Community Profiles – Shingle Springs, Part 2

Shingle Springs looking west. Courtesy of Steve Crandell, Photo Restoration.

Shingle Springs looking west. Courtesy of Steve Crandell, Photo Restoration.

With Shingle Springs still growing rapidly, due to the arrival of the tracks of the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad in 1865, most people believed there was no end to their success and that the local economy would continue to expand indefinitely.

There was the realization that when the tracks were completed to Placerville, and it became the freight and passenger transfer station for all points east, Shingle Springs businesses would be affected. However, no one fully realized the effect of what was happening several miles to the north.

For some time, the Central Pacific had been constructing their portion of the transcontinental railroad eastward from Sacramento to connect with the tracks being built in a westward direction by the Union Pacific.

In the summer of 1866, just one short year after the trains started arriving in Shingle Springs, the Central Pacific tracks through Auburn and Truckee had finally crossed the Sierra Nevada and the freight and passenger traffic for localities east of the mountains – the very traffic that had been passing through Shingle Springs – began to switch to that much more convenient and quicker route.

It is interesting to note at this point that the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first commercial railroad west of the Mississippi and the parent company of the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad, had once been a serious contender to develop the route over the Sierra Nevada. Their proposed route through Latrobe, Shingle Springs, Placerville and Strawberry, then by tunnel into the Tahoe basin and down the eastern slope into Nevada, was considered by some superior to the selected route through Auburn and Truckee. But, the Central Pacific’s “Big Four,” Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker, had different ideas and the political clout to assure them.

The Central Pacific not only won that battle but, by 1887, even owned all the equipment and operations of the Sacramento Valley Railroad.

With the loss of the freight traffic the economy of Shingle Springs once more headed downward as businesses began to close.

Merchants and others left for more prosperous locations and the town became “smaller by degrees and beautifully less,” as Paolo Sioli wrote in the “History of El Dorado County” (1883).

In spite of what was obvious, some people blamed this slump in the economy and the lack of work for “white men” as a result of the influx of Chinese workers and were determined to do something about it.

By early 1886, the anti-Chinese movement – so prevalent throughout the Mother Lode – had spread to Shingle Springs and an organization known as the Shingle Springs Anti-Chinese Association was formed to promote the boycotting all Chinese businesses and labor.

As a result of the exodus of Chinese laborers, gardeners and bakers, the town found itself without many needed supplies. The only option was to have them shipped in, if they could be found at all since the boycott was so widespread.

Soon, the town had no more Chinese in it and the Association just faded away, while the wounds from this act took long years to heal.

Through all this the town continued to live, somewhat spurred on by the fact that it was still the last railroad stop along the main road to Placerville, a place that for many reasons would not be reached by railroad until the middle of 1888.

Some time in the late 1800s mining of the high calcium limestone deposits started some three miles south of the center of town.

The El Dorado Lime and Minerals Company, quarried the stone which was burned in nearby stone lime kilns and then used for many purposes.

In 1931, the El Dorado Limestone Company took over the operation, expanding both the mine and the product line. They sunk a 1000 foot vertical shaft which was worked at both the 650 and 800 foot levels. The limestone that was removed ended up being processed at their nearby plant, and shipped nation-wide for use by steel mills, glass manufacturers, beet-sugar refiners, the construction trade and agriculturists.

In the 1980s the mine would be closed, but the processing plant would continue to operate for a while using limestone brought in by truck from the historic open pit at Marble Valley, a few miles to the west.

Although its name has changed several times over the years – first Shingle Springs, then in 1895 officially just Shingle and then in 1955 back to Shingle Springs – this Gold Rush town has always been an important part of the history of El Dorado County.

Perhaps no other town in our County has left its mark in so many ways: first as the site of a large shingle mill, then as a rich mining community, an important stop on the emigrant trail, a large railroad terminus, and now as a rural community with a rapidly growing commercial district.

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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