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Placerville, California history


My hubby and I live just up the road from Placerville, California. History abounds in this old gold rush town which was also known as “Hangtown” in its’ early days. Although many stories exist on how this name was acquired, the most famous story involved a colorful event that occurred in January of 1849. A gambler named Lopez gained a lot of attention for his big winnings at a local saloon. After he retired for the evening, several men tried to overpower him. Lopez fought back, and with the help of others, the robbers were captured. During their ‘flogging’, three of the robbers were also accused of being wanted for a murder and robbery.

With no more evidence than that, a short 30 minute trial took place and a unanimous ‘guilty’ verdict was given. The crowd demanded that the men be sentenced to ‘death by hanging’ and the rest was history. The famous hanging tree once stood in Elstner’s Hay Yard, next to the Jackass Inn. Today, the original stump from the old tree remains in the cellar of The Hangman’s Tree tavern on Historic Main Street.

Throughout history, several famous entrepreneurs have conducted business on Main Street. Phillip Armour (meat packer), Mark Hopkins (railroad financier), John Studebaker (auto maker), and Snowshoe Thompson (mail-carrier through the Sierras) were among the well-known shopkeepers on Main Street.

An important historic landmark that still remains on Main Street is the Bell Tower, standing as a monument to the city’s volunteer firemen. The Bell, placed in the tower in the plaza in 1865, was used as an alarm system to call out the firefighters. This tower has watched most of Placerville’s history pass beneath it for well over 100 years. It has been remodeled, relocated, and most recently, renovated. Today it proudly stands as a monument to honor our city’s volunteer firemen. The history of the Bell Tower began back in l856. Three fires that year in April, July and August, claimed most of Placerville’s business section. The need for an alarm system to call the volunteer fire department was obvious, and a bell was ordered from England. Cast in 1860, the bell arrived in Placerville in 1865. The city gave i’s approval to place the bell in a tower in the plaza. All this was done at a cost of $380.00. Today, the Bell Tower serves as a gathering place for parades, celebrations, and other Historic Main Street events.


  1. Interesting how some of those old towns got there names.

  2. Ack! Too early in the morning! Meant ‘their’ obviously. lol

  3. I love to learn about how people and places are named. If there’d been a college course on names in my area, I would have taken it for sure.

    Thanks, Susan, early editon or not. 🙂

  4. Paisley, your posts are always very interesting. I’m jealous that you live in such a historically rich and beautiful area. Thanks for sharing and fascinating part of history with us.

  5. Thanks Caroline. Door is always open to you to come and see them for yourself. I know how blessed I am to live here in the beautiful Sierra Mountains and have all the history at my fingertips.

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