Placerville Stories and Tips

Exploring Placerville

The Cary Hotel Photo, Placerville, California

This place was first named Dry Diggins because there was no convenient water supply to process their gold, but the residents renamed their town Hangtown to discourage ferocious bandits who were attracted to helpless little communities during the early years of the gold rush. Once they felt safe (after the poorly educated judge hung many supposed bandits), the town was renamed Placerville. When you see the dummy hanging from the front of a building, where the actual hanging tree once stood, you can find a free parking lot behind that building.

Across the street from the hanging dummy is the Cary Hotel. It’s a 1978 replica of the 1857 hotel pictured in an early Currier and Ives painting. The Wells Fargo stage and tree-covered surrounding mountains are familiar subjects in their paintings as well. Thomas Kincade also found excellent subjects in that town for his more recent paintings. The town maintains many of its original old buildings and insists on a western look for newer ones.

Long gone there was the blacksmith shop where John Studebaker made wagons before returning to his family in Indiana (they eventually produced automobiles). The house of ill repute was next door was also gone, a very inappropriate neighbor for the fine new town hall. Old money and old names live on in the west. Combellack Clothing Store, a great shortcut from the parking lot back to Main Street, is still operated by that family. There is the fine Victorian Combellack-Blair House (a bed and breakfast) on Cedar Ravine Road a short distance from Main Street. Over a million dollars in gold was found in Cedar Ravine.

Antique shops along Main Street offer a glimpse inside the old buildings and some of the items that were kept in good condition while Placerville moved through the 19th and 20th centuries. At Empress Antiques, an old theater located at 432 Main Street, I purchased a 78 recording of songs that were sung by the miners. Matt Shumac from Placerville was the recording artist (his father-in-law was one of the original miners). The ladies running the shop told me about the resident ghost that still lurks in their building.

A booklet titled Exploring Main Street Placerville, Old Hangtown is available for free in the town hall at 542 Main Street, and it will help you enjoy and understand the old town as you walk through it. There are very nice old restaurants on Main Street that are also known to be haunted.

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