ranching estates. Most of its inhabitants had packed up and left for home or richer claims and thus, Shingle Springs was well on its way to joining Buckeye Flat on the rapidly growing list of Gold Rush ghost towns. Then, on the sixteenth of June in 1865, the tracks of the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad reached Shingle Springs and the town again boomed.

New buildings went up almost over night. A new post office and an express and telegraph-office appeared, along with an 800 foot long railroad depot. Immediately it became one of the largest towns in California and a huge shipping center. Not only were the supplies for most of the rest of El Dorado County passing through here, but silver and gold mining in the Virginia City area was in full swing.

Almost all the supplies and people that were destined for Virginia City and the Comstock Lode traveled by train to Shingle Springs where they were loaded on huge freight wagons and coaches for the trip up and over the mountains to the mines, and all points east. Along with the many extra freight trains that were needed to carry the tons of supplies that were heading eastward from the Shingle Springs depot, two passenger trains arrived from Sacramento daily (except Sunday).

Huge freight wagons pulled by extraordinarily large teams were loaded up for the trip east, which at times literally formed a continuous, end-to-end line from Shingle Springs to the Nevada mines and it was said that if a wagon got out of this line, it was nearly impossible to get back in.

The times were good, the mines in Nevada’s Comstock Lode needed more and more supplies and they all had to pass through the depot at Shingle Springs. The town held a monopoly on the movement of freight and passengers eastward and was bustling with businesses of all kinds. But, very shortly things would change.

Sources 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.

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