May/June issue of Cobblestones newsletter

The May/June issue of Colfax Cobblestones was mailed to CAHS members this week. It includes news of the upcoming June 3 presentation by Christina Richter about Placer County (Past and Present) and an article from the Archives: “The Mole People of the Southern Pacific Railroad,” originally published in the Sacramento Bee in March 1975.

The “Mole People” article includes this photo of an SP worker using a shotgun to remove icicles in the railroad tunnels.

Carrying a shotgun used to shoot down icicles in rock tunnels, a worker plods through an underground winter scene. Photo by Owen Brewer for The Sacramento Bee.
Carrying a shotgun used to shoot down icicles in rock tunnels, a worker plods through an underground winter scene. Photo by Owen Brewer for The Sacramento Bee.

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Colfax Cobblestones newsletter, February 2023

The February issue of the Colfax Cobblestones newsletter is now available. If you are a member of the CAHS, a printed copy has also been mailed to you.

This issue has the following:

  • Our March 4th meeting and presentation with Swend Miller: “The Wright Brothers and How They Developed the Model B Aircraft.”
  • The Story of the Colfax Hotels, by Nancy Hagman
  • And more

March 4th meeting with speaker

Join us Saturday, March 4, 2023, for aviation stories and socializing. Swend Miller’s presentation will be about “The Wright Brothers and How They Developed the Model B Aircraft.” The Wright Model B was an early biplane designed by the Wright Brothers in 1910.

Robert Fowler’s biplane, built by the Wright Brothers, 1911. After Fowler crashed northeast of Colfax during his attempt to fly from San Francisco to Jacksonville, Florida in less than 30 days, his plane was repaired in Colfax, with additional work performed in Grass Valley. It utilized a 30-horsepower engine from the Cole Motor Car Company. From the online collection of the California State Library.

Saturday, March 4, 2023, 7 p.m.
Colfax Passenger Depot
99 Railroad Street, Colfax, California
There is no charge to attend
Everyone is welcome

Swend will also talk about Robert C. Fowler, the early aviator who crashed his Model B plane in Alta, California, during the first leg of his attempt to fly across the United States in September 1911. Fowler had his plane rebuilt in Colfax, California, under the supervision of two mechanics from the Wright Biplane Factory.

Colfax Cobblestones newsletter, October 2022

This issue of the Colfax Cobblestones newsletter includes the wonderful story about how CAHS recently received a photo album that had belonged to Dr. Chesley Bush. It contains numerous photos of the Colfax area in the early 1900’s. From 1912–1918, Dr. Bush worked as an assistant to Dr. Robert Peers, the director of multiple Tuberculosis treatment facilities in the Colfax area.

This issue also has information about our public meeting and presentation on October 12, 2022. We hope you can make it.

Dr. Peers and the Colfax School for the Tuberculous

We have a wonderful new book about Dr. Robert Peers and the history of treatment of Tuberculosis in the Colfax area in the early twentieth century for you to download and read as a PDF.

Roger Staab, who will be giving a presentation about Dr. Peers and the history of TB treatment in the Colfax area on Saturday evening, October 15, 2022, has researched and compiled a new book, Dr. Peers and the Colfax School for the Tuberculous. The book is illustrated with more than 50 photographs, maps, and historical advertisements of the TB hospitals and treatment centers in the Colfax area.

Roger’s presentation and his book cover some of the same information. We hope you enjoy the book. And we would love to see you at the presentation on October 15.

October 15th meeting with speaker

After 2½ years of not holding quarterly meetings because of COVID, we are going to have a Saturday night presentation with historian and author Roger Staab.

Saturday, October 15, 2022, 7 p.m.
Colfax Passenger Depot
99 Railroad Street, Colfax, California
There is no charge to attend
Everyone is welcome
The Colfax Hospital, 1914, near the corner of Kneeland and Grass Valley Street in Colfax, California. Photo by Dr. Chesley Bush.

Roger’s presentation will be about Dr. Robert Peers and his work treating patients with tuberculosis in the facilities located in the Colfax area in the early twentieth century. Roger has researched Dr. Peers’ work and the facilities that were under his direction. Dr. Peers directly supervised six facilities and was affiliated with at least three others.

Before Colfax, there was Illinoistown

By Nancy Hagman

The following article was originally published in the Colfax Record on April 13, 2011. It was revised on August 22, 2022.

Out on South Canyon way at the Iowa Hill Road junction is a plaque commemorating a place called Illinoistown.

In local standard history Illinoistown is the predecessor to Colfax. This story has been written many times over the decades.

First the plaque. In 1948, one hundred years after the gold rush started, the Sierra Pines Parlor No. 275 Native Daughters of the Golden West dedicated a marker for Alder Grove, which later became Illinoistown.

It was originally placed 100 feet off the old Highway 40. That’s mystery number one. Where, exactly, was the old highway located? The monument was moved.

According to the same article on the dedication, “history records that at a bend in the valley about half a mile below Colfax, in a narrow place, a fine large spring flowed to the surface, and about a quarter of a mile below that flowed another which had caused quite a boggy land – on the lower side of which grew many thrifty alder trees.”

Thus, the area became Alder Grove, in early 1849.

Soon after, the gold seekers were flowing into the territory, but the smart money was being invested in goods and services for supplying the miners. These were to be provided by the likes of Enos Mendenhall and his wife, Rachel, considered the first white family to arrive in the region.

They built the first hotel in Colfax, but they also erected the first hotel in Illinoistown. Where exactly?

Sears and Miller built trading establishments at the extreme lower end of the valley.

Another by John W. Pierson was at the spring at the narrows and another about a quarter of a mile above, on the eastern side of the valley, was built by a Mr. Neall.

While reading old papers the phrase “town of four houses” surfaced, which would collaborate the original settlement. Again, no exact location.

By one account it was in October that mostly Illinoisans by “acclamation and a bottle of whisky” named the town.

Another tale states in December of ’49 there was a gathering at Pierson’s and a handful of about six miners from Illinois persuaded all to dub the area Illinoistown.

Somebody won at a game of cards.

Illinoistown was, at that time, considered the head of wagon navigation, “from which to the mines on the rivers, and between the North Fork and Shirt Tail, all the supplies of the inhabitants had to be packed on the backs of mules.” This from the business register published in 1861.

Also from that same source was a general story that in “1852 a nursery of fruit trees existed, and some excellent gardens at the place; it being the only account we have of an attempt being made, at that early day, to raise fruit in that portion of Placer county.”

We now know that it was Enos Mendenhall who went back to Oregon and brought back fruit trees to the area in 1850.

The locale thrived as a hub for trading to the gold seekers for the next 15 years.

Even though placer mining declined within two to three years, hydraulic mining was taking off and Illinoistown became a byway to the fields.

Then along came the railroad. Business smarty moved a mile north to be at the railhead. The new town was named for Schuyler Colfax, then Speaker of the House, by the CPRR.

Interestingly, even though annexed by the city, the area has retained it designation as Illinoistown.

Lifelong resident and writer for the Record in the 1980’s, Stella Maria Cortopassi, related her time in the territory. She offers great remembrances of the people and places of that lifestyle.

Her column has presented another mystery as she reports there was a cemetery near the old Winchester house down the hill from her home.

The winery and home that was her residence on Placer Hills Road south of today’s Sierra Market still exists.

More recently, there was a teepee and a rattlesnake pit in Illinoistown on old Hwy 40, but that’s another story.

The resource of Historic USGS maps, each give a different location for what may never have really been a town. But a spread-out area of businesses serving the trail head.

Also, the whole area was basically severed by the construction of I-80.

Did Alder Creek waterway become Bunch Creek?

Spring 2022 newsletter

A new issue of the Colfax Cobblestones newsletter is available online. If you are a member of the CAHS, you have received a printed copy in the mail.

The March/April issue of the newsletter has two great articles: Part 2 of John Rambottini’s walk around downtown Colfax, California, a century ago and Roger Staab’s article about how we are organizing the Archives to make them easier for you to do research with the materials. Together these two articles fill eight of the 10 pages in the newsletter.

John Alfred Rambottini and his wife, Daisy, year unknown. John was a member of the Auburn Whiskerinos, “a fun-filled fraternal fixture in Auburn since the 1930s.” Its members joined the Auburn Native Sons of the Golden West in 2002, according to a 2004 article in the Auburn Journal. The Whiskerinos sponsored beard-growing competitions to celebrate 49er culture. Photo from the CAHS Archives.

This and other issues of the newsletter can be read or downloaded on the Newsletter page.

Preparing part 2 of John Rambottini’s walk around Colfax on his day off in the 1920s

We are preparing the March 2022 issue of Colfax Cobblestones. This issue will include the second half of John Alfred Rambottini’s oral history about walking around downtown Colfax on his day off in the 1920s.

The first part of his story was published in the December 2021 issue of the newsletter. His oral history is a wonderful description of Colfax as it was 100 years ago. He recorded his story in February 1987.

Back issues of the Colfax Cobblestones newsletter can be viewed or downloaded.