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Ghost town’s final days

Clarksville to open to public for first time in decades
By: Don Chaddock/The Telegraph
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A little known ghost town slated for demolition and development will get one last public hurrah thanks to members of the town’s historical society.

Clarksville, located near Highway 50 in the El Dorado Hills area, sits on private property with about a dozen structures still standing. At one time, the town sported a Wells Fargo building, general store, school and hotels.

Time and the elements have taken their toll on the town, but thanks to the efforts of the Clarksville Region Historical Society, the public will once again have an opportunity to visit the site before it is developed into a commercial center.

Betty January, president of the historical group founded in 2006, toured the site recently and allowed the Telegraph to accompany her as she and two others -- Lloma Alameda and John Thomsen -- planned the May 9 “Clarksville Day.”

Ken Wilkenson, one of the property owners and developer, greeted the group.

“Be careful walking around,” he warned.

January and Wilkenson hammered out details of the event, including parking and use of the paved roadway.

“This is the old school grounds,” January said, pointing to an empty field with a rickety wood shed. “There are two old outhouses back there that have fallen down. There’s the flag pole and the may pole.”

Both poles are still standing as are two houses on the more historic side of the town.

“This is the Griggs house and that’s the Kyburz family home,” January said. “You know, Kyburz, like the town.”

Melinda Peak, vice president of the historical society, said Kyburz bought property in Clarksville after his Sacramento home was damaged in the flood of 1861-62.

“He bought land for cattle and bought a home up here,” Peak said. “He was sick of (the flooding).”

Peak said that people of that time drove cattle from Folsom and Clarksville up to the mountains near Tahoe for grazing.

“This whole region, the grass dries up, so you have to have a second range to be successful,” she said. “Their summer range was up at what is now the town of Kyburz.”

January said Clarksville was founded around 1849-50, because of the nearby Mormon Tavern, and quickly became a commercial and social center for the area.

The ghost town still has one resident, who lives in a new house that was built atop the site of the general store after it burned down.

Unlocking a gate, January led the group through three homes that once belonged to the Tong family. A Tong family cemetery sits near Highway 50, she said, and is also located on private property. A nearby road also bears the family name.

“You can see (the cemetery) from here, just over that knoll,” she said.

A large barn, to be used by the group during the celebration, was once the schoolhouse.

“They moved the schoolhouse up here and added the sides to use it as a barn,” she said. “You can see it if you look at the main structure.”

The town also boasts one of the longest sections of the original Lincoln Highway, known as the southern branch that ran from Sacramento to Carson City, Nev.

“(The property owner) said he’s going to preserve part of this roadway,” January said.

According to Peak, the stretch of roadway was designated in 1913 as part of the first coast-to-coast highway, but the road was there prior to that.

“A lot of people have a misconception that this was a new highway,” she said. “The road was there before the Lincoln Highway.”

Peak said she was grateful the property owners are allowing the history group to hold its festival on the site of the town for the first time.

“They are very kind to extend us the use of this property,” Peak said.

The town was never huge, she said, and despite previously published accounts, only had a population of a few hundred, even during its heyday.

“The town itself is just a tiny little bit but the town was a service center for the huge area around it. Early on, it was never a grand town,” Peak said. “It’s always been a small town. It happened to be on the major road -- White Rock Road -- that went on to Placerville.”

The decline of the town started when the Folsom-to-Shingle Springs branch of the railroad ended up bypassing Clarksville, rather than going through it as originally hoped, she said.

The final nail in the coffin of Clarksville was the rerouting of Highway 50.

“After that, it wasn’t even able to support a gas station,” she said. “When the new freeway came in, it cut the town off completely.”

Cars will once again drive along Lincoln Highway during Clarksville Day on May 9. Peak said the event will feature vintage cars and other activities for the public.

“We have various other historical groups that will provide information on their groups,” she said. “We’ll have the Mormon Battalion that have been to the last two (events) and the Pony Express Riders that will stage a re-mount. We’ll also have gold panning.”

The event also marks a special time for those who once lived in the town or are descended from those who once called Clarksville home.

“The old time families have a special area and they will get together and have a picnic for them to have a reunion,” she said. “It’s a little bit of something for everyone.”

To learn more about Clarksville Day, visit www.edhhistory.org.

To see more photographs of Clarksville, check out Philip Wood's Inside the Telegraph blog.

Check out even more photographs of Clarksville in the Telegraph's gallery here.