Iowa Hill, Placer County, California

Immediately connected with the history of Iowa Hill, is also the history of Independence Hill, Roach Hill, Bird’s Flat, Monona Flat, and Grizzly Flat. The rich hill diggings at those places, the discovery of which was first made at Iowa Hill, in 1853, and soon after extended to all the places above named, caused the large, populous, and flourishing town of Iowa Hill to spring up like magic, and in two years to become the principal town in the eastern part of Placer County.

The first discoveries of gold made where the town of Iowa Hill now stands, was upon the ground known as the Jamison claims, first called the Kennedy claims. These claims lie upon the north side of the ridge, in the head of a gulch leading into the North Fork of the American river. The claims are now worked on an extensive scale by the hydraulic process, and are rapidly ascending the hill towards the principal street of the town, which is destined eventually to be washed away ; tunnels driven through the hill having demonstrated the fact that the whole of the ground upon which the town stands is auriferous ; also, that rich and extensive deposits of gold exist at a great depth immediately under where are now the principal business houses. The Jamison and North Star claims are the principal claims at this place, and each have yielded sums of money to their lucky owners almost incredible to relate. The North Star is said to have yielded three hundred thousand dollars for the first twelve months’ work done in the claim after pay dirt was reached. This statement in regard to the yield of the North Star claims, is authentic. Mr. John C. Coleman is the, business manager of the North Star Company; and under his management, not with standing the quality of dirt washed is not what would be denominated rich, it pays good dividends to the shareholders. A tunnel has been driven clear through the hill, from the north side of town, a distance of 3,000 feet, to Indian Canon, on the south side of town. At the mouth of the tunnel, on Indian Canon, there is a mill for crushing the stone and cement, similar in structure and upon the same principle as the common quartz mills. The dirt being a hard cement, it was found impossible to separate the gold from it by the ordinary process of washing, and the experiment of crushing was made with cheap machinery, which, upon a fair trial, was found to answer the purpose. The North Star cement crushing mills, are the first works of the kind erected for that purpose in the State, and as `they have proved so eminently successful in this instance, can scarcely fail to come into constant and universal use wherever the dirt in which gold is found is of a similar character.

The principal tunnel diggings of Iowa Hill are situated above the town, at Roach Hill, and extend a distance of near three miles up Indian Canon. Many of them have been driven into the hill to the center, a distance of 1,000 feet, and some of them even as far as 2,000 feet. According to a calculation made upon authentic information obtained from an undoubted source, the tunneling upon the Iowa Hill divide, on both sides of Indian Canon, including Wisconsin Hill, Grizzly Flat, and Elizabethtown diggings, amounts to 62,460 feet, at a cost of $827,300. By far the most costly, and at the same time the most productive of these tunnels, are those at Iowa Hill proper, and Roach Hill, and Monona Flat. The amount of money which has been taken out of those which are now worked and are paying, cannot be correctly ascertained; but it far exceeds the cost of running the tunnels, and yet the riches of the hills are only just commenced to be developed.

The business of Iowa Hill consists 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; besides the usual number of bowling alleys, billiard, and lager beer saloons. Iowa Hill also has a splendid Catholic Church building, a Methodist Church edifice, a Masonic Lodge, and a lodge of the I. O. of 0. F.’s; also a public school, and a theatre.

On the 2d of February, 1857, the whole of the business part of the town was destroyed by fire ; the loss to the citizens by which was estimated at a half million of dollars. Notwithstanding this severe loss, the town was immediately rebuilt with better buildings, presenting a better appearance than before the conflagration. The buildings of Iowa Hill are principally of wood, yet there are some of brick and stone. There is a daily stage, running from Iowa Hill to Illinoistown, connecting with the California Stage Co.’s stages to Dutch Flat, Grass Valley, Auburn, and Sacramento.

Iowa Hill, like all other old towns in California, has been the scene of many of those outrages upon law so common in this State, and which have rendered our people subject to the charge of an inclination to take the law into their own hands, and execute it without the sanction of judge or jury. But whatever may have been the habits, customs, and morals of the inhabit-ants of the town in former years, the citizens of the place at the present day are as religious, moral, and intelligent, as those of the average of small towns in the State.

There have been two newspaper enterprises started in Iowa Hill. The News, by Olmstead and Miller, in 1855, and the Patriot, by E. B. Boust, in 1859; both of which practically demonstrated the fact that the business resources of the place were not sufficient to support a respectable newspaper. Both of the papers mentioned, were conducted with the average ability of similar publications in country towns, and both were worthy of support; but notwithstanding their deserts, and the high appreciation in which they were held by the citizens of the town and vicinity, the publishers were forced to seek a larger and better field in which to display their genius and talents with a reasonable hope of obtaining a living.

A great deal of the ground upon which the town is built, having been undermined, it is observed that it is gradually sinking, rendering brick or stone structures unsafe to live in. This doubtless has an injurious effect upon the value of property, and will, eventually, as was the case with Michigan Bluff, cause the buildings to be removed to where there is a more stable foundation upon which they may stand.

3 thoughts on “Iowa Hill, Placer County, California”

  1. My grandparents, the Pettit’s lived there in the 1950’s and 1960’s. About 10 miles in from Colfax. My grandfather ran the mail to the people who lived up there about once a week. He homesteading his property, an old pony express station. Does anyone have a picture of the house. Would love to see it. It burned down several years ago. Thanks

  2. Two future fathers-in-law lived there in 1900. Mark Poor and John Henry Rafferty. After they moved to Marysville Fathers of Robert Poor born in Iowa Hill and Alma Rafferty of Fresno.
    Mark had mining claims and John Rafferty worked in his father’s
    hotel. I don’t know if Alma knew her parents lived in Iowa Hill as she wrote in a letter “Where in the “H” is Iowa Hill

  3. My 2nd great grandfather Peter James and my great grandfather Thomas James and their families lived in Iowa Hill and Last Chance from the early 1860’s into the early 1890’s. Unfortunately, my 2nd great grandfather was killed in a mining accident at the Morning Star Mine in 1880. One of the hoses for the hydraulic mining broke loose from the monitor and knocked him on to the bedrock some 25” below. Please keep up the great work. I really enjoy you articles.

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