Community Profiles

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.

Community Profiles – Caldor

Caldor Railroad -

Caldor Railroad -Courtesy of Steve Crandell Fine Art, Placerville

Caldor was a small, but very important, town near Grizzly Flat that was built by the California Door Co. Located on Dogtown Creek (also known as Dog Creek), a tributary of the Cosumnes River, it was the center for the lumbering operations of this company and ultimately, the eastern end of a narrow gauge railroad known as the Diamond & Caldor Railway.

The history of the town and the company goes all the way back to the days of the Gold Rush when a sash and door manufacturer on the East Coast received word that a large shipment of goods had not reached a customer in San Francisco. The company immediately dispatched a Mr. Bartlett Doe with instructions to search out and find the missing shipment. After a three-month journey, he arrived in San Francisco where he found the goods still on the ship, the crew having deserted for the mines.

While trying to located the needed manpower to unload the shipment, Doe observed that this “frontier town” might be just the place to open a new woodworking business. In 1850 his brother John sailed through the Golden Gate and the two then formed the B. & J. S. Doe Co. In the 1860s another brother, Charles F. Doe, acquired a nearby millwork company and, during the 1870s, the three brothers consolidated their interests, while retaining their individual companies. Finally, in 1884, the brothers formed a single company under the name of the California Door Co. and built a new door, window and blinds manufacturing plant in Oakland – the largest then in the West.

In 1900, to assure a continuous supply of ponderosa and sugar pine lumber for the business, the company acquired some 30,000 acres of timberland in El Dorado County, which included an old sawmill at a ghost town known as Dogtown, 30 miles southeast of Diamond Springs (The state archives indicate there was a school called Dog Creek School in this area between 1860 and 1864).

The old sawmill was soon replaced by a larger one that used water power from Dogtown Creek to saw the needed lumber. This new mill was capable of cutting into lumber 60,000 board feet of logs daily. After pondering for a time, the directors of the company renamed the site of the new sawmill Caldor, since Dogtown wasn’t quite the image the owners wanted for their company.

The company had built a planing mill and box factory at Diamond Springs, and now had to figure out best the method to get the lumber from the sawmill at Caldor to the mill at Diamond Springs, from where the railroad would carry the finished lumber to the Oakland factory.

Community Profiles – Bucks Bar

Downstream of Buck's Bar bridge

Downstream of Buck’s Bar bridge

Bucks Bar is not, as some suppose, named after a tavern or saloon located on Bucks Bar Road. The name refers to a specific gravel bar in the North Fork of the Cosumnes River, east of Diamond Springs, which allowed for a relatively easy river crossing for traffic heading to and from Somerset, Fair Play, Mt. Aukum, Uno and the other towns in the southern part of El Dorado County.

The original mining community of Bucks Bar was located upstream of today’s bridge, although in time most of the businesses moved to the main road. Water was brought in by ditch from Camp Creek to turn stamp mills and sluice the gravel.

Bucks Bar, it is said, was named by some gold seekers who stumbled upon a group of male Indians (often referred to by the miners as “Bucks”) working the gravel bar for gold. The Indians had taken up mining when the gold, which they had generally ignored for many generations, turned out to be very valuable to the immigrant miners.

This location in the canyon of the Cosumnes was chosen by the Indians because it was remote and the chances of being discovered were slim. It was also an area rich in fish and acorns, staples in their diet. Above the river’s high water mark are numerous locations where there is evidence of bedrock mortars where they crushed their acorns.

Once the immigrant miners found that this route to the southern part of the county was some two hours shorter and often a much safer route than the one from Hank’s Exchange south through Ladies Valley across the Cosumnes to Sandridge and then to Somerset, most of the traffic moved to it. Because of that and the fact that there was gold here, the Indians were soon driven out.

Almost immediately after it was discovered, this shorter route across Bucks Bar became the main road servicing the southern part of the county. Apparently the time saved was very valuable, because the narrowness of the canyon created a swift flow in the river and made crossing, especially during the rainy season, often quite treacherous.

This fact was borne out in 1860, when in response to a double murder at Indian Diggings, the coroner at that time, Dr. Eckelroth, left Placerville for Indian Diggings in the company of a Mike Welch. About 10 o’clock that evening they reached Buck’s Bar and found the water running quite high. Welch led the way across and was washed down the rapids and never seen again. Fortunately for him. Dr. Eckelroth escaped.