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Negro Hill (No. 570 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800’s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

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The area of Negro Hill was first mined by Mormons in 1848 and was a thriving mining camp across the South Fork of the American River from Mormon Island. In 1849, an African American man named Kelsey from Massachusetts and a Methodist minister, along with other African American miners, rediscovered the diggings. Together, these men established a community African-American, white, Chinese, Spanish, Mexican, and Portuguese miners. Spaniards and Mexicans occupied the ground on the south side of the hill at the mouth of Spanish Ravine in 1849, while African Americans established the camps known as Little Negro Hill and Big Negro Hill. As white miners flocked to the area, the town of Negro Hill developed, reaching a population of 1,200 by 1853. For a time, Negro Hill was one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse towns in California, nearly as diverse as San Francisco was.

In 1849 three white men from New England came to Negro Hill and established a store and boarding house called the Civil Usage House. Charles Crocker and Dewitt Stanford joined the Negro Hill business community competing directly with the African American-established trade and businesses. As state laws were passed in the 1850s limiting the rights of African Americans, the town began to lose its diversity as violence against African Americans began to increase. In 1854, white miners drove out the African American settlers. By the 1860s, the town was non-existent, and today the few remains of the town are beneath Folsom Lake.

Those buried at the cemetery in Negro Hill were reinterred at a site in the present-day Folsom Lake State Recreation Area at the Mormon Island Memorial Cemetery. In 2014, 36 old grave markers were replaced with new, granite markers reflecting the authentic name for the Gold Rush Era Community.

The Mormon Island Memorial Cemetery is on Green Valley Road, 0.1 miles northeast of the El Dorado-Sacramento County line, 4 miles northeast of Folsom.

El Dorado County

Stretching from oak-studded foothills and the shores of Folsom Lake to the western shore of Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County is probably best known for the 1848 gold discovery at Coloma. “Old Hangtown” sprang up during the Gold Rush and was later renamed Placerville. The county name comes from the mythical land rich in gold sought by Spanish explorers. The first inhabitants of El Dorado County were the Maidu and Miwok Indians, followed by miners attracted to the area by the Gold Rush.

El Dorado County was one of the original counties in California. The Pony Express Trail ran through the county approximately where Highway 50 is today, from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1861. The first county seat was Coloma, and it was superseded by Placerville for this position in 1857. El Dorado means “the gilded one” in Spanish; a fitting name considering the mines in El Dorado County produced millions of dollars of gold.

Time Period Represented

Early Gold Rush (1848-1850s)

Nearby Places