Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Past is Present in Placerville #2: Chili Bar on the South Fork of the American River

Good morning. Tina here. I am going to show you some vintage images of a favorite place of mine, Chili Bar. It is located on the South Fork of the American River off Highway 193 (or the Georgetown Highway) between Placerville and Kelsey, where I live. The way to Chili Bar is steep, no matter whether you come from the North or the South. But it is worth the trip.
This is a photo from a late 1950s yearbook from El Dorado High School. Before the PG&E dam was built just above Chili Bar in the early 1960s, Chili Bar Beach was a very popular swimming and hangout spot for all ages. I remember swimming there when I was very young. There were buoys placed out in the water so we wouldn't go out too far (the American River current can be deadly). After the dam was built, the water was just too cold, and the popularity of the beach for swimming was lost.
This is a June 1955 view of Chili Bar from the Kelsey side. It shows the old bridge which has been replaced. To the left of the bridge you can see a small image of a home which once stood there. The family of the slate mine superintendent once lived there, from the late 1920s to the late 1940s. A friend of mine was the college age daughter of that family, and when she returned home in the summers she had lots of fun with her brother, swimming and exploring. At the end of this post I will show a painting her mother made of the bridge.
This old cabinet photo is of lumberjacks gathered at Chili Bar. I don't have much information about lumbering at Chili Bar, but perhaps they were able to float the logs down the river to Coloma or further. Before the devastating Chili Bar fire in the 1980s, there were large trees covering the hills above the river on the North. Now mostly brush covers the area.
This is an old real photo postcard showing one of the serious floods Chili Bar has suffered through. This was in the very early 1900s. You will note the bridge is of the old metal variety. It is very similar to the bridge which was down river at Lotus. This bridge was replaced with the cement bridge which was shown above in the 1955 photo.
This inscription on the flood postcard "This recalls that fine dusty walk back from Chili Bar" was sent to Lorena Sisenop of Slatington (Kelsey). That walk must have been really hard, it is all uphill. I wouldn't want to do it!
This old photo, which is not very clear, shows the river, Chili Bar bridge, and an old home. Chili Bar got its name from the Chilean miners who settled there, after they were run out of Garden Valley. Apparently there was once a Chilean cemetery located at Chili Bar, but it was washed out during a flood and no longer exists. There is also the Toll House Cemetery located at the Nugget Campground, on the Northeast side of the river. A portion of the cemetery was bulldozed for a bus turnaround, and only one grave, that of Ella Coolidge, the daughter of the tollhouse owner, is marked.
This is a view of Chili Bar in 1956 before the dam was built. The bridge is in the upper left corner. In the top 1/3 on the right of the river is the area which is now the Nugget Campground, and that is where Chili Bar Resort once was. There used to be quite a few old cabins there, but some have been lost to floods, even in fairly recent times.
Another old postcard view of Chili Bar. The slate quarries at chili bar are apparently the most extensive in the west. The hillside shown in the top left quarter of this postcard is now almost all denuded of foliage and bulldozed up to the top. Until a few years ago, at about 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., if you were driving north on Highway 193 you might run into a gigantic truck loaded with slate, long and heavy, and barely making it past the corners. They were dangerous to other drivers and after many complaints, smaller trucks are now used. I myself was nearly run off the road at a steep corner on the day before Thanksgiving one year. The truck could not make it past the corner without nearly switch blading and I got caught between its two halves, although on my own side of the road, because the driver wouldn't stop and let me go by as he tried to negotiate the turn. He finally stopped before he forced me over the edge, and he stalled his truck. My heart was pounding! Logging trucks are nothing compared to those slate trucks. I am glad they are no longer allowed.
This rather blurry postcard is of a power plant which was located east of Chili Bar not far up the river. The South Fork of the American River has several power plants on it, SMUD, PG&E and EID all use the river as a source of power.
Another blurry postcard view of the American River near Chili Bar.
This is a later color postcard view of Chili Bar from Highway 193 above where the dam is now located, and just before Rock Creek Road.
This is a color postcard, which has the same view as the June 1955 view shown earlier. Now Chili Bar is a popular put-in spot for rafts and kayaks. To the left of the bridge is where the rafting companies take you to practice with your oars before they let you go downriver towards Coloma. To the right is where the parking lot and store are located. There are also now houses and trailers located on the north side (foreground of photo). I believe this postcard is from the 1960s. If you look carefully you can see Highway 193 winding its way South up to Placerville in the middle of the card.
I am ending this post on Chili Bar with this wonderful oil painting of Chili Bar Bridge by Reba Sinclair. It was painted in the 1930s or 1940s, when she lived at Chili Bar, and her daughter graciously allowed me to photograph the painting to share with you.
I hope you enjoyed our little trip to Chili Bar, and aren't you glad you don't have to walk home?


Heidi Ann said...

Such an interesting post, Tina! I love all of the old pictures and postcards.

Kim G. said...

I love the gold country history! The other night I watched the California's Gold episode on Placerville.

yosemite faith said...

this is really great-you are really good in explaining and directing our attention to all the details. thanks for sharing.

moonshinejunkyard said...

this was purely fascinating! and i am SOOOO glad i don't have to walk home, either side of that crazy canyon! i still go swimming at chili bar in the summers, although i guess i never made it there this year...suddenly realized that. last summer we went there a lot and my friend's mom who is very athletic, got swept partway down the river when she tried to swim across. it was scary! the american river and its many associations and jobs over the years are so interesting and powerful. thanks for the history, and i am sorry you nearly got run off the road by a slate truck...what a story! my own heart was pounding for you!