From its creation in February 18, 1850, as one of California’s original twenty-seven counties, El Dorado County has seen its boundaries change nearly a dozen times – often drastically. Originally bounded on the north by Yuba County, the south by Calaveras County, the west by Sacramento and San Joaquin counties and the east by Utah Territory (Nevada), over the years El Dorado County has contributed about one quarter of its original area to the creation and modification of three of the state’s newer counties: Amador, Alpine and Placer.
What was the reason for these changes in boundaries and the creation of additional counties? It was usually because an area was difficult to govern (collect taxes from) because it could not be easily reached due to river canyons or remoteness. Also, in some cases, the residents of an area of an original county believed they were not receiving the services they were being taxed for and demanded local rule. Thus, the 27 original counties became 58.
The original, 1850 description of El Dorado County read as follows:
“Beginning at the junction of the north and south forks of the American River, and running thence up the middle of the north fork to the mouth of the middle fork; then up the middle of said fork to its source; thence in a due easterly direction to the boundary of the state; thence in a southeasterly direction, following the boundary of the state, to the northeast corner of Calaveras County; thence in a westerly direction along the northern boundary of said county to the southeast corner of Sacramento County; thence in a northerly direction along with boundary of said county to the south fork; and thence down the middle of said fork to this mouth, which was the place of beginning.”
The northern boundary of Calaveras County, which formed the southern boundary of El Dorado County, started at the corner of Sacramento and San Joaquin counties and then:
“up the middle of Dry Creek to its source; thence following the summit of the dividing ridge between Moquelumne and Cosumne rivers; thence due east to the state boundary line;”
During several sessions in the very early 1850’s, the state legislature considered the creation of a new county named “Washington” from a portion of both Calaveras and El Dorado counties. This met with substantial opposition and protests and even petitions from residents of both counties. In 1854, after much deliberation, their final action was to allow the citizens of Calaveras County to vote on the division of their county into two counties. Later that year they did so, and the northern portion of that county was detached, creating Amador County and making Jackson, which had been the county seat for Calaveras County from 1850 to 1852, the county seat of the new county.
The next year, without even asking for a vote from the citizens of El Dorado County, the state legislature added to the County of Amador a significant portion of southern El Dorado County lying between the south fork of the Cosumnes River and Dry Creek. This action did not include all of the land to the west of the confluence of the three forks of the Cosumnes, so, in 1857 this line was again modified to make the Cosumnes River the common boundary all the way to the Sacramento County line. With these acts, the towns of Fiddletown, Plymouth, Saratoga and many more, along with the rich Shenandoah Valley grape growing region, passed from El Dorado to Amador County.
In 1863, the legislature took a third action in regards to the El Dorado – Amador line, moving it to the north of Silver Lake and making the Amador and Nevada wagon road the common boundary. The new line between the two counties then ran as follows:
“Beginning in the centre of the Cosumnes River at the point where said river enters Sacramento County; thence up the middle of the channel of said river to the south fork of said river; thence up the centre of the channel of said south fork to the south fork of the south fork of said river; thence up said south fork of the south fork to its source; thence due east to the Amador and Nevada wagon road; thence along the line of said road to its junction with the Big Tree and Carson Valley road, in Hope Valley; thence, from said junction, along the line of the road leading down said valley, through Carson Canon, to the eastern boundary of this state. Said roads, when marking the boundary line of said counties as provided in this act, shall be included within the boundaries of Amador County.”
All of what they had set out to do in 1854, amid serious objections and controversy, had been quietly accomplished by the state legislature in only ten years.
In 1864, the southeastern line of El Dorado County was again modified to create the County of Alpine. This same act removed from Amador County a portion of the land it had received from El Dorado County the previous year.
There were no modifications to the northern boundary of El Dorado County until 1863, when there was a change in the line brought about by an ambiguity in the 1850 description. The line was moved northward to add portions of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Bigler (Lake Tahoe) basin to El Dorado County. Fifty years later, in 1913, this line was again moved – this time to the south – to give Placer County a small portion of land south of the south fork of the middle fork of the American River.
Except for some technical changes in the description, the legal boundaries of El Dorado County remained fixed from 1913 until 1990, when, at the request of the Lake Kirkwood Summer Cabin owners, the boundary was again modified to move this tract of land, along with Lake Kirkwood, from El Dorado County to Amador County. This request was based on the fact that they received all of their services from Amador County, which they felt should receive their tax money.