Community Profiles

Community Profiles – Coloma, Part 1


Sutter's Mill

Sutter’s Mill with James Marshall (possibly)

Some ask why it turned out that Coloma, which gets its name from a nearby Southern Maidu village with the name of Culloma, was the site of the California gold discovery. After all, there were many, many places in the Mother Lode where such a occurrence could have easily taken place. Gold was in streams and rivers everywhere along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. But there were several reasons, including luck, that Coloma would have the destiny to become the site of this discovery that would immediately change the the world.

Coloma lies on the South Fork of the American River, a place with sufficient water power for a sawmill, a place with great stands of timber and a place only a day or two ride upriver from John Sutter’s fort, which lay to the west at a place he called New Helvetia (now Sacramento), in honor of his Swiss heritage. It was for these reasons that John Sutter and James Marshall selected this site for Sutter’s sawmill and in doing so, established the first real permanent camp in the foothills of the Sierra. That is what set the stage for the discovery of gold in the Mother Lode to take place at this location.

For the first few years after James Wilson Marshall’s famed discovery of gold, Coloma was where everyone headed. They might end up somewhere else but Coloma, “Sutter’s Mill” or just “The Mill,” was their original destination.

People arrived from all over the world. Most came up the river from San Francisco to Sutter’s Fort and then headed to Coloma through what is now Folsom, Rescue and Lotus. Later, as the word of the  “Gold Rush” reached the east coast, they came by boat to San Francisco or over the Sierra Nevada by wagon.

Community Profiles – Cold Spring

Letter with both Cold Spring and Placerville postmarks. Forwarded to St, Louis - 1852

Letter from Placerville (10 cents), forwarded to St. Louis (5 cents more)

Cold Spring (often Cold Springs) was a short-lived mining community about six miles north of Placerville, upstream from where Cold Springs creek now crosses Cold Springs Road. Its name was derived from a spring of good, cold water located near the edge of Cold Spring creek, in the upper end of the town.

Gold was first discovered at this location in 1849 and soon a road to both Coloma, to the north, and Placerville, to the south, was constructed. This road, that still bears the name of Cold Springs Road, soon became the main travelled road between those two places, with Cold Spring being at the half-way point.

By the summer of 1850 some 600 to 700 miners pitched their tents or built cabins on the flat below the town, each working a 15 foot square claim on the bed of the creek. The stream bed was so rich with gold that the possibility of the camp becoming permanent led to the almost immediate construction of a business district to serve the miners and the numerous travellers along the road.

Community Profiles – Camino

Camino Cable system - Carol Mathis

Camino Cable system – Carol Mathis

Development of the Camino area began in the 1860s and involved two Scottish brothers whose names remain famous in the local timber industry, James and John Blair. They are credited with being the first to start a lumber company in the area which, for many years, bore their name. For a while they also maintained the Sportsman’s Hall, that now historical spot which both the drivers of freight wagons to the famous Virginia City mines and the Pony Express used as a stopping place.

The town proper, which is located just a few miles east of Placerville on the ridge between the South Fork of the American River and Weber Creek, did not really develop until sometime around 1895 when the American River Land and Lumber Co. bought out the Blairs. They had timberland and lumbering operations in the Georgetown Divide area, on the other (northern) side of the South Fork of the American River, including an area that would be called Pino Grande. They had nine and a half miles of railway and equipment to transport the logs from the forest to the American River. From there they floated the logs down the river to the first electric driven sawmill in the United States, next to the Folsom Powerhouse. However, the river almost dried up in the summer and because of that and the rocky nature of the canyon, many logs ended up stuck and never made it to the mill.

Their land holdings and the mill were later acquired by T.H. McEwan who organized the El Dorado Lumber Co., moved the mill from Folsom to Pino Grande and established a drying yard in Camino.

It was McEwan who built the famous cable tramway across the canyon of the South Fork of the American River, transporting the lumber from the Pino Grande mill to the end of what is now Cable Road in Camino.

The cable system it was installed in 1901 and operated for nearly half a century, carrying the lumber around a half mile from one side to the other. A narrow gauge railroad took the rough cut lumber from the mill to a tower on the north side where the carriage was loaded, moved across the gorge and unloaded in a tower on the opposite side onto the narrow gauge railroad which took it to the mill in Camino.

During its history the cable tramway also hauled supplies to Pino Grande and sometimes even people. Because of its unique character, it was also used as a location in a few movies, including one featuring an early movie dog named “Strongheart,” after whom a dog food was named.

Community Profiles – Cameron Park

engesser house smUntil the late 1950s the area just west of Shingle Springs, now known as Cameron Park, remained relatively undeveloped, the land being primarily used for the raising of livestock. However, that did not mean that this area had not played a important part in the early history of El Dorado County. In fact, the opposite it true.

Soon after the discovery of gold in Coloma, many prospectors came to this area hoping to strike it rich in the many small streams and ravines. These Argonauts were soon followed by merchants and other businessmen, along with farmers and cattlemen who would settle in this area.

The road which we know today as Green Valley Road rapidly became the major route between the steamboat docks in Sacramento and the mines in and near Coloma, while what is now generally the route of Highway 50, became the main route between Sacramento, Placerville, Diamond Springs and the immigrant trails.

It was on Green Valley Road, that Steven and William Elliot built the Green Valley Ranch House in 1850. Like many large “gold rush” houses, the lumber for this house was shipped “around the horn” from the East Coast of the United States. A few years later, in 1858, Frederick Engesser, who was in the hauling business, purchased the home in which was also housed the local post office (this building was torn down in the 1970s). In the early 1860s the short-lived Pony Express carried the mail along this route part of the time, stopping just to the west at the Pleasant Grove House to change horses. Some historians believe that this “Green Valley Road” route connected to the “Highway 50 route” along an alignment approximating Cameron Park Drive.

In 1852 a Scotsman named James Skinner arrived in California to search for gold. A few years later he purchased property in the Cameron Park area and established a vineyard and winery. Reportedly, he produced about 15,000 gallons of wine and vinegar at his winery, which is located on the eastern side of Cameron Park Drive, both north and south of Green Valley Road.