June 1, 2020 - Placerville

Region 38


CCHS 65th Annual Meeting (June 22-24, 2019) - Group Photo


County: El Dorado

Location: 40 miles east of Sacramento, in the Sierra Nevada foothills where U.S. Route 50 crosses State Route 49.

Year Incorporated: May 13, 1854 - Originally Dry Diggings and Old Dry Diggings. By 1854, Placerville was the 3rd largest town in California, following San Francisco and Sacramento. Los Angeles was 15th.

Special Stories: Three notable stories in Placerville history was the 5-year stay of John Mohler Studebaker of the Studebaker automobile fame. As a young man of 18 years, Studebaker arrived from Ohio by wagon train in 1853 with 50 cents in his pocket, having been conned out of his traveling money. Finding out that Studebaker had wagon making experience, Hugh Hinds, a local blacksmith and wagon maker hired Studebaker to make wheelbarrows for the miners. Starting with an original order of 25 at $10 each, it became a profitable enterprise for both parties. 5 years later when Studebaker left Placerville (1858), he had saved $8000 that he took to South Bend, Indiana and invested in his brothers wagon making business, which eventually lead to the Studebaker automobile company. Known as "Wheelbarrow Johnny" to his friends and some associates, Studebaker returned to Placerville in 1912 for a reunion, which was held at the Ohio House. An historic picture was taken on the Ohio House porch with Studebaker and his friends.

Lucy Stoddard Wakefield ("The Pie Lady") arrived with her English-born, Dentist husband from Camden NY in 1849. By wagon train, it was a long trip and their relationship was in some conflict. They had been married since 1842. Lucy was attractive and very social, liking to dance. She would later state that her husband was cruel and jealous. Self-sufficient, Lucy started a successful, dry-apple pie baking business ($2 per pie). She made enough pies for a return of $240 per week and bought some buildings on Main Street, one for the pie baking business. Later on, she told some of her friends that she was leaving her husband. Which she did. Lucy was the first woman in El Dorado County to receive a divorce. With a little legal help, she had represented herself. She remarried and strangely enough it was to CC Batterman, a mining superintendent who had been on her jury. They moved to San Francisco and then eventually to Virginia City NV. Lucy was an emancipated women before emancipation rights were won by woman (1864/1865).

Between 1856 and 1876, John Albert (Snowshoe) Thompson delivered mail between Placerville, CA and Genoa, NV and later Virginia City, NV. Despite his nickname, he did not make use of the snowshoes that are native to North America, but rather would travel with what the local people applied that term to: ten-foot (over 3-meter) skis, and a single sturdy pole generally held in both hands at once. He knew this version of cross-country skiing from his native Norway, and employed it during the winter as one of the earlier pioneers of backcountry skiing in the United States. Thompson delivered the first silver ore to be mined from the Comstock Lode. Later he taught others how to make skis, as well as the basics of their use. Despite his twenty years of service, he was never paid for delivering the mail.

Thompson typically made the eastward trip in three days, and the return trip in two days. Thompson carried no blanket and no gun; he claimed he was never lost even in blizzards. A rescue attributed to him was that of a man trapped in his cabin by unusually deep snow. Thompson reached him, realized the damage to the man's legs from frostbite was sufficient to kill him, skied out to get chloroform, skied back in with it, and delivered the chloroform in time to save him.

Thompson usually traveled the route known as "Johnson's Cutoff", a pathway first marked by John Calhoun Johnson, an early explorer and first man to deliver mail over the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Today this approximates the route of U.S. Route 50 as it winds its way from Placerville  to South Lake Tahoe.

Population: 11,048 (Estimated 2018)

Historical Landmarks: Old Dry Diggins (CHL#475, Corner of Bedford/Main); Placerville-Overland Pony Express (CHL# 701, 246 Sacramento St); Hangman's Tree (CHL#141, 305 Main St); Fountain-Tallman Soda Works (NRHP #1984-000770, 524 Main St); Studebaker's Shop (CHL#142, 543 Main St)

The Oldest Known Building: Fountain & Tallman Soda Works (1852, 524 Main Street)

Famous People That Have Lived Here or Traveled Though Here: Lived here - John Mohler Studebaker (1853-1858), Lucy Stoddard Wakefield (1849-1852),  Families: Christina Reeg Bayne Duffy, 1871 – 1956. Born at Chili Bar 1871, died 1956; her (husband’s) family was one of the original EDC settlers; owned Placerville News Company

Molly Carpenter, 1863 – 1923
Born in Georgetown; her father was the owner of the Mt. Democrat; she was musically inclined (played the organ and sang in the local church, taught piano); attended Wellesley College and then Boston Conservancy of Music; 1905 father gifted her with the Mt. D; was the publisher from 1902 to 1910; co-published with business partner Bine Ingham 1910 to 1921. This couple were a popular singing duet in town; considered “ahead of their time” as editors and publishers.

Carlo Guisseppi and Maria Giamboni Celio, 1833 – 1918 / 1832 – 1890
Swiss immigrants in the early 1850s; both are the same age: Carlo (1833 to 1918) and Maria (1832 TO 1890). He panned for gold with John Marshall but eventually became a dairyman, cattleman, teamster, sawmill operator. They had five sons and one daughter. They helped settle the upper Lake Tahoe region.

William Craddock, 1859 – 1920
Businessman and successful miner. In 1886, filed the lucrative Vulture Claim (now the Gold Bug and Priest Mines). At various time in his life, he was a blacksmith, teamster, servant, volunteer firefighter at Confidence Engine Company #1,the Acting Marshall when the city Marshall was out of town, and a father.

Frank Fausel, 1881 – 1903
Died at age 22 in a mining accident, brother George owned Placerville Hardware.

Jesse Christian Henningsen, 1876 – 1952
Born in Germany arrived in EDC in 1903, lived in Georgetown, Kelsey Garden Valley & moved to Placerville in 1910. Owned a large trucking business.

Johanna Claussenius Kunigk Pinther Kane, 1861 – 1938
Co-leader of the first suffrage march in the U.S. in 1909. Strong-willed, middle-aged, well dressed and well educated San Francisco socialite. Created San Francisco Suffrage movement’s banner.

John Augustus Rafetto, 1864 – 1954
A young-farmer in early years; at age 31 owned and operated Ivy House Hotel in 1895; founding director and VP of Placerville National Bank; mayor of Placerville; rebuilt the old Carey House in 1915. ;

Traveled Through Here (Individuals Staying at the Cary House Placerville):

  • William F. Cody - "Buffalo Bill"
  • Charles E. Bowles - "Black Bart"
  • Samuel Longhorne Clemens - "Mark Twain"
  • John Studebaker - "Wheelbarrow Johnie"
  • Levi Strauss
  • Jacob Davis
  • Hank Monk
  • Horace Greeley
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • Lola Montez
  • John Calhoun Johnson
  • Bette Davis
  • Elvis Presley
  • Charley Parkhurst
  • Schuyler Colfax


If I only had one day to spend in this town, what should I make sure to see or do? Visit the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce (542 Main St); Tour of Historic Main St (Reservation with El Dorado County Historical Society); Self-Guided Tour of Historic Main St (Normally available at Fountain & Tallman Museum, 524 Main St.); Placerville Hardware (1855, 441 Main St, oldest hardware west of the Mississippi); Cary House (1857, 300 Main St); Hangman's Tree Ice Cream Saloon (305 Main St); El Dorado County Historical Museum (104 Placerville Dr, next to County Fairgrounds); Placerville Union Cemetery (Bee St) and Gold Bug Park (2635 Gold Bug Ln, off of Bedford St).

The Best Time To Visit This Town: Now, following Covid-19 rules.

Historical Society or Visitors Bureau Contact Information: El Dorado County Historical Society and El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce 


Placerville - Steve Weldon Walkin' California (January 16, 2020) Video


Author: Kris Payne - Regional Vice President, Region 38

*Thanks to Wikipedia - Placerville, John Studebaker, Snowshoe Thompson; El Dorado County Historical Society; Save The Graves Coalition of El Dorado County and other internet websites for content.


Comments from fellow history lovers welcome below!


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commented 2020-07-08 14:11:50 -0700 · Flag
I totally agree with Kris on when to visit Placerville! Any time of the year.
You find so many links to California State History in Placerville and EL Dorado County. Just like a description from a pamphlet from the 1890’s, “Placerville, Queen of the Mountains.”
commented 2020-06-11 13:10:03 -0700 · Flag
Great article about Placerville, Kris Payne. Our little town in a jewel in the Sierra Nevada Foothills and a great place to visit.
commented 2020-06-09 15:25:48 -0700 · Flag
I attended the Awards Luncheon at the 2019 Annual Meeting in Placerville, and commend the CCHS for recognizing outstanding work in the field of history. Placerville is a great place to visit – and a great place to work!

I am Curator/Manager of the El Dorado County Historical Museum, 104 Placerville Dr., Placerville CA 95667. (next to EDC Fairgrounds)
commented 2020-06-02 16:56:30 -0700 · Flag
This was an amazing city to visit during the 2019 CCHS Annual Meeting! It was truly an enjoyable visit and I look forward to returning when travel throughout the state is able to resume!
published this page in Archives 2020-06-02 12:51:14 -0700