The History of El Dorado County, California by P. Sioli, pages 187-190

Georgetown in early days was the prettiest town in the mountains, and up to this day, notwithstanding it can not be compared to what it once has been, is a very pleasant mountain town on account of its location at the summit of a high elevation, (contrary to most other mining towns, which all occupy the bottom of canyons or gulches) overlooking a wide expanse of country in every direction except towards the east, where the gradual rise of the mountains starts too close to town, thus hiding the sight. The altitude of Georgetown is 2700 feet above sea level. Georgetown is and always will be a mining town in the full sense of the word, the high elevation as well as the character of the country don't recommend it for an agricultural centre, though there always has been raised a superior kind of fruit, particularly of the harder varieties. The first mining work on this divide was done by a part of Orgonians under the leadership of Hudson ; they were mining in what has since been known as "Oregon canyon" and Hudson's gulch" in July 1849, but though they took out a large amount of gold at both these places they did not stay, and left the vicinity. They were followed by a party of sailors, among whom was one George Phipps, who first pitched his tent near the head of what since has become called "Empire canyon," and from him derived the original name of George's town, just as John's town lower down in the same canyon, at its junction with Manhattan creek, was named after another man of the same party. The afterwards famous "Sailor Claim" in Oregon canyon, however did not obtain its name from the Phipps party.

The first log house in the young George's town was erected about September 20th, 1849, by Graham and Hull, and the first store opened therein; other building followed, and by January 1st, 1850, their number had increased to a dozen, occupied chiefly as stores, among whom were Graham and Hull ; John T. Little's branch of the Coloma store; old Tom Clegg; Cushing and Grammer. Mr. Grammer also started the first letter express, and during the summer of 1850, furnished a great opportunity to a portion of the overland emigration to reach the valley below by passing this way, and the location of the place proved to be a very favorable one, if not a necessity, as the highway junction for all those rich river bars on the Middle Fork of the American river; as Ford's, Volcano, Big, Sandy, Junction, Gray Eagle and other bars, and the distributing point for supplies, etc., to those who were working on those bars and all those flats and other mining camps beyond Coloma.

Meantime the town, imbeded in the native wilds of surrounding material wealth, made up of log cabins, shake houses and canvass tents, was growing until a traveling photographer, in his attempt to take a photograph of a deceased miner, a native of the State of Maine, by accident set the frail building or tent on fire, July 14th, 1852. The fire originated in the "Round Tent," a gambling saloon kept by Pete Valery, where N. Lothian, formerly leader of the famous Lothian Band, of New York, furnished the music. The flames spread with such rapidity that it was only under difficulties, that the corpse could be saved from cremation, and in one half hour the business portion of the town was almost entirely laid in ashes. Only Frances Graham's store at the west end and J. W. Slette's store at the extreme east end of town remained. Before the ashes had cooled, the spirit of the California American arose like a star in the midst of her desolation; the residents of the town assembled and resolved to rebuild, and nobly was it seconded by the whole band of independent miners from Mameluke and Jones' Hill, from Georgia Slide, Oregon and South canyons, to change the site of town to the top of the ridge, north of the old site (where the town now stands). This was then covered by a magnificent growth of lofty sugar pines, but the pioneer miners from the surrounding camps generously volunteering time and labor, came with axes and other implements, and under their heavy blows the pines fell with thundering crash and the think under brush was cleared away. After a few days sufficient space had been cleared to lay out the town, with a street one hundred feet wide, in a few hours the work of rebuilding commenced, the first building completed was the Post Office. The building lots were drawn for, the old traders and hotel keepers having first choice, and every other man who desired had the next choice, and the new town soon assumed a substantial and beautiful appearance, and a most attractive mining town, justly called the PRIDE OF THE MOUNTAINS.

The town then was in the most flourishing condition, with rich placer mines surrounding it in every direction; the crude surroundings of its birth place were fast thrown off and a better condition of society established, the church was built in 1853, the public school organized a short time after, and the place settled down to a steady and quiet existence; but the whole change was due to the fire of July 14th, the fire was needed to raise the place out of its low and awkward location to the lofty, cheerful and healthy site it occupies since.1

The first marriage celebrated in Georgetown was that of Mr. Wm. T. Gibbs, now of Oakland, on November 10th, 1851, to Mrs. Cynthia A. Turner, in the presence of nearly five hundred persons drawn together by the novelty of the occasion from the surrounding mining camps. Gibbs had located in town in 1850, keeping a blacksmith shop, and his eight children were all born here. Mr. Gibbs is and always has been an enterprising man, and a public spirited character, his removel from Georgetown was highly regretted. Mr. Gibbs is the present President of the society of El Dorado Territorial Pioneers.

The first school in Georgetown was taught in a building saved from the fire of 1852, at the east end of the old town ; Mrs. Dr. Ray, a lady well known to all early residents of the place, had opened it, and it was continued at intervals by various others. The Board of Trustees, S. Knox, Wm. T. Gibbs and B. C. Currier, then on May 22d, 1854, instituted the first Public School in town with Miss Minerva A. Horsford as teacher. The following year Mr. John Waterhouse was made principal of the public school with Miss Horsford as assistant.

A Temple of Honor was organized at Georgetown on Saturday evening previous to November 30th, 1854, called Georgetown Temple of Honor No. 11, and the following were elected the first officers: Jas. A. Songer, W. C. T.; Wm. T. Gibbs, W.V.T.; A. J. Hill, W. R.; J. C. Simpson, W. A. R.; Jno. Shorp, W. T. R.; M. A. Woodside, W. T.; H. M. Porter, W.U.; J. B. Warren, W. D. U.; Hiram Lines, W. G.; Joseph Olmstead, W. S.

A lodge of the ancient society of E. Clampsus vitus was organized in Georgetown on March 15th, 1856, by E. H. Van Decor, P.N.G.H., and the following "Knights," were chosen officers: John L. Boles, N.G. H.; J. Turner, R. P.; J. Z. Kelly, C. P.; J. C. Terrell, C. V.; H. C. Kelly, J. H.; J. J. Lewis, T. and O. H.; H. Lines, G. R. F. and S. Sternfels, R. G. M.

The Odd Fellows established in early days already a lodge called: Memento Lodge No. 37, I. O. O. F., which is still in good condition; their meeting day is Saturday.

Georgetown Lodge, No 25, F. and A. M., shows the activity of the Masons at Georgetown; they are meeting Saturday preceeding the full moon. Mr. T. W. Wilson is secretary of the lodge.

A military company was organized at Georgetown in August, 1859, called the Georgetown Blues. The following were elected first officers: R. E. Phelps, Captain; S. Doncaster, 1st Lieutenant; D. O. Deaves, 2d; C. B. Ferguson, 3d; J. Durham, 4th; J. McCormick, 1st Corporal; Oliver Lear, 2d; J. Deaves, 3d; J. Vaughn, 4th; D. W. Bouker and S. A. Logan Musicians.

A second big fire visited Georgetown on July 7th, 1856, the day after Placerville had been destroyed by a big blaze. It originated in the rear of what was known as Pat. Lynch's saloon, midway on Main street the flames spread with such rapidity that scarcely anything could be saved. Stores, hotels and dwelling houses on Main street, melted away like snow before the sun, and only by almost superhuman efforts was it possible to save the rear portion of the western part of town. But again the indomitable spirit of the people arose in triumph over their misfortune, and, phoenix-like, from its ashes new town sprang up. Again on the 16th of August, 1858, the principal business portion of the town was destroyed by fire; the greatest damage was done on the east side of Main street, which was only partially rebuilt. The last time Georgetown has been visited by the fire fiend was on May 28th, 1869; the fire was discovered in the old Miners' Hotel, n Main street, shortly after midnight, and the flames spread with such rapidity that the proprietor of the hotel, Mr. Stahlman, barely escaped out over the roofs with his eldest child; but his wife, three children and Miss Stanton perished in the flames. The west side of Main street was partially destroyed, also the Catholic church and the Town Hall. Stahlman, suspected of arson, was on trial in the County Court before judge Chas. F. Irwin, on July 13th, 1869. G. J. Carpenter and Geo. E. Williams appeared for the people, John Bush and J. W. Coffroth for the defendant. The trial lasted for two days, and the jury being unable to agree was discharged, and the case set for rehearing September 21st. Finally the trial came up again on February 1st, 1870, and the jury deliberately gave a verdict of not guilty. Notwithstanding these several conflagrations and the changes which followed each of these catastrophes, the town at the present writing will compare favorably with any of the old mining towns of early days.

Mining in this district was first confined to the canyons and gulches, and to the bars on the Middle Fork of the American river. Then came the "Hill diggings," worked by drifting. The first strike was made at "Bottle Hill," which was opened up in 1851, Mameluke Hill followed in 1852, and even richer deposits were discovered in 1853 and '54 at Cement and Jones' Hill. At each of these mining camps thriving tows were built up, and regular stage and telegraphic communications with Georgetown established. But the days of wild excitement have passed by, and an era of permanency apparently has followed with a more general disposition to settle down and work in earnest and thoroughly what has been left from the period of the first excitement and rapid exhaustion, which soon scattered those engaged in working there, and the houses, left without proprietors, one after the other disappeared, until after a few years hardly a building remained.

Next came what has been termed "seams diggings," a peculiararity of the vicinity of Georgetown, worked principally by the hydraulic process; with great promise in the constancy of their character. The "Beatty Seams Claim," at Georgia Slide, for instance, was opened in 1854, and has been permanently worked to the present time. Nearly all the small divides between the canyons and gulches contain deposits of this description, and constitute most of the mining that is done at present. Very little, however, has been done at developing the numerous quartz lodes which are known to exist in the district : The Woodside mine, located within the town limits, was worked to a depth of 225 feet, and the amount taken out of the mine was over $50,000. The Eureka had a shaft sunk to the depth of 230 feet and work was going to be resumed in it this season. The Taylor mine was a good paying property some years ago, but no work has been done since, and quartz mining, in which the permanency of a mining community exists safely, awaits from the future what the present still denies. Numerous canyons as: West, Illinois, Oregon, North and Dark canyons have their heads almost within the townsite, emptying into Canyon creek, and thence in to the Middle Fork, while Empire, Manhattan, Badger, Iowa and Rock canyons find their outlet into the South Fork of the American river. Thus showing that the location of Georgetown is on the regular divide, being the water shed of the two rivers. But it also is located on an underground divide, the cement deposits of the underlaying channels emptying into the Middle Fork ends right here ; no cement being found south from here.

The water of the Georgetown divide is controlled for the most part by the "California Water Company," their main supply is a system of lakes situated at a high altitude in the eastern portion of the county, having an aggregate of 300 miles of ditches, flumes and iron pipes. Two large reservoirs are located almost in town, and one of the main ditches runs through town, providing it with a beautiful stream of good mountain water.

The agricultural resources of the vicinity of Georgetown, either for field or garden, are somewhat limited, there is no increase in farming visible since 1860 ; some parts rather show some perceptible decrease. From Coloma up to the summit there is no farming done that would be worth mentioning, notwithstanding the abundant water facilities, and the farming land did not make any increase in value either. Some attention has been given to the raising of various kinds of fruit, and excellent results procured, concerning quality as well as quantity. But the lack of sufficient home consumption and the distance from other market places, together with the want of quick transportation, offers little inducement for extensive fruit culture. The farming entirely depends on the mines ; from 1849 to '60 were the "flush times" of the mines, producing largely, then money was plentiful and spent lavishly, thus making Georgetown and surrounding country the liveliest spot of ground, and to repeat such times, to a certain extent, the mineral wealth of the land has to be disclosed ; there are thousands of acres of mineral land unprospected, and the remainder is not prospected deep enough to give an estimate.

Georgetown has given to the county of El Dorado many officers, to the Halls of Legislature assemblymen and senators; one of her citizens became United States Senator, another the unsuccessful candidate for Governor, but all of whom--with only two exceptions--retired to other solitudes upon the expiration of their terms of office; the citizens of Georgetown have never been active in political affairs outside of the local questions. The removal of the county seat from Coloma to Placerville was not acceptable to them, and instigated by some old wire pullers they entered the arena for the agitation, first, to have the County Court seat of El Dorado county removed to Georgetown, this was in 1854, and afterwards in 1857, when they expressed to be in favor of a division of the county of El Dorado, making Georgetown the county seat of the new county of "Eureka," for which was intended all the country bounded by the Middle and South Forks of the American River, and falling through with this plan they never have taken a hand in politics again, and were quite contented with no other officers in town besides Justice of the Peace, Constable and School Trustees.-- Of important men who lived here we have to name : United States Senator Cornelius Cole, who was mining here in 1849 and '50 ; John Conness, of the firm Conness and Reed, merchants, who lived here from 1849 to '64, was State Senator first and afterwards elected United States Senator; J. W. McClury, ex-United States Representative and afterwards Governor of Missouri, kept a general merchandise store here in 1851 and '52 and several others.

Incidents of an exciting character have been quite rare at Georgetown, though the town has been notorious for stage robberies and burglaries--on account of which Wells, Fargo & Co., discontinued their office in town--at an immense cost to the county in not convicting. Judge Lynch held a carnival here two or three times, only once with fatal precision:


In the fall of 1850, for shooting and killing his wife while in a drunken frenzy. Devine was in Englishman, a deserter from the English army ; he came to California in 1849, and used to live on Oregon canyon in 1850, at that time belonging more to the town. Mrs. Devine was a woman of fine presence, dignified and somewhat reserved, kind and thoughtful to those arround her, in marked contrast with the course and, as the sequel proved, brutal disposition of her husband. There were only two women in town at that time. He had threatened here before already, and when he reached for his gun, she attempted to escape and was shot when passing out of the door in the rear of the building. One Joe Brown, a noted character, and a few other persons determined that Devine was guilty of murder, and that justice would only be satisfied by life for life; consequently he was hung by this mob from the limb of an ok tree on the hill, south side of the head-waters of Empire canyon, opposite the old town. The tree still stands there, a monument to the so-called justice. In April 1851, Wm. Allen, of Missouri, shot Chas. Roux in Oregon canyon on account of personal affairs; Allen gave bonds and fled the country.

1. On March 1st, 1855, there were nine large grocery stores, two banking establishments, two express companies, three drug stores, two jewelry stores, one jewelry manufactory, one ladies' furnishing store, one book and stationary depot, eight clothing stores, one tinshop, one soda factory, one tannery, etc., one saw-mill in the valley, one saddle and harness shop, one merchant tailor, four restaurants, three hotels, two bakeries, four carpenter shops, two cabinet making shops, one paint shop, four blacksmith shops, two boot and shoe shops, two meat markets, one daguerrean, one cigar store, three livery stables, three billiard and tow bowling alley saloons, one Masonic Hall, one hall Sons of Temperance, one church, one theatre, one Town Hall one school.

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