Highway 49 travels directly through most of the Gold Country and the community of Cool is the northern gateway to the El Dorado Adventure Loop. From San Francisco, take Interstate 80 east toward Sacramento. From Sacramento, continue on Interstate 80 to intersect with Highway 49 take the Elm street off ramp (exit 119C) heading south in Auburn, or take Interstate 50 to Highway 49 north in Placerville.
When news spread in 1848 that gold had been discovered in the Sierra foothills, people from all walks of life rushed toward the promised land of California. Arguably one of the most significant events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century. As news spread of the discovery, prospective gold miners traveled by sea or overland to Coloma and surrounding areas; by the end of 1849 the population had swelled to some 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was taken from the area during the 1849 gold rush. This sudden flood of settlers who had crossed the treacherous Sierra Nevada range, determined to find riches, made the Gold Country a ruthless, gun-toting region. Finding the mother lode was the prime objective, and the end for many. Although we still want to think of California as a desirable destination for the pursuit of untold adventure the age of gold fever is a thing of the past. However the Sierras’ Western heritage still reigns and serious adventure can be your main objective today. History buffs will want to stop and read the countless historical markers that dot the highway, and who knows , you might even strike it rich… in the memories you bring home. (Photography Credits for Old Barn Image: Wentworth Springs by Teresa Fitzpatrick)
Coloma | January 24, 1848 James Marshall discovered gold here along the banks of the South Fork of the American River. This discovery set off the biggest voluntary mass migration of people that we now know as the California Gold Rush. This became a bustling area until other towns started to spring up and Coloma settled into being a quiet farming area.
Cool | Penobscot Public House was established in 1850 as a way station and a stage coach stop. There is debate over where the name originated but many people believe it was named after Reverend Cool who traveled through this area. This was a mining camp of 1850. Mining was carried on here through the end of the 19th century.
| This town received its name because people realized it was more profitable to raise a garden than to mine for gold. Garden Valley did start however as a rich gold mine. George and Stephen Pierce owned some land and planted gardens and sold the vegetables to the neighboring mining camps. Sadly Garden Valley was also a victim of fire like many of the towns in this area and most of it was destroyed in 1857.
| This town was named for a man named George Phipps and was one of the most important mining towns of the 1850’s. One of its original nicknames was Growlersburg because of the heavy gold nuggets that“growled” as the miners panned. Roads and stage lines through Georgetown brought a lot of business. In 1852 a fire burned most of the business part of town. The residents assembled and rebuilt the town in its now current location.
| John Greenwood was a trapper and guide and established a trading post here in 1849. Originally this was called Long Valley. During the gold rush a nice town built up that boasted a theater that was enjoyed by the surrounding mining camps. Originally gold mining and haymaking were the way to make money. When there was a fight for the county seat of El Dorado to be moved, Greenwood was a front winner because of the nice town that had built up there. Eventually Placerville was decided upon for the county seat.
Gerle Creek | This creek was named after a Swedish emigrant named Christopher Gerle. The family ran this area as a ranch until the 20th century. In 1962 the Gerle Creek Reservoir Dam was built. In 1931 there was a rest camp that was built by the U.S. Army Air Corp. Currently it is run by the Forest Service for camping, fishing, and picnicking.
Hellhole | This reservoir was created in 1966 with the completion of the dam across the Rubicon River. It is named for the deep canyon that is now under water. This area is now a beautiful place to go camping. This area was not used to look for gold during the gold rush but more so for water and timber.
Kelsey | This town was named for Benjamin and Samuel Kelsey who started the diggings in this area in 1848. During the height of placer mining this was the business center and a rich mining center. Kelsey also had a large fire in the year of 1853 that destroyed most of the town. This was where James Marshall lived and owned a blacksmith shop at the end of his life.
Lotus | The name of this community was changed several times. It was first named Marshall for the discoverer of gold and was later named Uniontown. This became confusing with other similar named areas so they finally settled on the name Lotus suggested by the postmaster George Gallaner because the people were as easy going as the Lotus eaters in the Odyssey.
Loon Lake | Probably was given this name because the aquatic bird, the Loon, was found living here. Loon Lake was created because of the Loon Lake Dam that was built in 1963. The idea was to use the snow melt run off for hydroelectric power. It has now become a popular place for fishing.
Mosquito | Many places were named after this little insect during the gold rush days. Placer mining happened here in 1849 and when the gold played out the mining ditches were then used for irrigation for the orchards and gardens. It had the reputation for being a quiet and peaceful place and not many crimes.
Quintette | Quintette is an unincorporated community in El Dorado County. A post office operated in Quintette from 1903 to 1912. It is located north-northwest of Pollock Pines at an elevation of 4049 feet.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
| It is believed that the founder was an African-American trapper. He was friendly towards travelers and this became a gathering place. It has continued in this vein with all the new owners since then. It is located on the Rubicon Trail so a lot of off road vehicles come through this area.
Volcanoville | This town was founded as a small trading post in 1851 but became a larger gold mining camp by 1855. It was named by the miners because a nearby mountain looked like an extinct volcano. The miners had to work through what they thought was hard lava. This was also a very important gold mining town. Again like many other towns in this area fires came through and burned the town to the ground. Sadly it never grew back to what it once was.
Pilot Hill | As early as 1849 this was a center of a rich placer mining area. It was named because the overland migrants would use this landmark to “pilot” them in the right direction. It was originally named Centreville. Robert Draper was the mail carrier and he could walk to Sacramento in the morning and come back by that same night. The first Grange Lodge of the West Coast was organized here in 1810.
French Meadows | The reservoir here was built in 1964 because of the construction of the L.L. Anderson Dam. Lots of places that were named during the gold rush have the name “French” in the title because that would be where a lot of French people would gather or settle. This is true for many different ethnicities that would tend to stay together and name the area after where they had originated.
Stamp mills were used to crush rock brought out of the mines so that the fold could be extracted. They were powered by water, steam, electric motors or gasoline engines. A two stamp mill such as this one would have been used in the small mining operation. Larger mines had banks of stamp mills set up in buildings and processed rock 24 hours a day. Early residents of Placerville said the loud pounding of the stamps in the many mills could be heard night and day. The iron castings for this two-stamp mill were manufactured in 1903 by the H.S. Morey Foundry in Placerville.
Be sure to stop by the Georgetown Stamp Mill, which is still a functioning stamp mill on Main Street, Georgetown.
Georgetown, “Pride of the Mountains” – The mining claim known as Georgetown was a camp that was booming in 1852 when the tent city was totally destroyed by fire. The fire didn’t close down the camp.. instead the local folk out to rebuild the town in a unique way, so it would never happen again.
Stories of El Dorado County – Find numerous stories about places and events of that golden era. Uncover secrets about Volconoville’s hide treasure, the Georgtown Mine or the Bayley house along highway 49, to name a few.
El Dorado Western Railroad – Railroads have been an important part of El Dorado County History.
Penobscot Ranch – The ranch has been a landmark in the Northern California Sierra Nevada Foothills since the earliest days of the California Gold Rush.
No Hands Bridge – “Mountain Quarry Bridge”, “Railroad Bridge”, and finally the name, “No Hands Bridge”, which it is known by today (pictured to the right), was initially built by the Pacific Portland Cement Company to accommodate trains servicing an upstream rock quarry. It was the first concrete bridge of its kind in North America. It was a special railroad line that connected their limestone quarry operation with the westbound Southern Pacific main line in Auburn, California. Click this link for more information.
American River Inn – The American River Inn of Georgetown (pictured to the left), an historic Gold Rush era building, surely must be one of El Dorado County’s best kept secrets. Surrounded by native timber, wildlife and the natural beauty of the Georgetown Divide, this late 19th century town will take you back in time – to the days of the gold rush. Click this link for more information.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Highway 49, Coloma – come explore the major historic site where the discovery of gold started the largest migration of people to California to find their own gold find. See buildings from the area at the time. Self-guided tours, group reservations, living history days, museum and visitor center, and more. Click this link for more information.
The Wakamatsu Tea & Silk Colony Farm – Located at 941 Cold Springs Rd. Placerville, CA 95667, Wakamatsu is a national historic landmark of the 1869 Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony. It is the site of the 1st Japanese Colony, the birthplace of the 1st Japanese-American, and the gravesite of the 1st Japanese Settler in the USA.