Western El Dorado County -
It's Where It All Started. What was it…

Yes… Western El Dorado County is where it all began… The California Gold Rush.

That's right! It was on that historic day - January 24, 1848, when James Marshall discovered gold in Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California… touching off the largest gold rush in history.

That one single event not only changed California's fate… but our entire country.

And still today… this area is rich with history providing a colorful backdrop of a time of old and now.

Here's just some of the quaint little towns waiting to tell you their own stories - both past and present.

Such as… 

  • Cameron Park
  • Coloma
  • Cool
  • Diamond Springs
  • El Dorado Hills
  • Fair Play
  • Garden Valley
  • Georgetown
  • Kelsey
  • Lotus
  • El Dorado
  • Pilot Hill
  • Placerville - Main Street
  • Rescue
  • Shingle Springs - north of Hwy 50 and
  • Somerset

We can't possibility talk about all the areas here. But let's venture into some of the stories that show you the county's rich treasures… an experience to remember.

Let's start with…

The Story of Old Coloma Theatre -- Coloma, CA

In 1939, a beautiful log cabin was erected by the Division of Natural Resources for display at the San Francisco World's Exposition.
 
When the World's Exposition ended, the log cabin was moved to Mt. Danaher in the summer of 1941 to serve as barracks for the California Division of Forestry Rangers.
 
Then in 1973 June Scott Payne, founder of the Olde Coloma Theatre, went to the state Capitol to see the then Governor Ronald Reagan, to plead for the cabin that was about to be demolished.
 
She told him of the desperate need for a theatre for homeless thespians in Western El Dorado County.

After much debate within the state Capitol… the cabin was saved from the bulldozer. Payne worked nearly every waking moment to bring the community theater to life.

One woman's love of the theater spanned a lifetime… helping to bring fun, laughter and a restored Gold Rush-style theater to the tiny town of Coloma.

Today the tiny theater takes its place at the historic Marshall Gold Discovery State Park… a Gold Rush-era living history museum.

Olde Columa Theatre - Columa CA

When attending a play, you'll think you've just stepped through a time warp and traveled back in time.

Everyone sits on benches while the stage of actors is almost within arm's reach.
 
So… free up one of your Friday or Saturday nights - or even a Sunday Matinee - and go and enjoy true old-fashion melodramatic performances with villains, heroes and heroines - even the audience gets in on the action… at the Olde Coloma Theatre.

What does Old Dry Diggins, Hangtown, & Placerville all have in common…

Dry Diggins - in Western El Dorado County - was the first of thirty mining camps to spring up around Coloma, when gold was discovered by James Marshall.
 
When gold was first discovered on the North Fork of the American River in January 1848, just eight miles away at nearby Sutter's Mill in Coloma, folks didn't show much interest.

But, by summer, over two-thousand fortune seekers swarmed over the surrounding foothills looking for the yellow metal.
 
Unfortunately, the Coloma diggings panned out all too quickly.

In June of 1848, when Indians brought word of rich placer deposits, just a few miles upstream… producing up to six ounces of gold per day per man, half the Coloma camp pulled up stakes and trekked upriver to the "New Diggins".

At first… gold was everywhere in the area… and a fortunate few struck it rich.
 
Miners extracted the gold by panning, or by sluicing, which allowed small teams to wash the gold-bearing gravels and concentrate the flakes and nuggets.
 
But when the river level dropped dramatically later that summer, there was scarcely enough water to fill the sluice boxes in camp. "New Diggins" soon became "Old Dry Diggins".

Soon more expensive operations moved in. High-pressure water houses were used, and drift mines - horizontal tunnels - and vertical shafts… were dug to reach the ancient gravel buried deep beneath the ground.

Despite low water, the riches still flowed.
 
Tents gave way to cabins, clapboard buildings, saloons and bawdy houses.
 
"Old Dry Diggins" became a rough and rowdy mining town overnight.

With all the fortune hunters coming from around the world… so did all sorts of shady characters like… gamblers… thieves…  and such… looking for ways to make a quick buck by whatever way they could.

Robberies… gambling… and even murder ran rapid throughout Western El Dorado County.

The miners quickly became short-tempered with all the crime happening around them… decided to form a vigilante group and took the law into their own hands.
 
Shady characters accused of crimes were punished in short order.
 
Floggings or hangings were based on snap decisions made by impromptu courts with hastily-formed jurors.

On October 17, 1849, the first lynching occurred...

A triple hanging… came after a gang of five tried to rob a miner of his gold dust.
First… each of them received a whipping - their backs bared, and lashed forty times with a strip of raw cowhide.

While carrying out the sentence, someone in the crowd recognized three of the men - a Chilean and two Frenchmen.  The fellow from the crowd claimed that the three hombres robbed and attempted to murder some folks on the Stanislaus River. New charges were brought against the three men.
 
Taken to a nearby house - too weak to stand from their earlier punishment… the three of them were laid out on the floor. Then tried, again, by a crowd of some two hundred men.

The trial lasted only 30 minutes and the guilty verdict was unanimous.

When the question of punishment arose, a “brutal-looking” chap in the crowd yelled out, “Hang 'em.”

Ropes were tied to the limb of a giant white oak. Thirty minutes later the prisoners were marched out… placed upon a wagon… and ropes put around their necks.
 
Black handkerchiefs bound their eyes and their arms were held down. Then... well... you get the picture.

That's when Old Dry Diggins became known as Hangtown in Western El Dorado County.

Hangman's Tree - Placerville CA

The population of Hangtown continued to grow… reaching several thousand folks by 1849.

Merchants and entrepreneurs moved in. Wives joined their husbands and  families started growing.

Justice was established and the rowdy atmosphere moved on.
 
Placer mining remained the town's livelihood. But Hangtown became more business and family oriented.
 
So… in 1854, the residents - desiring an atmosphere of respectability, renamed their town Placerville, in honor of the gold-bearing gravels that were its economic mainstay.

Placerville's Belltower - on Historic Main Street is a unique sight…

 …not many towns can boast of such a structure in the middle of their town.
 
Initially referred to as… the Plaza, it has its own history, and served a very vital and important role.
 
You see… Placerville suffered three fires in 1856 which destroyed a good portion of the business section in Western El Dorado County.
 
The citizens realized the need for an alarm system to quickly call their volunteer fire department, so a bell was ordered from England to serve their purpose.

Cast in 1860, it arrived in Placerville in 1865 and the City gave approval to place it in a tower on the Plaza - at the cost of $380.00. - worth about $5,507 in today's dollar.

Belltower in Placerville, CA

First erected in 1865, this 25-foot wooden belltower served its purpose well, holding the bell that often called all of the city's volunteer firemen, day or night.

In time, the wood in the 25-foot-high tower became rotted rendering the entire tower… bell and all… to be in serious danger of falling down.

So… on Feb. 26, 1898, a new, 50-foot steel tower to replaced the existing wooden one.

The townsfolk's chose Sept. 8, 1998, to celebrate the metal Belltower's 100th birthday.

Today it proudly stands as a monument to honor Placerville's city volunteer firemen.

See… Western El Dorado County is a treasure filled with history and more…

There's bountiful back roads to explore… a perfect blend of breathtaking scenery… rich and colorful history… exciting outside adventures… and fun agricultural outings all year round.

Discover farms, ranches, wineries… and more…

Be sure to stop by Apple Hill when you come. It's a treat the whole family will love.

 So… even though many weary miners headed home after mining for gold got too hard, others liked what they saw and stayed.

Creating their own great wealth - not from its mines - but from its farms and the small businesses they built.

So why not come and see for yourself. We know Western El Dorado County will give you an experience of your life.

So... what are you waiting for... let’s go!


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