Long ago beneath the Pacific Ocean, during the Mesozoic Era, igneous rock intruded into the metamorphic marine layers. The Sierra range has been and continues to be built by volcanic activity resulting from plate tectonics. The hot magma cooled into crystals of pyroxene, amphibole, biotite, and olivine. As the Pacific Plate subducted into the Continental Plate, plagioclase, feldspars and quartz formed in the Sierra Nevada and sealed veins in the sheets of granite and other rock, forming concentrations of asbestos, chromites, iron, silver and gold. These mineral ores have historically created the character of El Dorado County and its wealth.
California State Historic Landmark #141 is located on the site of Elsnter’s Hay Yard, where a large oak tree stood. In 1849, robber-murderers were hung from the tree and the mining camp acquired the nickname, “Hangtown” partly in hopes of discouraging other criminals from coming into the town. By 1850 the town’s name was Placerville, the name derived from the word “placer“, a Spanish word meaning gravel bank which fit the first mining activity in this area. The abundant and easy to find gold in the streams started the greatest migration of men from every corner of the world, rushing to California to find their fortune. Some men became rich, some stayed and became the founding fathers of the town, some died here, penniless and far from family and home.
Early Fires in Placerville
Neptune Hose Company No. 1 was organized in 1853 to protect life and property, adopting the motto, “We’re Ready”. Its first hose house was on Maiden Lane, now Center Street. But even with Neptune Hose Company No. 1, the 3 terrible fires of 1856 were hard to control because of the flammable construction materials. the first started in the Iowa House, on the east side of Sacramento Street a few doors from Main Street and traveled north along and on both sides of Sacramento Street: the second, the July 6th fire started in the Union Hotel, nearly destroying the entire town and encouraging replacement construction of stone and brick buildings. But not before the third fire, the October 7th fire which started in the Pittsburgh House destroyed most of the businesses in Upper Placerville. The Mountaineer Engine Co. No. 1 was formed in 1857. It was renamed Confidence Engine Company No. 1 because the name was so deeply carved into the engine that removal was impossible. The new engine house was erected in 1860 and is down the street at 487 Main Street.
A Chinese hat, headrest, smoking pipe, and knives are on display. The Chinese in Hangtown were merchants, professionals, and miners. The small porcelain bowls are Caladon Sun Dynasty. Chinese slide beads are on the wires of the abacus for calculation.
Hotel menus and dishes used by early Placerville residents who boarded at local hotels can be seen. A prospector with good fortune asked for the most expensive dish the El Dorado Hotel could make. He was served the “Hangtown Fry”, an omelet of eggs, oysters, and bacon.
Also on display are knives, cooking utensils, brandy, medicine and tooth powder bottles found in excavations. Other small items used by early miners can also been seen.
*Pearson Soda Works*
Distinctive bottles came from different businesses. Up the street from the Fountain & Tallman Soda Works building, at 594 Main Street, is the *Pearson Soda Works* stone building which the first story was built in 1859 and the second story was built in 1897. Ice taken from Ice House Lake in the Sierra was stored in a 150 foot cave accessed through the building. Pearson’s unique bottles were carried in the Pearson Red Box. Notice the marking “Leave bottles open when mty” – empty.
At the soda works, pressurized Co2 was passed through spring water which came from the back of the building. By carbonating the water it stayed fresh for long periods of time. The bottled water was then sold to saloons and restaurants as well as to individuals as a healthy source of drinking water. This machine is similar to one actually used at Fountain/Tallman and was manufactured by the American Soda Fountain Company in 1894.
The Maidu and Miwok
The indigenous people of El Dorado County were the Maidu and the Miwok. They harvested acorns from the many oak trees and ground into meal on the granite rocks near the streams where they would camp. The acorn flour was an essential part of their diet and they would keep it in storage for the winter months when other grains were scarce.
The California Gold Rush
In 1848, John Sutter directed James Marshal and his crew to build a sawmill on the American River in the Coloma Valley. One early January morning, Marshal found a gold nugget in the sawmill tailrace. This was the start of the California Gold Rush, a migration from around the world to California in search of gold. Later, hard rock mines like the 1888 Hattie Mine, now the Gold Bug Mine and a Placerville city park were developed in the area. Quartz ore was crushed with a stamp mill like the one at the Gold Bug Mine. Pounding from the stamp mill, sounding like thunder, could be heard and felt in town one mile away.
Gold Rush Era Artifacts from El Dorado County
Display created by Joyce Thompson
Artifacts in the display are identified with details in the storyboard.