Dust off your boots and plan to attend Clarksville Day on Saturday, May 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The seventh event planned by the Clarksville Region Historical Society takes visitors on a tour of the ghost town, which predates El Dorado Hills by 100 years. Clarksville Day was an annual event until 2013, when construction of the Silva Valley interchange cut into event parking.
“It didn’t stop due to lack of interest,” said local historian and CRHS co-founder Betty January. “There were 4,000 people at the last Clarksville Day in 2013.”
The gold mining town of Clarksville, which faded into a ghost town once Highway 50 was built, is just east of El Dorado Hills Town Center, visible from the Bass Lake Grade on Highway 50. It is on private property, hidden behind a locked gate, but open to the public once each year for Clarksville Day. Visitors get to browse its last remnants and see exhibits, presenters and vendors that complement the reenactments and stories of Clarksville and the Lincoln Highway era.
Many of Clarksville’s founding families — names like Tong, Kyburz, Fitch and Griggs — lived in tiny houses that still stand on the old town site.
The Lincoln Highway ran right through the middle of Clarksville. The nation’s first coast-to-coast road was a harbinger of the automotive age, predating the more famous Route 66 by a decade.
Clarksville’s “main street” is a pristine stretch of the original narrow concrete, a fact that delights members of the Lincoln Highway Association who will return to share its colorful past.
Horse-drawn wagons will shuttle visitors from the dirt parking area to Clarksville because the bridge leading into Clarksville is big enough for only one car.
As you enter the town, the stone ruins on the right date back to 1850. Both a saloon and a store, it became a Wells Fargo station until 1868, when the railroad bypassed Clarksville for Latrobe, the first of two bypasses that doomed the town; the second was Highway 50 a century later.
The house on the left is occupied by the Lester family, Clarksville’s only residents. Please respect their privacy.
The shacks on the south side of the Lincoln Highway are the picturesque Griggs and Kyburz houses, both in a state of advanced decay and unsafe for interior touring.
The old flag pole and a “wing pole” mark the location of the old one-room Clarksville school, closed in the early 1950s. The Tong family purchased the school and dragged it down the road a piece, where it became the center section of the recognizable Tong barn, which will host exhibits by local history groups.
The Sierra Nevada Mormon Pioneers return as the Mormon Battalion to regale visitors with tales of their grueling 2,000-mile march during the Mexican-American war in 1846 and 1847 as the only religion-based military unit in U.S. history.
The Mormons bring an entire encampment, replete with pioneer artifacts and a replica of the Howitzer the battalion received from John Sutter, which they’ll fire at regular intervals.
The historical Tong family cemetery and the larger Clarksville Cemetery, which is visible on the hilltop above the movie theater, will both be open for tours. The Clarksville Cemetery (once called the Mormon Tavern Cemetery) houses the remains of at least 90 individuals made up of a dozen families, including the Joerger family, who owned a sprawling ranch where El Dorado Hills Boulevard is today.
Descendants of the Joerger family include Kyburz family patriarch Cpl. Samuel E. Kyburz, a veteran of the Civil War and prominent figure in California’s history. He was buried in the Clarksville Cemetery in 1917.
If not settlers, many people buried in the cemetery were passing through the then transient town of Clarksville on the way east. The earliest grave is marked 1853.
The old Mormon Tavern, razed to make way for Highway 50, was once a Pony Express station. Pony Express reenactors, 20 riders strong, will conduct remount demonstrations across from the barn throughout the day.
Food vendors will include Ruffhaus Hot Dogs, Farmers Deli & Bakery, The Original Kettle Korn and Blue Dolphin Shave Ice.
Ole West Trio musicians will perform and many Oak Ridge High School advanced placement history class students will serve as docents and showcase their local history projects.
A major clean-up to prepare for the event will occur this month. El Dorado Hills firefighters will clear downed branches and trees. More volunteers are needed.
“Clarksville Day is a family thing,” January said. “People have a ball. They don’t realize the history in this area … It didn’t just emerge. It emerged from the ashes.”
Entry to this family friendly event and parking are free. Signs will direct parking as visitors enter Ole White Rock Road from the interchange. STAR volunteers will be there to guide.
The event is free. Clarksville Region Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Founded in 2006 to identify and preserve objects of historical interest, CRHS “enlists public support for the historical preservation and display of documents, artifacts, records and other objects of historical interest related to historical Clarksville and the surrounding region.”
For more information visit edhhistory.org or call (916) 933-3173.
Mike Roberts contributed to this story.