The history of Placerville began with the â€œrush for goldâ€ to California in the 1840â€™s. The highly publicized discovery of gold in the tailrace section at Sutterâ€™s Mill in Coloma (only 10 miles from Placerville) in 1848 resulted in the migration of thousands of fortune-seekers to Northern California in the mid 1800â€™s. The town of Placerville was named after the placer deposits found in the river bed between Spanish Ravine and the town plaza. During the gold rush, Placerville became an important supply center for the surrounding mining camps.
Some Extras for history buffs:
- Web-based historical tour information from the El Dorado County Historical Society
- A self-guided walking tour do download and print out (pdf)
- Fountain & Tallman Museum Information
- Pictorial tour of Main Street (courtesy of our local 4H Club) NOTE: Does not work on SmartPhone screens
Placerville was also known as â€œHangtownâ€ in itsâ€™ early days. Although many stories exist on how this name was acquired, the most famous story involved a colorful event that occurred in January of 1849. A gambler named Lopez gained a lot of attention for his big winnings at a local saloon. After he retired for the evening, several men tried to overpower him. Lopez fought back, and with the help of others, the robbers were captured. During their â€œfloggingâ€, three of the robbers were also accused of being wanted for a murder and robbery.
With no more evidence than that, a short 30 minute trial took place and a unanimous â€œguiltyâ€ verdict was given. The crowd demanded that the men be sentenced to â€œdeath by hangingâ€ and the rest was history. The famous hanging tree once stood in Elstnerâ€™s Hay Yard, next to the Jackass Inn. Today, the original stump from the old tree remains in the cellar of â€œThe Hangmanâ€™s Treeâ€ tavern on Historic Main Street.
Throughout history, several famous entrepreneurs have conducted business on Main Street. Mark Hopkins (railroad financier), John Studebaker (auto maker), and Snowshoe Thompson (mail-carrier through the Sierras) were among the well-known shopkeepers on Main Street.
In addition to wonderful shops, restaurants and special events, Historic Main Street features many historical landmarks and places of interest. In the center of town stands the Bell Tower, which has watched over the activities on Main Street for more than 100 years. It has been relocated, remodeled and renovated and proudly stands to honor the cityâ€™s volunteer firemen. Today, it still serves as a gathering place for parades, celebrations and other special events.
An important historic landmark that still remains on Main Street is the Bell Tower, standing as a monument to the cityâ€™s volunteer firemen. The Bell, placed in the tower in the plaza in 1865, was used as an alarm system to call out the firefighters. This tower has watched most of Placervilleâ€™s history pass beneath it for well over 100 years. It has been remodeled, relocated, and most recently, renovated. Today it proudly stands as a monument to honor our cityâ€™s volunteer firemen. The history of the Bell Tower began back in l856. Three fires that year in April, July and August, claimed most of Placervilleâ€™s business section. The need for an alarm system to call the volunteer fire department was obvious, and a bell was ordered from England. Cast in 1860, the bell arrived in Placerville in 1865. The city gave itâ€™s approval to place the bell in a tower in the plaza. All this was done at a cost of $380.00. Today, the Bell Tower serves as a gathering place for parades, celebrations, and other Historic Main Street events.
Location, climate, a rich heritage, and a high level of commitment and pride have allowed Placerville to emerge as the destination in El Dorado County. To get there, exit south of scenic Highway 50 at Spring Street/Highway 49 and veer left. Public parking, in addition to a limited amount of RV parking, is available in the many lots or at the Center Street Garage.