Old Mining Towns in the Foothills

Washington, Relief Hill and North Bloomfield.

(By Bonnie Wayne McGuire - Sunday May 13, 2012)

Lately, we decided to revisit some of our old towns left over from the gold rush days. We pack a lunch to take with us to enjoy somewhere along the way.  Mel hauled logs over most of the old roads in the area, but we thought it would be interesting to see how things have changed since then...and maybe discover what was missed before.

Today we're going to the old town of Washington that's nestled in a canyon by the South Fork of the Yuba River between steep mountain ridges. Not many miles above Nevada City the turnoff from Highway 20 takes us down a fairly steep, but scenic winding road. Before we know it this cute sign reminds us to slow down as we approach the little town of Washington.

Evidently it all began in the fall of 1849 when a company from Indiana arrived at a stretch of River and decided to remain through the winter to start a township. the settlement was first named Indiana Camp by the "homesick Hoosiers." The news got out, and a stampede for Gold began. "The Indiana Camp miners met in the local saloon as the snow piled up four feet deep outside. They had to do something about those upstarts who had named their camp after the country's third president. So, Indiana Camp became the name of the first president...Washington." The area produced a large amount of placer gold, followed by hard rock and hydraulic mines that were also very productive. Many people of Chinese descent also worked in the area during these times. Washington became a flourishing mining town of 3,000. There were hotels, restaurants and stores with supplies for the miners. By 1880 miners had recovered over $10,500,000 in gold here. The Washington Mining District was served by operators of small stage lines. A daily stage left the National Hotel in Nevada City at 7 AM and arrived in Washington around noon. Now the drive only takes about a half hour in your car.  Below is artist Bob Crabb's map of what's there now, and during the good ol' days.

Looking at this map brings to mind a colorful lady who operated the San Francisco Gold mine shown next to the Washington Hotel. Los Angeles Times journalist Charles Hillinger wrote the following about her:

Widow Works Gold Mine - Hopes to Strike it Rich

Washington, Calif..."Ever eat a lilac, Lu?" shouted Ray Bush over the deafening clatter of the jackhammer. Alleghany Lu brushed the smudge from her face, yelled to Bush that she couldn't recollect she ever had. "You ain't missed nuttin'," Bush shouted. "Lilacs taste terrible."

Alleghany Lu, 62 year old lifelong gold miner, and Bush, 48, her hired hand, were engaged in small talk as they worked in Lu's diggin's at the San Francisco Mine on the south face of a hill overlooking the tiny hamlet of Washington in Nevada County. Miners have called Luthena Caston Alleghany Lu since the late '30s when she operated the Seven Aces in Alleghany, a gold mine a few miles north of her present location.

Lu had a string of luck in earlier years. But no one's making money on gold since difficulties have beset the industry the last quarter century. How long she'll last is anybody's guess. But the days of Alleghany Lu's mining career seem numbered. Lu Caston admittedly sank over $200,000 of her own money and money she's promoted from others...her partners...into the San Francisco. She's carved a wide swath of mountain, moving thousands of tons of dirt looking for that elusive rich vein. She's built a mill, spent money on bulldozers and expensive equipment. "I know there's at least a million in cold cash somewhere in here. I can't stop now. I got 10 years and my life savings at stake," she said. Lu sees all the indications of a high grade vein. "Solid gold right behind the mariposite," she said. "See that white rock up there? I'm getting close...getting so close I can smell it. This is one of the richest spots in the state. Several giologists have looked at this thing. They agree. Formations here are identical to those at the Sixteen-to-One just over the hill. You know the Sixteen-to-One...$35 million in gold taken from it...Come on up here. Let me show you something," Lu said as she grabbed a small pick and pan.

Bush laid aside the jackhammer as he finished the last of a series of holes he and Lu drilled for blasting, and reached into a portable cooler for a beer. Lu hoisted herself up the steep mountainside, and chipped away at a rock to demonstrate a show of color. "This is pocket country. A big outfit could hack it. I had hopes I could. I'm not giving up yet..." she said. Watching, Bush gulped his beer and commented, "She hasn't paid me in weeks. Not a dime. But I'm hangin' on for a little while. I've lost most of my friends." Lu added..."They think I'm crazy"......

Another article in the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian (Sunday, February 29, 1976) wrote: Nevada City, Calif. (AP)..."It's right here, just a few feet away," said 67 year old Alleghany Lu, uncorking a great whack at the mine rockwall with her rusty pick, still hunting the elusive El Dorado after 40 years. The woman's eyes lit up in the shower of sparks that briefly brightened the gloomy tunnel. She sat down in the dust to study a chunk of yellow rock, shrugged, and tossed it away...just another yellow rock. Alleghany Lu's been working around the mines on the northern edge of the Mother Lode since she first came to California from Montana in the 1930s, hunting more of the $600 million in gold dug out by the '49ers. "I'm going to hold on until they come up and hang me." Lu vowed recently. The years have whitened her hair but failed to cool the gold fever that hit her so long ago, and her faith is as strong as ever. "The pitiful thing is just when I'm close to hittin' a big pocket of gold, I don't have the money to go on," she sighed. Bob Clinch, sho sells mining supplies and has known her for 30 years, said, "Lu's quite a lady. She used to be quite a looker in her day. She would come back from San Francisco wearing white gloves and all the trimmings of a San Francisco lady. She's got a kind of Diamond Lil complex, you know."

History author Bob Wyckoff recalls, "she drove a luxury car and was well-spoken. Sorta auburn hair. I think she had gold mining interests in Sierra County." (Pete Scribner asked me on Facebook "to not forget 'Alleghany Lou' . I did quite a bit of survey work for her 'way back when.") I was glad he reminded me, because I remember seeing her photo and reading about her...probably in the 1970s. She was even attractive wearing work boots.

The Washington Hotel started with Hessel B. Buisman who was born in Holland in 1827, and arrived in San Francisco in 1850. He originally kept a hotel in the town of Jefferson located near Washington from 1852 to 1857. "Then Buisman built the first hotel on this site in 1857. It was destroyed by fire in August 1867, along with neighboring businesses. Buisman replaced it with a two-story hotel in that same year. In 1887, Buismanís daughter Harminia and her husband, E. T. Worthley, inherited the hotel, which burned in April 1896. The hotel was called 'The Worthley' or 'Washington Hotel' on the same site as the current hotel. The hotel stable was across the street.

John J. Rogers bought the hotel in 1910 for $50, and in 1911 he installed a water pipeline across the river to the Nice and Latta ditch to furnish water for the town. In 1912, he used the water to generate the first electricity for the hotel. Thomas B. Williamson, who had purchased a half interest in the hotel for $10 in 1911, bought out Rogers in 1916, and then sold it to Pietro Orzalli. Orzalli sold the property to R. F. Wiliamson (brother of Tom) in 1925. In 1926, Emory J. Haverstock bought the hotel and added dormer windows on the top floor, using lumber salvaged from the fire-ravaged Dugan Hotel (also in Washington). Haverstock sold it to Clark and Edna Waite for $10 in 1939. In 1955, the hotel was sold for $10 to Harold Moneyhun, former owner of the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, and Eddie Furano of Nevada City. In 1968 Thomas E. Walsh used siding salvaged from the National Hotel Annex in Nevada City on the side porch on the upriver side of the hotel."

Today the town of Washington consists of the Washington Hotel/bar, a restaurant, a grocery store, a one room schoolhouse that has educated students continuously for over 100 years, and two trailer park campgrounds. The town's population is about 200, but fluctuates with tourist traffic in the summer...including some ghost-hunters. I think they also showed up at the National Hotel in Nevada City a few years ago.

We cross the Yuba River and turn left. I had wanted to go to Graniteville, but Mel wanted to take the winding dirt road that ended going through Relief Hill and North Bloomfield. Evidently many others have enjoyed the loop too. We filled our gas tank before we left Nevada City, but traveled so slow the tank was still full when we got home.

Now we're on the opposite ridge looking down on Washington.

We'll be crossing this stream before long.

Rock and gravel everywhere, and hydraulic remains of the extensive gold mining here.

One of the springs still flowing. As we slowly drive along the rough road I have visions of how people used to travel over the same road (only worse) on horseback, stagecoaches and wagons. It took them a lot longer to get to where they wanted to go. Gold mines shipped their gold over the roads. No doubt the drivers and passengers were always at risk of being held up robbed and maybe killed during their travels. Probably one of the most famous highwayman in our area was Charles Earl Bowles (right) better known as Black Bart, the gentleman bandit. He committed 28 robberies of Wells Fargo stagecoaches across northern California between 1875 and 1883, including a number of robberies along the historic Siskiyou Trail between California and Oregon. Although he only left two poems (at the fourth and fifth robbery sites) it became his signature and his biggest claim to fame. Black Bart was very successful and made off with thousands of dollars a year. He was allegedly terrified of horses and committed all of his robberies on foot. This, together with his poems, earned him notoriety. Through all his years as highwayman, he never fired a gunshot, and was always courteous and used no foul language (except in poems). He wore a long linen duster coat and a bowler hat. His head was covered with a flour sack with eye holes, and he brandished a shotgun. These distinguishing features became his trademarks.

We've reached Relief Hill about three miles east of North Bloomfield. Captain Monroe, J. K. Reed, Burnham, Tuttle an some others located here as early as 1853 and engaged in mining. By 1856 the settlement had attained a population of seventy five people. It had one store, two salons, one butcher shop, two boarding houses, one blacksmith shop and several dwellings. The town steadily grew until 1858, and had one hundred voters. It then began to decline very speedily, but revived in 1862 and remained a thriving camp for a number of years. By 1880 it still had seventy five residents among which were two of it's oldest residents...Robert Moore and William R. Williams.

Mel remembered an old log pond behind this house. The pond is still visible.

Now we're rolling into North Bloomfield.

The main street where they hold the Humbug Days Parade. You can see the sign over the street for this year's celebration Saturday June 9, 2012. We really enjoyed it last year.

The Blacksmith shop.

The old North Bloomfield school.

Hydraulic mining remains and pond.

Approaching the Yuba River Bridge below.

The final phase of this adventure is heading back to Nevada City and the old Republic. Stick around for our next adventure...to Alleghany, Forest City and Goodyear's Bar.