Annual Historic Highway 50 Wagon Train from Nevada arrives in Placerville, CA
California may be known for its gold discovery, but the real deal are in the nooks and crannies in and around Main Street USA. Placerville, in the foothills of the Sierra, is one such town where “Destination” speaks loud and clear. In this little town of approximately 8,000 people treasures are real for art and history buffs, farm and quilt trail visitors, fishing/hiking spots, family fun, event planners, shoppers, photo ops, sippers of the grape, river enthusiasts, and more.
Its other nickname, “Hangtown” (“Dry Diggins” when the gold ran out), was changed to Placerville on incorporation around 1850. Only a few men were actually hanged, yet the nickname pops up on businesses all over town. A dummy clad in flannel shirt and jeans hangs outside a second story above Placerville’s Main Street. The infamous oak stump under the building’s foundation remains in what was once a saloon, now an ice cream parlor.
Halfway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe on east to west running Highway 50, with resorts and vintners continuing to pop up on both north and south sides, Placerville has become more than just a stopping off place.
Placerville was the 1998 and 2016 destination that hosted the World “Olympics” Gold Panning Championship for a week-long celebration for more than 600 competitors from over 20 countries. It is the destination where, for more than 67 years in June, the Highway 50 Association’s Annual Wagon sets off from Nevada and travels the historic route on Highway 50 ending in Placerville for a final parade, dance and barbeque party attended by most of its townspeople. This is the spot on the American River where James Marshall discovered gold in 1848, while working at John Sutter’s Mill. This discovery started a population surge that pushed the state into the entrepreneurial and agricultural meca it is today.
PLAN AHEAD RESOURCES WHAT TO SEE AND DO
With 1710 square miles stretching east-west-north-south from Lake Tahoe to El Dorado Hills, and Fair Play to Georgetown there is much to explore.
El Dorado County Adventures Magazine, free at stands on Main Street, or call for a copy (530) 622-1255.
El Dorado Farm, Quilt Trails and Visitors Guide http://visit-eldorado.com Maps, lodging, wineries, events, what to see/do/when/where/how/why.
El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, 542 Main St. (530) 621-5885
The Apple Hill™ Cider Press, authorized guide to Apple Hill™ growers, may be found at ranches, merchants, Chamber of Commerce or on line at www.applehill.com.
El Dorado County Farm Trails http://www.edc-farmtrails.or Map, guide, articles, farms and products by criteria, region or name.
WINEMAKING AT A HIGHER LEVEL
Our Sierra foothills range from 1,200 to 3,500 feet and hundreds of microclimates perfect for nearly 50 grape varieties. And all our artisan winemakers have a passion for experimenting and for this place. That’s what sets El Dorado apart.
Mountain Grown Wines
Want to know what gives El Dorado wines their intense flavors and deep colors? Our mountain vineyards are on steep hillsides with warm summer days and cool night air. It’s an environment that gives wines luscious fruit, an alluring balance, gentle tannins, and body and depth that valley floors just can’t match. (See Visitor Guide information above for maps, etc.)
California’s Gold Rush began in El Dorado County 1848 with James Marshall’s discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, on the South Fork of the American River in Coloma. As legions of people flocked to California to claim their fortunes, the region’s winemaking industry was born.
By 1870, El Dorado County was among the largest wine producers in the state, trailing only Los Angeles and Sonoma counties. The local wine industry flourished until just after the turn of the century when there were approximately 2,000 acres of vines in the county. Shortly thereafter, El Dorado began a gradual decline, brought about by poor economic conditions and a diminishing local population. Prohibition was but the last straw.
Between 1920 and 1960, viticulture virtually disappeared from the county. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that winegrowing made a resurgence. Following the development of several experimental vineyards, it became apparent that both the climate and soil of El Dorado County were ideally suited to the production of high quality, dry table wines. With the opening of Boeger Winery in 1973, El Dorado was once again on its way to becoming an important winegrowing region.
Today, the county has more than 2,000 acres of vines, is home to approximately 50 wineries, and produces some of California’s most sophisticated wines. El Dorado was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983.
WINE ISN’T ALL YOU CAN TASTE IN EL DORADO COUNTY
El Dorado County is home to 4 world-class olive oil companies.
Winterhill has been crafting California Olive Oil Council Certified Extra-Virgin Olive Oils for over 14 years. A visit to Winterhill allows you the pleasure of tasting all the oils as well as other locally produced artisanal specialty foods.
Collina di Mela, 1925 Carson Road, Placerville. (530) 626-5037 or 417-6602colinadimelaoliveoil.com – firstname.lastname@example.org;
an Apple Hill™Association grower of four originally planted Tuscan varieties, grown organically and winners of local and International awards. Find by appointment or at farmers markets.
in El Dorado County
You will find more than fruits and vegetables. It’s an adventure discovering local organic honey, hand-crafted jewelry, breads (oh, the pastries!), and wild salmon as well. Wednesdays June thru late fall, 4pm til dusk, the market on Main Street Placerville busts out with fresh eggs, local fruits and veggies, pastries, and more. So does the weekend market on Saturdaymornings during the season. The atmosphere in all the markets is one in which to meet your neighbors, become acquainted with your farmers, and show your children that good food doesn’t come in a box.
Cameron Park Coach Lane @ Strolling Hills Drive
June – Oct 26 Wednesday 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Coloma Monroe Orchards Farmers Market
North Beach parking June – Oct Sunday 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
El Dorado Hills Town Center Town Center Blvd
May – Oct Sunday 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Historic Folsom Farmers Market
915 Sutter St. Folsom, CA 95630. phone, (916) 484-7000
Every Saturday year-round 8a.m.-1p.m.
at the historic railroad turntable and public parking garage.
Folsom Parkshore Plaza Farmers Market
606 Coolidge Dr and Parkshore
Folsom, CA 95630
Sprouts Farmers Market and grocery
905 E Bidwell St open daily 7a.m. – 10 p.m.
Folsom, CA 95630
Placerville Main Street Farmers Market
385 Main Street June – Oct Wednesday 5 p.m. – Dusk
Placerville Missouri Flat Outdoor Market
4600 Missouri Flat Road between Industrial Drive & Enterprise Drive Year Round Friday, Saturday & Sunday 4 – 7 pm, 7 a.m. – 3 pm (916) 519-7556
Main Street & Cedar Ravine May – Oct Saturday 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Placerville 3045 Sacramento St. Sunday 8 a.m.-12 p.m. (530) 409-9951
September – November Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Camino Kids Inc Farmers Market
3205 North Canyon Road, Camino
South Lake Tahoe Ski Run Blvd Farmers’ Market
200 x 600 street section between Larch St and Birch Street, Ski Run Blvd June – Oct Friday 9 a.m. – 2 pm
South Lake Tahoe South Lake Tahoe CFM
2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd June – Oct Tuesday 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
COMFORTABLE, CONVENIENT BnBs
Find maps, directions, telephone, email, reservation and seasonal availability in the resources listed at the beginning of this article
in the El Dorado Visitors Guide.
WHERE TO STAY
Whether you plan to explore Placerville or FairPlay,
Georgetown or El Dorado Hills, there are fine accommodations waiting for you and a friendly,
HISTORY and FAMILY FUN all year long
Visitors think Placerville goes to sleep after the fall apple picking festivities, but there are events and attractions through winter. Some farms remain open and families visiting Christmas tree farms can catch the Santa Claus Parade, tree lighting event, and dozens and dozens of miniature Christmas trees along Highway 50.
Find the surrey with the fringe on top
Gold pan on the American River.
Visit countless u-pick farms, farmers
markets, museums and historical sights.
Ride the train, do a ghost tour, find
a wine trail of your own and scour the
shops on Main Street for that antique
you’ve been looking for or that
fabulous dinner entree waiting for you.
A 3-MUSEUM HISTORY HUNT
El Dorado County Historical Museum, 104 Placerville Dr. (530) 621-5865)
(www.museum.edcgov.us) for historical links and information. This large museum is filled with local history books, clothing, furniture and artifacts of pioneers and people like John Marshall, John Studebaker and Snowshoe Thompson; logging, mining, wine, agriculture and railroad history. One of the concrete stanchions that marked Highway 50 from the East to the West Coast is planted in front of the Museum. Look for the “buggy with the fringe on top”.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park and surrounds in January or September for Coloma Gold Rush events and see miners at work in live encampments, telling stories, playing music of the era, and other demonstrations. The Park includes the Gold Discovery Museum, the Marshall Monument where he was buried, a replica of Sutter’s Mill and more. (approx. 7 miles north of Placerville downtown on Hwy. 24).
Explore more artifacts and history at the “biggest little museum in the west”,
El Dorado Historical Society Museum and The Fountain & Tallman Museum at 524 Main St. built in 1852. It was a recognized center for soda manufacturing, and the oldest building on Main St., with 2-foot thick walls meant to keep the ice and soda supplies cool. (530) 626-0773. ( http://www.eldoradocountyhistoricalsociety.org)
GHOSTS LIVE HERE, TOO
Ghostly Gold rush personalities abound confirmed in places around town.
Find out more or take a tour: goldrushtales.blogspot.com
Nancy Bradley’s book, “Gold Rush Ghosts: Strange and Unexplained Phenomena in the Mother Lode“, chronicles ghostly incidents at buildings in Placerville, such as the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce and the Carey Hotel.
MORE HISTORY POSSIBILITIES
Gold Pan on the South Fork of the American River (Coloma.com/recreation/gold-panning; Coloma.com/calendar)
Gold Bug Mine and Joshua Hendy Stamp Mill surrounded by 62 acres of walking trails. (goldbugpark.org) Self-guided audio tour, museum, and blacksmith shop.
Apple Hill™ and Quilt Trail provides family fun September-December at grower
facilities including fresh baked everything, BBQs, gift shops, art displays, crafts, restaurants, wine tasting and more.
El Doradoadventureloop.com is your adventure map to find treasure troves throughout “The Divide” that stretches throughout Northern El Dorado County from Highway 49 and 193 and Marshall Road. (www.dividechamber.com)
Somerset Area Excursions include
Alpacas of El Dorado
Alpacas of Somerset Farm
Bluebird Haven Iris Garden
Perry Creek Walnuts
SIDEBAR TIDBITS OF HISTORY AND HEARSAY
The Vineyard House in Coloma across from Pioneer Cemetery is famed for being haunted, as documented by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”.
Reservoir Street used to be home to Chinese whorehouses in the 1800’s, and there were tunnels built under the bars so the men could make an easy escape. The last one closed in the 1950s.
HOME OF THE HANGTOWN FRY
Back in the day, the legend goes that a miner tossed his full pouch of gold onto the bar and called for the most expensive meal in the house. The cook explained that most expensive meant eggs (packed so carefully), bacon (shipped from the east) and fresh oysters (on ice from San Francisco Bay). All three were requested, and the “Hangtown Fry” that was delivered is famous to this day throughout the country.
HANGTOWN FRY RECIPE
This recipe has many variations.
Suit your own tastes by adding or subtracting ingredients.
Ingredients and Directions
- 1. Dice and brown 4 strips of bacon in pan to render fat. Add ¼ of medium onion, diced. When nicely browned, add 2 fresh or jarred oysters patted dry, cut to bite size, and cook 35 seconds per side.
- 2. In separate bowl, combine 4 whole eggs, 2 T milk, ¼ tsp. salt, pinch of red pepper flakes, ¼ tsp. nutmeg.
3. Add egg mixture to bacon mixture and lift edges of omelet to cook til set.
Invert onto plate and garnish with parsley and additional crumbled bacon if desired.
One version of the Hangtown Fry with peppers and artichoke hearts.
Photo by Betty Albert
MOST REMEMBERED: “SNOWSHOE” THOMPSON
Born Jon Torsteinson-Rue, also known as “Snowshoe” Thompson (1827-1876), he was a Norwegian-American considered to be the father of California skiing. He immigrated to America in 1837. An early resident of the Sierra Nevada and California, he picked up the slack when mail carriers could no longer survive blizzards and mules froze to death. Snowshoe packed up to 100 pounds of letters, medicines, newspapers and other items every two weeks from Placerville up 8,000 feet and then down to Genoa, Nevada on his homemade “long” skis from January 1856-May 1876. It was a three day trip over treacherous rocky cliffs and monumental snow drifts in winter. He never had an official mail contract with the U.S. Postal Service and was never paid, despite his efforts for compensation.
He died May 15, 1876 at the age of 49 of pneumonia after an appendicitis attack in Genoa, Nevada.
A local artist painted a commemorative wall on the side of a building in Placerville. He is also commemorated in the Museum at 524 Main Street and the Historical Museum at 104 Placerville Drive next to the Fairgrounds. 530.621.5865. Other monuments and statues to commemorate his heroic efforts include locations at Donner Pass, Squaw Valley Village, Highway 88 and the statue sculpted by Don Budy of Colorado in the grounds of the Mormon Station State Park in Genoa, dedicated on June 23, 2001.
THE OLDEST HARDWARE STORE WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI
Placerville Hardware, 441 Main St., where residents claim “If you can’t find it there, they don’t make it.” Filled with historical curiosities, it is a museum itself of goods of every description, old and new. Essentials, souvenirs, gifts, gold panning supplies, and hardware ad infinitum. Est. 1850, historical family friendly service: 530.622.1151.