Greenwood History


Plenty of gold in Greenwood

The town and its immediate vicinity overlay the northwest segment of the Mother Lode gold belt. There are several wide and extensive quartz veins containing free gold and auriferous pyrite in the region, hence quartz and seam mining were extensive during the Gold Rush, the latter leading to considerable use of hydraulic mining methods.

The famous Fricot nugget weighing 200 ounces was found at the Grit mine near Greenwood in 1865. Nearly $5 million in gold was mined in the Greenwood district, nearly half of which came from the Sliger Mine. The Nagler or French Mine in Greenwood Valley was another particularly rich seam mine worked for many years on the hydraulic system. It was still going strong in the 1880s, having produced a reported $2 million in gold.

Placer mining proves lucrative

Not surprisingly, placer mining was also extensive in the Greenwood district. Miners erected wing dams in the nearby Middle Fork of the American River to divert the river water through a series of tunnels and flumes, after which goldbearing materials were removed from the bedrock and sent through sluices and long toms.

Gold seekers still in area

Major mining activity continued in the Greenwood district into the 20th century, much of it conducted by the Chinese. Quartz mining recommenced in the 1930s, and small-scale skin diving for gold is still going on in the Middle Fork.

An early description

In the summer of 1852 J.D. Borthwick passed through the region on his way to Nevada City, and he left a graphic description of the country as he found it. ≥Some miles from Coloma,≤ he began, ≥is a very pretty place called Greenwood Valley - a long, narrow, winding valley, with innumerable ravines running into it from the low hills on each side. For several miles I traveled down this valley: the bed of the creek which flowed through it, and all the ravines, had been dug up, and numbers of cabins stood on the hillsides; but at this season the creek was completely dry, and consequently no mining operations could be carried on. The cabins were all tenantless, and the place looked more desolate than if its solitude had never been disturbed by man.≤

Borthwick then went on to describe a ≥small village of the same name≤ that he had come to. It consisted of a half-dozen cabins, two or three stores, and a hotel. Borthwick spent the night at the hotel, where, to his pleasure and surprise, he found recent copies of the Illustrated News and the New York Herald. ≥In the mines one is apt to get sadly behind in modern history,≤ Borthwick wrote. ≥The express men in the towns made a business of selling editions of the leading papers in the United States, containing news of the fortnight, and expressly got up for circulation in California.≤

The next day Borthwick continued his travels by hiking north along the Middle Fork of the American River where he crossed the river in a canoe to Spanish Bar. As he approached the Middle Fork, he wrote, ≥The scenery was very grand. Looking down on the river from the summit of the range, it seemed a mere thread winding along the deep chasm formed by the mountains, which were so steep that the pine trees clinging to their sides looked as though they would slip down into the river. The face of the mountain by which I descended was covered with a perfect trellise-work of zigzag trails, so that I could work my way down by long or short tacks as I felt inclined.≤

John Greenwood

The town of Greenwood was named after John Greenwood, said to be a ≥giant of a man,≤ and an Indian scout and fur trader from the Rocky Mountains. He was the half-lndian son of the famous mountain man Caleb Greenwood, who had, among other things, been instrumental in organizing the second rescue expedition in 1847 to bring surviving members of the Donner Party down to Sutter's Fort from where they were snowbound at Truckee Lake and Alder Creek. He helped lead the rescue party to Bear Valley but was unable to go farther because of his age. His son Britton accompanied the rest of the party to Donner Lake and Alder Creek, however.

Caleb and his sons John and Britton had come to California with the Stevenson-Townsend wagon train in 1844. Caleb had agreed to guide the Missouri party only as far as the Rocky Mountains because he was not familiar with the trail to California over the Sierra Nevada. At Fort Hall, however, Caleb and his sons elected to stay with the party and go with the pioneers to California. His experience came in handy when the wagon train met up with Chief Truckee of the Paiute Indians, as the chief was able to instruct Greenwood on a way over the mountains that is now called Donner Summit.

Below: From: Georgia Gardner, Along the Georgetown Divide, 1993,

At one time Greenwood had a Catholic Church of its own. Its first and only church was dedicated in 1891, and built by Schmeder & Brown, building contractors in Georgetown who had built such Georgetown landmarks at the American River Inn Hotel and the Georgetown Hotel. (Although Greenwood did not have a resident priest. In 1902 the church as blown down.