Town History - Gold Discovery, Early Citizenry, Legends

Historic Sites - Local Ruins, Relics, Buildings & Scenery
      • Methodist-Episcopal Church
      • I.O.O.F. & Masonic Hall
      • Jail
      • St. George Hotel
      • Volcano Schoolhouse
      • Masonic Caves
      • Clute Building
      • Jug and Rose Cafe
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Town History

      Who the first men were to mine this region is not known for certain, but legend has it that among the earliest were members of Stevenson’s Regiment who chanced upon the diggings in 1848. They found the placers exceedingly rich, averaging $100 a day per man, with some spots yielding up to $500. The claims in Soldiers Gulch were paying so well that no one took the time off from mining to build any kind of permanent shelter. So when the first snows began to fly, most of the men packed up their gear and headed for friendlier climes.
      A few of the soldiers; however, decided to dig in for the winter, undoubtedly hoping to continue working the rich placers and build up their stakes. But the winter proved cruel, and without substantial shelter from the storm or adequate supplies, the soldiers perished. Their bodies weren’t discovered until several years afterward, at which time they were buried on Graveyard Hill.
      With the melting of the snows and the opening of the trails, it wasn’t long before the diggings at Soldiers Gulch were once again jumping. An immigrant named Jacob Cook came upon the valley in 1849, which he described as “a natural beauty spot, covered with leafy white oaks of immense size, and carpeted with grass, three to five feet high, having the appearance of an old English park.” While the miners may not have noticed the natural beauty of the spot, blinded by their search for gold, they did notice the strange, burnt-looking rock formations and the fact that the camp seemed to be located in the crater of a huge volcano. Someone dubbed the place Volcano and the name stuck.
      The surface gravels paid handsomely, and to the miners’ surprise, the claims seemed to get richer the deeper they went. Men picked out large nuggets with only their fingers as tools; the diggings were easy. Until they hit a layer of disquieting yellow clay. Sure, there was gold in the clay, but it was almost impossible to get out. Discouraged, several claims were abandoned which later turned out to be worth fortunes when methods of separating the gold from the clay were discovered. Boiling was found to disintegrate the clay, so boilers were built to steam out the gold. Another method was to let the clay dry in the sun, afterwhich it was an easy matter to pound it to dust and extract the gold. One miner is reported to have taken out $8,000 in only a few days, another took out twenty-eight pounds from a single pocket. With returns like these, it’s easy to see how the region produced the $90 million credited to this area.
      Volcano was an election precinct as early as 1849 and within two years a post office had been established. The town really came into its own in 1852; however, when the Volcano cutoff off the Carson Route was completed. John Doble relates in his diary, “The Emigration is coming in rapidly at the rates of 10 to 20 waggons a day & every two or 3 waggons a family sometimes two or three...Many of them are stopping here & going to Mining so our town is now quite lively.” Before the year was out, some three hundred clapboard and pine houses were scattered about the hillsides, and the population was nearing two thousand. The following year Doble reports, “...There is now in this Town Eleven stores 1 Restaurant 3 Bakeries 6 Hotels 3 private Boarding Houses & 3 Bars & Gambling Houses one of the Bars is in an Apothecaries shop which leaves only two Gambling Houses.”
      The town was becoming quite civilized; as early as 1850, Robert Beth attempted to bring about a public library but his efforts didn’t amount to much. In the autumn of 1854; however, the “Miners’ Library Association” was formed. Admission fees were $1 and monthly dues 25 cents. This entitled members to participate in weekly meetings, where social, political, and scientific questions were heartily debated. When $100 had been collected, a list of books were ordered and a significant library formed. After three or four months, the weekly meetings began to lose their interest and a rumor began circulating that the society was finished. This prompted a wild grab for the books and the Library Association dissolved a day or two later. The year 1854 also saw the organization of a Masonic lodge in Volcano, which held their first five meetings in a cave.
      When the easily mined placers of Soldiers Gulch began to give out, hydraulic mining came into favor, enabling the town to continue to thrive and prosper. Ironically, the destructive forces of this form of mining, which tore the soil away from the bedrock and sent the paydirt running through the sluices, almost wiped out the town. Many of the buildings were undermined; dirt, sludge and debris washed into homes and gardens, and the town was in danger of being swept away in the miner’s hydrophilic quest for gold. A good illustration of the amount of land washed away is the St. George Hotel. Seemingly located on the outskirts of town today, old photos show it originally being near the center of the community.
      By 1865, most of the gold was gone, and so were most of the people. Volcano had suffered its share of fires over the years, and in 1868 the problem seemed epidemic. Property values had been dropping steadily since the end of the Civil War, but many of the businesses were heavily insured from earlier, more prosperous times. Numerous fires broke out that year, prompting a rumor that the property owners may have had something to do with them. The buildings which burned were not rebuilt, the owners simply left and the town slowly settled down to a more prosaic way of life that it still experiences today.

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