Placer County CA Town Histories

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ALTA – Situated in dense pine forests and named for the Spanish word “high,” Alta was created by the Central Pacific Railroad in 1866 as a depot for freight and passengers bound for Dutch Flat two miles away. In 1882, Alta was home to prosperous saw mills, store houses, box factories, a fine hotel, and the usual stores, saloons, and residences of a flourishing village. Today it’s a quiet little bedroom community.

APPLEGATE – Applegate was first settled in 1849 by Lisbon Applegate and originally was called Lisbon in his honor. When a post office was established in the 1870s, the settlement was renamed Applegate. Besides being a station on the Central Pacific Railroad, Applegate was known for its excellent orchards and vineyards. In connection with the vineyards were cider-mills, wine-presses, stills for brandy-making, wine cellars, and store-houses.

AUBURN - On May 16, 1848, gold was discovered in Auburn Ravine, this being the first gold discovery in Placer County. The area, originally known as both North Fork Dry Diggings and Wood's Dry Diggings, quickly developed into a mining and supply camp. The many roads leading from the town to the mines and other major cities made Auburn a center of extensive staging and freighting operations. It became officially known as Auburn in 1849. By 1850, the population had grown to 1,500, and Auburn became the seat of Placer County in 1851. The Central Pacific Railroad came to the city in 1865. Auburn was first incorporated in 1860 and again in 1888. Like many early towns, Auburn suffered devastating fires, first in 1855 and again in 1859 and 1863. Each time, however, the city was re-built and prospered. Plentiful fruits and wine were produced by farmers and fruit-growers in the Auburn area, making horticulture and wine-growing important industries.

CISCO – Ciscois in the snowy region of the Sierra, fifty-six miles northeast of Auburn. In 1864, the town was surveyed into lots and named Cisco, in honor of Central Pacific Treasurer John J. Cisco. In November 1866, the Central Pacific Railroad was completed, and the cars commenced running to this point. Cisco then became a very busy place, crowded with freight wagons and teams, stages, and travelers. This remained the ter­minus of the road until 1868 when the summit tun­nel was completed, and the road extended out into Nevada. Cisco today is a popular destination for hikers and campers.

CLIPPER GAP – Located in the hills about six miles north of Auburn, Clipper Gap was settled by pioneers in 1857. The Central Pacific Railroad reached the area in 1865, providing handy transportation for lime products from Clipper Gap’s Holmes & Company, iron ore from nearby Hotaling, black powder from the Clipper Gap’s factory, and locally-grown fresh produce. A hotel was built near the train station to accommodate travelers and tourists, and by 1881 a school was built which served 22 students and one teacher. Eventually, the mines played out, the factories closed, and the population declined in the once-bustling community. Today country homes dot the oak woodlands and pine forests of quiet little Clipper Gap.

COLFAX – Colfax is said to have begun in 1849 as a little mining town called Alder Creek and later on called Illinoistown. By 1865, it was a railroad construction camp and the site of a gold strike the following year. Eventually it was renamed Colfax when then Speaker of the House (and later Vice President) Schuyler Colfax visited the town in 1865. A destructive fire swept away the main portion of the town in 1874. By 1882, the re-built business section consisted of dry goods and grocery stores, two hotels, drug store, wagon and blacksmith shop, bakery and restaurant, saloons, lumber yard, meat market, shoemaker, etc.  For many years, Colfax was known as a railroad town and agricultural center, and flourished in the early part of the 1900s. The city was at the southern end of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad from 1876 until the railroad's removal in 1942, and was the eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad for many years. Being located on both the railroad route and I-80, Colfax is an important shipping point for timber and fruit today. According to a 2009 California Department of Finance report, Colfax is the fastest growing city in the state.

DAMASCUS – Damascus was an old mining town situated on a steep hillside about 4 miles west-southwest of Westville. In 1852 a Dr. Strong discovered gold between two branches of Humbug Canyon and Damascus Branch. At that time, the area was known as Strong’s Diggings. The first post office was established in 1856 but discontinued and re-established several times over the years. Deep snow pack in the winter would shut down mining, but the mild summer weather attracted waves of miners until the gold ran out. Mining activity re-started in the 1930’s for a while and has been intermittent ever since.

DEADWOOD – Situated on a steep hillside or divide about seven miles above Michigan Bluff, Deadwood came about when gold was discovered here in 1852 by a party of prospectors. Their grandiose accounts of future wealth quickly brought in a large influx of people to the area. By 1855, however, Deadwood’s transient glory was gone.

DUTCH FLAT - Dutch Flat is situated in the northeastern part of Placer County on a ridge which divides the Bear River from the North Fork of the American. German brothers Joseph and Charles Dornbach founded the town in 1851. It is thought that their Dutch nativity brought about the town’s name. In 1854, a water-ditch was constructed to convey the waters of Bear River to the tops of the ridges for mining purposes. This gave quite an impetus to the settlement of Dutch Flat, and it greatly increased its population and importance. In fact, Dutch Flat had the largest voting population in Placer County in 1860. Being a stage station also made it one of the most important towns around. In 1882, the town had one newspaper, three churches, one school house, a number of dry goods and gro­cery stores, one drug store, hotel, livery stable, one fire company, and one brewery, besides the usual quota of lawyers, doctors, etc. Its secret societies numbered Masons, Odd Fellows, Red Men, Good Templars, and Ancient Order of United Workmen. These days, the town (population about 330) is a mix of retirees, families, and professionals who commute to nearby jobs. Unlike many of the other early towns in Placer County, Dutch Flat has the enviable history of never having been burned down. Consequently, the Methodist Church, the old Dutch Flat Elementary School, the Odd Fellows Building, and the Masonic Hall survive to this day, making Dutch Flat a popular tourist attraction.

FORESTHILL – Foresthill was founded in 1850 with the discovery of gold in the area. It was a lively mining town and important trading post for many years. Gradually the timber industry replaced mining as the town’s main attraction and was, until recently, the major employer. Recreation is now the main industry in this area with its reservoirs, trails, and camping facilities.

FRYTOWN – Located on Auburn Ravine about two miles below Ophir, the area was first settled in 1849. It was used mostly as supply headquarters for the miners. Like many other mining towns of the time and region, it quickly sprang up, had a lively history, but soon died out.

GOLD HILL - In the early history of Placer County, Gold Hill was quite active. It was situated in Auburn Ravine, seven and one-half miles west of the county seat. The first attempt at mining was in 1851, and in 1852 the village was organized and received its name, which came from the conical shape of the area. The diggings were on the surface where a miner could get some gold, and in some spots rich deposits were found. Eventually though, orchards, fields, gardens, and vineyards replaced mining, and gradually the village declined. Gold Hill is no more, and the area is part of Ophir today.

GOLD RUN - A post office was established called Mountain Springs in 1854, a few miles southwest of Dutch Flat The town was founded by O. W. Hollenbeck who was also its first post master. Later on, the post office moved one mile north, and the town’s name was changed to Gold Run in 1863. In July 1866, the Central Pacific Railroad was completed to this point, making Gold Run an important stop in the Placer County. Gold Run was known mainly for its hydraulic mines. A total of $6,125,000 in gold was transferred out of the town between 1865-1878 due to hydraulic mining. Mining operations ceased in 1882 after a court ruling banned hydraulic operations, and Gold Run became almost deserted as a result.

IOWA HILL – The first discoveries of gold were made at Iowa Hill in 1853, and within two years it became a principal town in the eastern part of Placer County.  The town’s businesses consisted of three large grocery stores, four hotels, five dry-goods and clothing stores, one fancy store, three variety stores, one brewery and soda factory, two hardware and tinware stores, and two butcher shops, as well as a number of bowling alleys, billiard, and saloons. They also had a Catholic Church building, a Methodist Church edifice, a Masonic Lodge, a lodge of the IOOF, a public school, and a theater. On February 2, 1857, the whole business part of the town was destroyed by fire with the loss estimated to be at a half million of dollars. The town was immediately rebuilt, better than before. Drift mining continued through the early 1900s and revived again in the 1930s. The town almost completely burned to the ground in 1922. Today snipers and skin divers are active in Iowa Hill.

LINCOLN - The original townsite was surveyed and laid out in 1859 by railroad engineer Theodore Judah along the proposed line of the California Central Railroad. The name Lincoln was in honor of Charles Lincoln Wilson, one of the organizers and directors of the railroad. In the early 1870s, rich clay deposits were discovered nearby as well as rich coal beds. The Gladding, McBean & Co. was established in 1875 and is the pottery for which Lincoln is now famous. The countryside surrounding Lincoln is agricultural, primarily orchards and vineyards. The town’s first church was built in 1864, and a Catholic Church was built in 1880. By 1882, Lincoln had one drug store, one express office, two hotels, two grocery stores, one dry goods store, three blacksmith shops, one butcher shop, one tele­graph office, one bakery, five saloons, two doctors, one lawyer, one notary public, and two school teach­ers. Lincoln was once home to a significant Chinese American community, but its Chinese American residents were violently driven out of town in 1886. Today Lincoln is known for its pottery and its prosperous Indian casino. 

LOOMIS – Loomis takes its name from one the of town's pioneers, James Loomis. At one time, James Loomis was the whole town—saloon keeper, railroad agent, express agent, and postmaster. Established in 1850, Loomis began as a mining town but soon became a center of a booming fruit-growing industry, supporting many local packing houses. In fact, in the early part of the 20th century, Loomis was the second largest fruit-shipping station in Placer County with the 1930s and 1940s as the peak years of fruit production. Today, only remnants of Loomis’ mighty orchards remain, most having been replaced with suburban neighborhoods and ranchettes.

MICHIGAN BLUFF - Some eight miles beyond Foresthill is Michigan Bluff, one of the oldest mining towns in the county and once the center of vast hydraulic mining operations. It was founded in 1850 and originally named Michigan City. In 1858, the town became undermined and unsafe, so it was moved one half mile away and renamed Michigan Bluff. Mining activity declined in the 1870s, and the town was leveled by fire in 1960. Today the site is marked by a few old structures rotting away as well as random residences that have been attractively renovated.

NEWCASTLE – Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Newcastle was founded in the mid 1800s. Freight and passenger trains began operating over the first 31 miles of Central Pacific's line to Newcastle in 1864. Although the region is in the cradle of gold country where many miners searched for their fortune during Gold Rush days, Newcastle was better known for its orchards. Today, the charming small-town community is still a prosperous fruit-growing region and has many wineries.

OPHIR - In the fall of 1850, a lone log cabin comprised the future town of Ophir which is situated below Auburn on the Auburn Ravine.  By 1852, Ophir was the largest and most prosperous town in Placer County thanks to rich mining, particularly of quartz. However, that same year, the whole town was consumed by fire. Ophir never really recovered as the surface diggings were deemed nearly worked out, and it was thought there were no other viable resources. Mining ceased in the 1880s, but re-activated in the early 1900s to the 1930s. Little mining has been done since then. Ophir is considered to be a suburb of Auburn today and is known for its wineries and outdoor activities such as hiking and mountain trail biking.

PENRYN - Penryn began in 1864 when a Welsh immigrant by the name of Griffith Griffith established a granite quarry on land leased from the Central Pacific Railroad. The railroad designated the quarry Griffith’s Granite Station, but Griffith had something else in mind.  He named the quarry Penryn after the Welsh word “penrhyn.”  The town of Penryn was officially so named in May 1871. By the mid 1870s, Penryn was an established community with a schoolhouse, hotel, at least one blacksmith shop, two or three stores, and an equal number of saloons. The granite works was going strong -- at peak times employing over 200 men and would continue so until Griffith Griffith's death in 1889. It continued to operate on a somewhat smaller scale until 1918. When Penryn’s economic focus faded from stone mining, orange growing stepped in. The Citrus Colony project was a large group of English growers who came to reside in Penryn and plant trial orange groves. Approximately 1,000 plam tree were planted to mark the property lines of The Citrus Colony. Today the main fruit crop is mandarins. Penryn has kept its bucolic charm and quiet natural beauty, attracting visitors to its parks, nature trails, and equestrian paths. The old Penryn Granite Works is now a park and museum.

ROCKLIN - Most of today's Rocklin occupies the southern 12,000 acres of the former Spring Valley Ranch, founded by George Whitney in 1855. The area's industrial development started in the mid to late 1850s as miners abandoned their sluice boxes to quarry granite. Boom times for Rocklin started in the mid-1860s as Rocklin quarries supplied stone for construction of the transcontinental railroad between 1864 and 1869, and the railroad located a roundhouse in Rocklin in 1866 to service the extra engines needed for the trans-sierra run. Rocklin's granite industry survived lean times in the 1870s and early 1880s but began to really flourish in the late 1880s and 1890s. At the time, as many as 30 quarries were operating in Rocklin. Labor strife and competition from cement-based concrete permanently decimated the industry in the early 20th century although one quarry continued to operate until 2004. The town now vies with Roseville for the honor of being Placer's largest city.

ROSEVILLE – In 1850, the area that would become Roseville was settled by a few ranchers, some of whom were failed miners.  In 1864, the Central Pacific Railroad’s east line crossed that of a smaller line here, so the crew named the area Junction. The pioneers of the early town held services in the old school house until 1882 when the city's first church, the First Methodist Episcopal Church, was erected in 1883. The Presbyterian Church was built the following year. In 1906 the Southern Railroad moved to Junction, and the city of Roseville was incorporated three years later. Business and development came fast between 1900 and 1912, and the town’s businesses grew, especially fruit shipping which was a great boost to the economy. In 1913, fruit shipping needs demanded lots of ice, so the biggest ice plant in the world was built in Roseville. Roseville carried on as a leading railroad yard throughout the post-war years, but during the 1950s, the city experienced major competition from planes and trucks. By 1972, the local depot finally closed.

SHERIDAN – Located on the western edge of the county and settled in 1855 by E. C. Rodgers, it was originally called Union Shed. It became the trading point for a large population of farmers and ranchers, as well as being a station on the Oregon Division of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1866. Sometime in the 1860s, the community re-named itself Sheridan after Civil War General Phillip Sheridan. A church and Sunday school were organized in 1865 and a post office in 1868. In the 1870s, Sheridan had the only operating flour mill in the county. In 1881, the town had three stores, one drug store, two blacksmith shops, one shoe store, two hotels, three saloons, two clergymen, one doctor, and one school teacher. Sheridan today continues to support ranching and farming.

TAHOE CITY – Tahoe City was first laid out in 1863 and was considered even back then as a destination for pleasure seekers. Fishing in beautiful Lake Tahoe, new breweries, and the fine hotels were the main attractions in the 1800s. Today the region continues to attract tourists, skiers, hikers, campers, etc.

TODD VALLEY – Todd Valley was first settled by Dr. Todd, who built a log house for a store and hotel at his ranch in the lower suburbs of the town in June 1849. The town did not really grow until 1852 when rich diggings were discovered near the doctor's house. The discovery of these mines drew the attention of miners and traders, resulting in a town being laid out on the ridge.  In the fall of 1859, a fire broke out in the town and destroyed most of the business part of the place. The town was re-built, but mining eventually played out. Today Todd Valley is a small community and serves as an entrance to many recreational opportunities of the Tahoe National Forest.

VIRGINIATOWN – Originally called Virginia, its location was two miles from Gold Hill. It was opened to mining in 1852 when gold was discovered on the adjoining hills and ravines. Soon after, up to 3,500 gold miners worked the area. To solve the problem of transporting water from the ravine uphill to the mines, the first railroad in the county was built in Virginiatown by Captain John Bristow. This railroad consisted of a man, a mule, and dump cars traveling on wood tracks to carry the diggings for water processing. The venture was short-lived, however, due to a drop in productivity at the mines. In 1861, Virginiatown consisted of mostly miners but also had a blacksmith, hotel keepers, at least two doctors, butchers, saloon keepers, and merchants. For many years, the region was a ghost town but today displays many attractive modern homes.

WEIMAR – Originally named New England Mills, the area was re-named Weimar in 1885 in honor of a local Maidu Indian chief. The town was first established as a timbering center, but due to its clean air and mild climate, it became the home of the Weimar Institute, a regional tuberculosis sanitarium, in 1907. When a cure for TB was discovered, the medical center closed and today is a health and nutrition center.

WESTVILLE – Located about 15 miles northeast of Foresthill, Westville was a placer mining district and way station that had its glory days during the Gold Rush. Most of the production of gold came from drift mining in the gravel ridges. Miners would stop to spend their gold dust on dinner and dancing at a grand hotel in Westville, which stood until the 1950s. Today, the area is popular with hikers, horseback riders, and fishermen.

YANKEE JIMS – The town’s namesake Yankee Jim was Jim Robinson who came to the Foresthill Divide in 1849 and set up camp at what he called Yankee Jim’s Dry Diggings. Having no luck as a miner, he turned to stealing horses but had to flee the area just ahead of a posse. In 1852 he was hung in San Diego for thievery. Ironically, after leaving the area, gold was discovered on his abandoned mining claim. This was one of the first mining towns in the county and eventually grew to be the largest. Hydraulic mining came to Yankee Jims in 1853 and proved very profitable until it was outlawed in 1884. Today Yankee Jims consists of a few weathered structures and isolated residences, although gold seekers can still be seen working their dredges, sluice boxes, and gold pans throughout the area.