Gold Hill, Placer County, California

Among the prominent towns built on the banks of the Auburn Ravine, is that known as Gold Hill. As the name indicates, it is a mining village; although it receives considerable support and trade from the agriculturalists who reside below and contiguous. The town received its name from the fact that gold was discovered on the hill, which rises in a conical shape a few yards west of the main street. In the spring of 1851, about simultaneous with the discovery of gold on various hills of the State, a party of Georgia miners set out from the town of Ophir, four and a half miles above the place now known as Gold Hill, on a prospecting expedition. They passed down the Auburn Ravine from bar to bar, looking for some place where they might make a “rich strike,” as others had done before on the bars above and below Ophir. Our party of prospectors little dreamed of finding “hill diggings,” but were anxious to discover some locality in the bed of this rich stream, where the sands had not buried the bed rock beneath the hope of a prospect in the dry season. As this party reached a low point making off a hill in. the Auburn Ravine, just below an extensive’ flat, gold was discovered in the rich and dark alluvial soil. This lead or deposit was traced by the usual mode of pan prospecting, until it was decided that the hill.” would pay.” The spot or elevation of ground at once was, as a matter of necessity, designated ” Gold Hill,” and by common consent it has been since known by this name. Two large mining companies were soon after organized, their claims staked off, and preparations made for bringing water from the ravine, about one mile and a half above, to the top of the hill. These companies were respectively known as the “Georgia” and the “Ohio,” and the members of each immediately commenced the survey of the ditches, which were, and are still known by the same names, and which were completed and conducted water upon the hill early in 1852. The Georgia ditch was first completed, and the company commenced the work of “ground sluicing” on the southeast point of the hill, which is now marked and covered by the building belonging to Hill & Devane. About the same time, the point opposite, on the south side of the ravine, distinguished at this time as ” Gardner’s Hill,” was discovered and mined by Castle & Co.; also, a point of land of less altitude, off the northwest section of Gold Hill. Both these localities afforded the richest yields of gold ever discovered in the town. A small blind ravine winds and turns immediately north of the base of Gold Hill, and which has been known since 1853 as Humbug.” This was prospected in pits, later in 1852, by Dr. J. A. Bond and Charles Sprague; but in. the year following, A. S. Smith made further discoveries, and staked off the ravine for a quarter of a mile, dividing the ground into one hundred feet claims among the miners. These claims proved quite rich, and Dr. O. K. Levings, Spruance Brothers, and Mariner, Willard & Co., during the summer of 1853, took from the same a large amount of gold dust. This mining led to further and later discoveries, and to the final opening up of “Humbug Flat,” into which this little stream of water emptied and lost itself ; and which is finally being worked out by Chinese miners.

During the same year, rich gold deposits were discovered in the vicinity of Gold. Hill, which all contributed to build up rapidly the town. Half a mile north of the town. Doty’s Ravine makes its way towards the plains. Bars were opened along this little stream, which proved to be very productive. Peters Brothers, in. the year 1853, with the use of the common rocker, took out over ten thousand dollars, in coarse gold, on this stream. Their successors, in the latter part of the same year, also re-worked the same claim with a ” tom,” and made another fortune. Dutch Ravine, which also runs parallel with the Auburn Ravine, and empties into it immediately below Gold Hill, was partially opened by miners the same year, and is yet yielding up the precious metal.

The site of this town being among the foot hills, the topography of the vicinity is one continuous succession of hills and ravines one day, perhaps, an extensive table land, but by the action of water at the annual floods, during a period of generations, the face of the country was cut up into ravines and hills. The locality is also thickly interspersed with quartz ledges, which generally follow the northeast and southwest points of the compass, and crop-out on many of the highest hills. Some of these ledges have been prospected, but they have been found to be “spotted,” and generally their working has not proven remunerative. A small quartz-mill was erected on Shipley’s Ravine, in 1857, by Stewart & Co., but the rock failed to prove remunerative. The same mill was subsequently worked by J. W. Spann & Co., but after a more thorough trial, again abandoned.

Soon after the discovery of gold on Gold Hill and the surrounding hills, parties of miners began to agitate the feasibility of working the Auburn Ravine, in the vicinity. Although that which was denominated “pay dirt” was deeply buried in sand and gravel, washed by the floods from the debris of the miners, then and before laboring for miles above, it was determined by the enterprising people who settled at this camp, that the ravine might be opened by long drains, and the worthless dirt removed by the shovel or wheelbarrow. Consequently, in. the year 1853, the Auburn Ravine for miles was located, and a company opened a frail and shallow ditch through the sand. But from inexperience and want of perseverance, little effectual mining was done, though several of the companies “got down,” and found good prospects. However, at the upper end of the flat, opposite Gold Hill, one company (Bedford & Co.), worked successfully-for two or three months, and made fine wages, until driven out by the winter rains since which time the Auburn has been opened up annually by mining companies ; and. from year to year the mining has been retired down the stream, until the same has been opened for a distance of five or six miles. At this time, the best general paying claims in the county, estimating comparative expense of opening, are found on the Auburn Ravine, between Virginia and Walkup and Wyman’s old ranches.

While all these mineral discoveries were being made, another class of people were attracted to the new El Dorado. The merchant and mechanic were assured a field for trade and labor was being developed; and during the first years of this new mining furor, a town of no small pretensions was laid out and erected. In June 1852, the present streets of Gold Hill were laid out and quickly built over. The pioneer merchants were Messrs. Hill Devine, and the pioneer “mine host” was Augustus Foost. Both of these structures were originally cloth houses, and Hill & Devane’s was erected nearly oppositr their present location. The hotel occupied the ground now covered by Hill & Devane’s building.

Subsequently other merchants located in the town, and other hotels were erected. Flagg, of Ophir, opened a branch in 1853, the successors of whom are Crocker & Co. Morgan Bros. also opened a store next door east of Decker’s Bakery, (then Marshall’s); but the boys failing to have a “California sense of doing business, they closed out after about one year’s hard struggle. May their shadows always be less! They were succeeded by Douglas & Pendleton, who opened in the old wooden building built by Perry Clark and Alexander Mills, and which was so long and profitably occupied by their successor, T. Ross. This old California “shake and pole” erection was supplanted in 1859 by a brick building, the only one in the town. Other improvements, however, have been made in all parts of the town, and but a few remnants of 1852 now remain to mar the general appearance. Perhaps the writer of this brief sketch ought not to pass by unnoticed the first case of “secession” which occurred in this town in the year 1852. It is an incident of importance, from the fact that Oro City owes its birth to the “rebellious movement.”

The good people of Gold Hill, like all other communities at an early day, entertained jealousies, resulting from prospective trade and difference about which direction the streets should run. Two formidable parties arose, and they very nearly equally, balanced in numbers, and “prospective” wealth. The first party was anxious the main street should run east and west, and the second party stubbornly in favor of a street running north and south. They could not agree, and the result was that the east and west-streeters lost their temper, and “seceded” down the ravine about half a mile, among those romantic native oaks, and to that beautiful fiat, and builded up Oro City.”

This is a brief history of the rise of this city, now unfortunately in the hands of the Celestials.

The prosperous and healthy growth of Gold Hill was greatly retarded in 1852, from the want of water for mining purposes. The two small canals, Georgia and Ohio, afforded only a small quantity of water, during the rainy season, and the town, in the summer of 1852, was almost entirely deserted for the want of this element. Several other important canals were consequently surveyed in 1852-’53. The McMartin ditch was commenced in 1853, and conducted water from Sailor’s Ravine to Gold Hill in the latter part of this year. O. K. Levings, also, surveyed and constructed a canal leading to this section on a higher grade, taking water from the Auburn Ravine half a mile above the other canal privileges. This new and valuable canal was finished in 1853, and lay idle from pecuniary embarrassments and opposition brought to bear by the Auburn and Bear River Water and Mining Company-by which company it was finally, bought. A flume from this canal is the only one now running water upon the brow of old Gold Hill, all other canals having withdrawn through the force of competition. The first canal of importance brought into Gold Hill and its vicinity was the Gold Hill and Bear River canal. This work was also finished in 1853, and on the introduction of its waters, a large mining population was attracted to Gold Hill, Virginia, and contiguous mining localities. Old ravines were then reworked during the dry season, when they could be mined with greater advantage and profit, and other ravines where natural water could not be obtained before, were opened to the labor of the miner. From this period to 1856, the prosperity of this mining community was at its zenith; and the mining population was larger than during any former or subsequent years. A lively competition in water springing up between the Auburn and Gold. Hill canals through the purchase of the Levings canal, water was offered to the miners at low prices, to the advantage of the consumers, but seriously to the detriment of the Gold. Hill Company. The price of water was not only reduced, but the finances of the Gold Hill Company were seriously affected. Other causes, beyond the control of the managers of this canal, conspiring, this enterprise failed to remunerate its stockholders, though the community in general have reaped a rich reward there from.

This town organized a civil government in the spring of 1852, by the election of James Bedford to the office of Justice of the Peace, and a Mr. Waggoner, Constable. These gentlemen were the first judicial officers of the town. Mr. Bedford resigned after about one month’s service, and a Mr. Green, resident of Oro City, was elected to fill the vacancy. Mr. Waggoner served as constable for two years.

The limits of this publication would not permit the writer to give as full a description of this town as he desired. He would have alluded to its former normal and healthy condition from its settlement to the year 1856, and to other prominent physical changes, and the causes of the same. Thus much has been written without notes or memoranda, and from bare recollection; aid which, though mainly correct, cannot be free from errors in facts, and perhaps conclusions.

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