Our journey began in charming Placerville, a town steeped in history. Initially inhabited by the Maidu people, it experienced a gold rush boom in the mid-19th century, earning its first nickname: Dry Diggins. However, a vigilante hanging of several individuals led to a grimmer name – Hangtown. Seeking a more respectable image, residents voted in 1854 to change it to Placerville, a tribute to the abundant placer gold in the area.
Historic Main Street was a vibrant street during the Gold Rush and has retained its character. Here, time seems to stand still as we admired the iconic mid-19th century bell tower, the notorious Hangman’s Saloon (now a restaurant with a replica doll replacing the stolen original), the elegant Cary House Hotel, and the John Pearson Soda Works, a testament to early commerce.
Exploring Gold Bug Park
Following lunch, we drove to Gold Bug Park, a living museum within Placerville. This 57-acre site keeps the history of Mother Lode’s once-unimaginable wealth. While easily accessible gold was exhausted by 1852, the park reveals the creativity of miners who transitioned to hard-rock mining in the late 19th century, which continued until World War II.
Gold Bug Park is included in the National Register of Historic Places today. The park gives a fascinating view into the area’s mining heritage, showcasing a replica hard-rock mine, a functional ore stamp mill, intriguing prospecting holes, and water supply ditches that once fueled the industry.