James Marshall was the chief carpenter for the the American military in Los Angeles and set out for Sutter's Fort May 6, 1847 to look for a sawmill site for John Sutter. On August 28th work commenced at what is now Coloma on the South Fork of the American River. On January 24, 1848, Marshall found gold in the sawmill tailrace on the banks of the South Fork.
Soon after Marshall discovered gold in Sutter’s Mill, the small town of "Old Dry Diggings" sprang up. Like so many other towns close to the original discovery site, Old Dry Diggings rapidly populated with hundreds of gold seekers turning into thousands. Later the name was changed to Placerville, CA (east of Sacramento and just south of Coloma on Route 49).
We traveled to Placerville with cousin Barbara to visit a place of business that was established in 1852. I. H. Nash started Placerville Hardware to sell gold pans and other goods needed by miners. The store is the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi River and is also the fourth oldest continuously operating business in California.
Entering the store, we thought we were walking on the same floors that those early arrivals seeking their fortunes rushed over on their way to the gold pans.
Another sign of an old hardware store was the rolling ladder that enabled the clerks to climb to the ceiling to find that particular item whose whereabouts is known only to experienced staff members.
The store seemed huge, although "large" may even be overstating the size. We passed items typical of stock in hardware stores. The choice of hammers and picks, for example, was far more than we would have expected to find in a store serving a town with a population of about 10,000.
Even the steps of the stairs to the second floor were “display shelves” for kraut crocks and baskets. The brick wall leading to the second floor seemed to have been around for the store’s 157 years.
George Fausel purchased the store in 1952, and the Fausel Family has continously operated Placerville Hardware for the past 57 years.
We passed bins, shelves, and spools with merchandise typical of hardware stores (fasteners, kitchen appliances, and rope/cords). But then we began to see other, less typical, items. For example, this boot bird house was the first we had ever seen. (The entrance is the white space on the left of the boot leg.)
We found cookie jars (we liked the Dagwood in the Car one) and lunch boxes that were far from the utilitarian items that we would have expected.
Deanne Fausel credits the store's success to its variety. "Hardware stores come and go, she said. "Why do we survive? Because we have stuff for women."
Maybe that explains the dozens of different shaped cookie cutters, the unexpected cannoli forms, the number of ceiling fan pulls, the Bridal Registry, and the sun bonnets available in the store.
But we were puzzled by the unusual items shown here—the Appetizer Mini Tongs, but especially the dark glasses complete with an attached pig snout.
If you can’t find it at Placerville Hardware, do you really need it?
We headed out of the hardware store for a short walk around town. Just down the street were the shops in the Old Town Centre, originally a Masonic Temple, built in 1893.
This row of stores showed some of the architectural difference and service differences in downtown Placerville--an oyster bar, a store selling skateboards, and the Olde Eldorado Emporium.
We headed across the town triangle, which features this bell tower, to the Cary House Hotel.
Built in 1857, the lobby provides a warm welcome to travelers or curious tourists. The woodwork is original to this 40-room Hotel.
The most striking feature of the lobby are these four stain glass windows created by Wendy Wythe, a local artist, when she was 17 years. It took her one year to complete all four pieces which represent each season. Show here is Spring.
Also in this photograph is a Chickering Square Grand built in 1876. The painting of the lady behind the piano was sold to the Hotel by a decorator because it fit in the space. The interesting fact is that the granddaughter of the lady was astonished to find this portrait of her grandmother when she stayed on the Hotel.
The granddaughter joined Mark Twain, John Studebaker, Betty Davis, and President Grant as guests of the Cary House over the years of its operation.
Not only Placerville Hardware, but Placerville itself, are going strong.