Shingle Springs – A Gold Rush Mining Camp Turns Rail Town (November 2004)
– by Anthony Belli © 2004

image of Shingle Springs in 1890
   Shingle Springs, c. 1890

Although the hamlet of Shingle Springs is often remembered as a rail town along the oldest railroad in the west, it too like most other settlements on El Dorado County’s western slope saw its humble beginnings as an 1848 Gold Rush mining camp. In the gulches surrounding this fine community once sat hundreds of miners cabins, and gold was the only business of the day.

Shingle Springs was founded by a company of “48ers” who’d followed the Carson Emigrant Trail through Pleasant Valley. Not much more then a crude miner’s camp, it was Edward and Henry Bartlett who built and operated the first public house here in 1850. The settlement took its name from a horse drawn shingle machine operated by the Bartlett brothers capable of producing 16,000 shingles a day. As the machine was located near the springs at the western edge of camp, the Bartlett’s decided to name their public house the Shingle Springs House.

By typical Gold Rush standards Shingle Springs grew slowly, adding one more roadhouse in 1851. Known as the Missouri House it was a large log cabin type structure built just east of the Bartlett’s place. The Planter’s House followed suit in 1852. Built by R.S. Wakefield it too operated as a public house. By this time two blacksmith shops were in business as was one of El Dorado county’s early steam saw-mills owned and operated by A. P. Catlin of Sacramento and S.C. Cutler of Sly Park. The Catlin & Cutler Mill supplied much of the lumber used to re-build Sacramento after the devastating fire of 1852. It was a stroke of good luck for Catlin & Cuter who were able to charge a premium price for their lumber.

Located in the Shingle Springs House the first post office opened here in 1853, the house was later converted into a store. Surrounded by rich placer mines during the fervor of the Gold Rush, Shingle Springs remained a quiet village that saw little business from the miners in the vicinity. When the miners came into town for supplies they’d go to Buckeye Flat, one mile east of the Shingle Springs House. At the flat a man could acquire supplies, weak liquor, and the comforts of a fine women for a fair price, along with what little society could be found around the gambling tables. Although Buckeye Flat grew into a town with many businesses and established a school district later, once the mines played out, it, like so many others became a ghost town.

The Shingle Springs Mining District recorded some excellent gold strikes. Grizzly Gulch was one of El Dorado county’s richest, paying $100 to $200 per rocker, per day. The Shirley Mine kept a five-stamp mill busy. Frenchtown was known for its rich pocket mines, the Pocahontas Mine was considered one of the best paying in its day. Production at the Pocahontas reached 12 tons of rock per day, paying $25. in gold to the ton.

In the late 1850’s Shingle Springs served travelers along the road between Sacramento and Carson City, Nevada during the Comstock excitement. It remained a small settlement and roadside way-station escaping the boomtown experience which many of its neighboring towns saw during the Gold Rush period. It remained so until June, 1865 when the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad completed its line to the tiny settlement.

Connected for the first time by rail to Sacramento, El Dorado County had a new industry at Shingle Springs. The village witnessed sudden growth and almost overnight became a bustling freighting and transportation center in the mountains. The depot was 800 feet long and saw the arrival of one freight and two passenger trains daily from Sacramento. Stages ran daily from Shingle Springs to Placerville and all stations east, burdened with passengers and express. All shipping to the Comstock mines passed through Shingle. From here freight was transported by wagons pulled by teams over the Sierras.

For sometime Shingle Springs could boast it was the busiest center for business and traffic second to none in California for its size. This however did not last long. In the summer of 1865 the Central Pacific Railroad completed its section of line passing north of El Dorado County through Auburn which completed the transcontinental railroad. The opening of the Central Pacific R.R. delivered a death blow to Shingle Springs. In 21 years the Central Pacific outright owned the P&SVR.R., which meant little to Shingle Springs as the shipping of freight and passengers had long since been diverted to the Central Pacific line.

Although Shingle Springs declined with the coming of the Central Pacific R.R. by 1883 there was only one resident still living in the town proper. Surrounding communities such as Buckeye Flat and Frenchtown although large trade centers during El Dorado County’s Gold Rush era vanished like Shingle Springs did when the mines played out.

From the days of the Gold Rush Shingle Springs has its own genuine tale of buried treasure. Little information is available but I am currently researching this one for an article to appear in Lost Treasure Magazine. It has been called “The Pack Rat’s Treasure” and involves an undetermined amount of gold coins which were cached in the immediate vicinity of the old Forty Mile House near Shingle Springs. Happy Hunting!

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Sources:

Richard Hughey, El Dorado – California’s Empire County, (Placerville, Ca., The El Dorado Museums Commission, 2003) p. 168 – 169

Paolo Sioli, History of El Dorado County, (Oakland, Ca. Paolo Sioli Publisher, 1883) p. 200 – 201

Thomas P. Terry, United States Treasure Atlas, vol. 2, (La Crosse, WI, Specialty Publishing Co., 1985) p. 133, entry- 159-a, and 159-b