September 08, 2010


By C.W. Reichert

Few places are more uniquely beautiful than the Western slope of the central Sierra Nevada. Adjacent to Shingle Springs, the town of Latrobe is situated in the heart of these hills in the southwestern section of El Dorado County. The gentle slopes, outcroppings and springs add a certain flavor that continues to attract people of nearby cities. Perhaps the Nisenan or Southern Maidu Indians appreciated the valley's diverse splendor when they inhabited this region in aboriginal times.

The Indians' homeland stretched across to the Bear River and south of the south or middle fork of the Cosumnes River. The Nisenan tribe was made of a primary, permanent village surrounded by several secondary villages and seasonal camps. The villages encompassed family dwellings, acorn grenaries, bedrock mortars, a dance house and sweat house with 15-500 people living there at a time. The usual village sites were along knolls, ridges or streams with a southern exposure. Here, the Nisenan ground acrons as their main meal and also caught fish with their hands or spears. Salt was obtained from the springs and with the use of fires and snares, they hunted deer, rabbits and other small creatures. Ants, grasshoppers, lizards and frogs were also devoured. Manzanita berries were used to make a cider like beverage. The Nisenan were wiped out by a malaria epidemic in 1833, and the gold miners also took over their land.

Latrobe owes its roots to the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad, which established a station for the tremendous benefit of neighboring Amador County.

The history of the area is further connected to the Gold Rush of the 1850's, the agricultural and economic development of El Dorado County and commerce between Clarksville and Latrobe. In 1849, one year after gold was discovered in California, thousands of hopeful gold seekers arrived in the "diggings." Many of them came through the area to settle in Latrobe.

The railroad station was located at the intersection of Latrobe Road and South Shingle Road, in what became the town of Latrobe with Shingle Springs as its eastern terminus.

The railroad was completed in 1884. The town was named after the civil engineer who was instrumental in the construction of the first railroad in America.

J.H. Miller, a locaql rancher and hotel owner, opened the first store in Latrobe in 1863. The population grew to 700-800, with the number of stores increasing to six or seven. Latrobe supported four hotels, three blacksmith shops and a single wagon and carriage factory. Latrobe also offered a bakery and several butcher shops.

There were only three doctors along with two drug stores to take care of the medical needs of the entire community. The public school building, which still stands today as part of Latrobe School, is a two story building that contained all public meetings.

The Masons and Odd Fellows organizations each had their own halls.

By 1864, rails had been laid to the new town of Latrobe, as the first trains rolled in. From then until June 1865, as the line reached Shingle Springs, it was an important way station for the great deal of business that flowed over the Placerville Road to Virginia City. About 23 years later, the railroad extended to Placerville.

Families living along the course of the railroad saw some immediate benefits. However, the acquisition of the right-of-way by the railroad made many other residents angry as they had homesteaded the area but were forced to give up some of their land for the railroad line.

In 1866, hotels were located in Latrobe and Michigan Bar, supplying train passengers and local residents with dinner and overnight accommodations.

For a long time, Latrobe controlled all trade activities of Amador County. The town became the focal point for many travelers, providing eight daily stages in connection with the trains. However, because it wasn't a mining town and the railroad construction continued east, business suffered. The state of prosperity came to a grinding halt in 1883, when the population dwindled down to about 80 people with one general store, one hotel, a telegraph officde, two blacksmith shops and the lone carriage and wagon shop.

In 1981, El Dorado County adopted the Latrobe Area Plan, which covers the west side of Logtown Ridge to the Cosumnes River, boasting such landmarks as picturesque Sugarloaf Mountain and Indian Creek.

Today, the businesses no longer exist, and the town consists primarily of multi-acre rural residential parcels such as the Shadow Hawk and Sun Ridge Meadow subdivisions. Another subdivision is currently being built next to Miller's Hill School.

Also still standing is Oddfellows Hall, and what has become one of the highest rated grade schools in California today-Latrobe Elementary School.

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