After one crime in 1849, an impromptu citizens' jury met to consider the fate of the three accused. Found guilty, someone shouted, "Hang them!" The majority were in agreement, and Placerville became the first place in the Mother Lode to carry out a hanging ceremony. The site was a giant white oak in the corner of hay yard near the center of town. Dry Diggins (miners carted the dry soil down to the running water to wash out the gold) and Hangtown are commemorated with a tree stump hidden in the cellar of a bar on Main Street in Placerville named The Hangman's Tree. By 1854, Hangtown had become the third largest town in California, surpassed only by San Francisco and Sacramento.
Located less than two hours along scenic roads outside of Sacramento (one of the best places in California to learn about the Gold Rush,) you'll find a town that really captures the essence of an era in California history that shaped our economy, melting pot cultural diversity, and sent word of California throughout the world.
Take a drive along the wheat-colored hills and meadows outside Sacramento and the landscapes begin to change as you enter the Sierra foothills. The seat of El Dorado County is Placerville, located at 2,000' elevation.
Main Street, the heart of Placerville's downtown is lined with historic buildings that are well preserved with fresh coats of paint. With something so historic and authentic you feel like it should be remote. However, Main Street is a bustling place and a stop at a coffee house yields interesting results that the people come from around the world (just like they did during the Gold Rush) to experience this unique place partially frozen in time.
Locals embrace history (or they wouldn't be there) and they are amazingly versed in the California Gold Rush and the Old West.
What to see:
In Placerville, modern conveniences such as Starbucks mix with turn-of-the 20th Century Cary House, a bed and breakfast-styled hotel featuring themed rooms, many with antique furnishings.
Hangman's Tree Saloon on Main Street is worth a stop for a drink. Sit inside this authentic Old West bar and hear tales of the hangings and ghost believed to reside within.
The Belltower situated in the middle of the street on Main was played an extremely important role during the Gold Rush. Mining camps were prone to catching on fire because the tents and lean-to homes were made of flammable materials. Placerville suffered three fires in 1856 and the citizens needed an alarm system to quickly call their volunteer fire department. A bell ordered from England was cast in 1860 and mantled in 1865 in a 25' high wooden tower. In 1898 a steel structure was built to replace it. This tower rose 50 feet from an 11 foot square concrete base, with a drinking fountain in the center. It had cast-iron ornaments topped with a weather vane and featured a miniature bronze fireman holding aloft a red globe containing an electric light. When completed it was presented to the city on September 8, 1898 during Admission Day celebration.
Wine Country Trails - El Dorado County boasts of over 60 unique wineries encompassed in two appellations within its borders. Some of the names you may recognize include Boa Vista Vineyards, Boeger Winery, Chateau Rodin Winery, Chevalier Winery, David Girard Vineyards, Fenton Herriott Vineyards, Lava Cap Winery, Narrow Gate Vineyards and many more, all located in Placerville.
Hangtown's Gold Bug Park & Mine - The City of Placerville owns and operates Gold Bug Mine, the only gold mine in California that is open to visitors. goldbugpark.com
Getting there: Placerville and El Dorado County are located in the heart of California's Gold Rush country or "Mother Lode." El Dorado County is approximately 30 miles east of Sacramento, California's State Capitol and 40 miles west of Carson City, Nevada's State Capitol. San Francisco is 125 miles to the west and Reno Airport is 50 miles to the northeast. Located on the El Dorado Freeway 50, near the Gold Country Highway 49, you can access El Dorado Freeway heading east from Interstate 5 near Sacramento.