Community Profiles

Community Profiles – Georgetown, Part 1

Georgetown - July 4, 1890

Georgetown – July 4, 1890

The first miners in the Georgetown area were a party of Oregonians led by a Mr. Hudson. They arrived in June of 1849 and, although they found deposits of gold at both “Hudson’s Gulch” and “Oregon Canyon,” for some reason they soon moved on.

By August of 1849 several hundred miners that had come from Coloma in search of the golden deposits had located their claims at the north side of the head of Empire Canyon.

Because they found rich deposits, more miners soon arrived and a town was established on the slope downhill from today’s location. First it was named George’s Town and then Georgetown after the first miner to pitch a tent at that location, a sailor named George Phipps (there is controversy about this, since some report that it was named after another 49er, George Ehrenhart). However, for many years the miners continued to call the place Growlersburg after the sound made by the large gold nuggets that “growled” in their pans.

The first log house in young George’s Town was erected about September 20th of 1849. From there the town grew rapidly – it would soon have dozens of stores built of logs, shakes and canvas – as it spread north and east.

With the completion of the “Georgetown Cut-Off” road, travel thorough the town increased and there were added several hotels, the Missouri, Illinois and Alabama, and The Round Tent, a gambling saloon near to the apparently “notorious” Bee House.

Community Profiles – Garden Valley

Black Oak Mine - 1932

Black Oak Mine – 1932

During the early days of mining in California, it was very common to name communities after a person, a landmark, a local group of Native Americans or often even a hometown or state important to a group of settlers. But one town in El Dorado County is unique, its name coming about as a result of a dinner in celebration of the independence of the United States of America.

It was only natural that the early gold miners would start exploring the ravines that drained into the American River near Coloma. They knew the gold found there was being washed into the river from other places and, who knows, one of these many ravines might be the source of all of the riches, the often sought after “Mother Lode.”

In late 1848 several miners started exploring northward from Coloma, along Johntown Creek near a place known as Stony Point. There they found good quantities of gold and by 1850 a permanent mining camp had been established, a camp that included a saw mill being operated by some gentlemen named McConnell and Cody.
When the fourth of July came around that year, the miners were invited to a vegetable dinner in celebration of the day, hosted by the owners of the saw mill. They had planted a large vegetable garden the previous year and wanted to share their abundant crop with the others. Needless to say, this was a welcome change from the quite boring, “beans and something they shot,” normal diet of the miners, and nearly everyone must have attended.

After dinner the conversation turned to the fact that their town had no name and that it should be given one. With the delicious meal still on their minds, it was voted to name the place Garden Valley – a name that still remains to this day.

Community Profiles – Fair Play

Fair Play Store c. 1900

Fair Play Store c. 1900

Not much was written about Fair Play and the surrounding communities during the early days of California. It was not because there was nothing going on in the southern part of El Dorado County during that time, but because most of the world’s attention was focused on the feverish mining activities nearer Placerville, Coloma and Sacramento, where the population was larger, the roads were better, communication was easier and, of course, where the newspapers were published. Because of this, we have only bits and pieces of information on the little, but very important towns like Fair Play.

The settlement of Fair Play and the many other communities in the area was a result of the discovery of gold in and along many of the nearby streams. This occurred only a few years after the first discovery of gold in Coloma as newly arriving miners found the good claims taken and set out to search for new, undiscovered deposits of gold. As in most other communities founded by miners, the gold soon gave out and many of the miners left to search for new deposits. But the region around Fair Play had attributes that much of the rest of the county lacked – like large stands of timber and deep, well drained, fertile soils. So, as time progressed the population remained fairly stable, the departing miners soon being replaced by farmers, ranchers and lumbermen.

The original settlement of Fair Play is attributed to two gentlemen, Charles Staples and N. Sisson, who arrived there around 1853. The story goes that some time after that the two apparently fell into a disagreement that grew into what must have been a not-too-gentlemanly fight. The fight ended when some of the other newly arrived residents appealed to them to “play fair.” Thus, we’re told, the town became known as Fair Play. Some time later, the name was shortened to one word – Fairplay – mostly for the convenience of various government agencies. But, that would change.

Community Profiles – El Dorado Hills

Mormon Tavern - about 1860

Mormon Tavern – about 1860

Most of the early history of the El Dorado Hills area occurred on and along two of the earliest major immigration and trade routes in early California, Green Valley Road to the north and to the south what is now generally Highway 50, but was historically known by many names including the Carson-Immigrant Trail, the Overland Trail, the Sacramento-Washoe Road and White Rock Road.

Green Valley Road is the oldest of these two and a major portion of it was the old Coloma road, which led from Sacramento via Folsom, Mormon Island, Green Valley, Rose Springs (Rescue) to Uniontown (Lotus) and Coloma. There were also important branches of this road, including one forking off at New York ravine, crossing the South Fork of the American River at Salmon Falls into the northern part of the county and running up to Greenwood Valley and Georgetown. From there the road branched out in all directions, even back to Placerville via Kelsey’s, Spanish Flat and American Flat.

The old immigrant road on the south entered California State from the east and followed the Carson River up the Carson Valley. After crossing the Sierra Nevada it descended along the divide between the headwaters of the American and Cosumnes rivers. It followed this divide through Sly Park, Pleasant Valley, Diamond Springs, Mud Springs (El Dorado) and Shingle Springs, Clarksville and White Rock Springs into Sacramento County. This was the “Carson immigrant route” listed in all of the guide books.

From its main route through the county, it branched at places like Grizzly Flat south to Brownsville, Indian Diggin’s and Fiddletown; at Diamond Springs via Placerville to Coloma, Georgetown and the northern mines; at Mud Springs south to Logtown, Saratoga, Drytown and the southern mines; and at Clarksville to Folsom. The main part of the emigrant route is loosely approximated today by portions of Highway 50, Mother Lode Drive, Pleasant Valley Road, Mormon Immigrant Trail and Highway 88.

For years these two roads were indisputably the most traveled in California, one bringing tired but excited immigrants westward into the state and the other filled with anxious miners heading in the direction of Coloma and beyond. Both roads were also heavily traveled by the wagon loads of supplies needed to support the quest for gold, numerous stage lines and, for a short time, the Pony Express. Even with all of this going on, most of the land now known as El Dorado Hills remained as a quiet place where wildlife browsed — with a few exceptions.