Cameron Park Roots
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Photo courtesy of the Cameron Park Community Service District.
While numerous towns throughout the Mother Lode date back to the early 1850s, Cameron Park stands out as a virtual newcomer to El Dorado County.
However, the area surrounding the thriving community played an important part in the region’s early history. Like elsewhere in the county, small streams and ravines attracted gold seekers. Merchants, farmers, and ranchers soon followed and many settled into the cattle-raising business. Until the late 1950s, the area known today as Cameron Park remained relatively undeveloped. That all changed, however, when a colorful Sacramento Valley cowboy and Pontiac auto dealer named Robert “Larry” Cameron began to fulfill his dreams.
Cameron and his wife, Ruth, enjoyed Sunday drives from their ranch in Sacramento and eating packed lunches near a creek in what is now Cameron Estates. When the couple lost two ranches to eminent domain – Sacramento Metropolitan Airport and American River College – they looked for a place to relocate their 300 head of cattle, 10 palomino horses, and assortment of peacocks, cats and dogs. One day, Larry Cameron returned home and announced to his wife, “Ruth, I have found a place where we can move the animals and the people. You’ll never guess – it’s five miles from where we picnicked.”
The Camerons bought over 5,000 acres of land, encompassing seven large ranches, including the Meter and Hollister Ranches. Instead of raising cattle on this land, Larry Cameron envisioned a community of homes, horse-loving families, shopping centers, a country club and an air park. The evolution of today’s Cameron Park began in 1958, and by 1961, three units of small lots known as Dorado Estates and a unit of 5-acre parcels to the south of Highway 50 were developed (prior to the construction of the freeway). A few years later, the completion of the El Dorado Royal Country Club and Cameron Park Airport marked further progress. Ray Henderson’s Red Coach Inn (later Sam’s Town) and the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy (and 47-room dormitory) soon followed. The Academy eventually closed due to financial problems and the Goldorado Shopping Center now covers the old golf course.
In 1967, the county finally approved Larry Cameron’s plan for a unique subdivision called Air Park Estates. Today, homes in this residential area line an extra-wide network of roadway-taxiways leading to and from Cameron Park Airport. These homes also feature aircraft hangers in addition to garages.
Improvements to Cameron Park Lake began in 1968. For recreational purposes, workers dredged the lake to a maximum depth of 20 feet, firmed up the levies, and sculpted Tom Sawyer’s Island near the swimming lagoon, skirting it with a dandy beach.
In the years since the Camerons first settled in Cameron Park, the land has slowly been divided into lots of varying sizes. The area from Highway 50 north to Green Valley Road filled in “like a checkerboard.” In all, Larry Cameron’s Dorado Estates (under subsequent owners) developed between 1,200 and 1,400 lots. Industrial development began with the opening of Certain-teed Products, a plastic pipe manufacturer on Robin Lane in 1971.
Today, the community contains a mix of 5-acre parcels, single family homes, apartments and businesses. And as the sign on Cameron Park Drive says, it remains “A Special Place to Live.”
Help Cameron Park celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer at the Cameron Park Community Center; date and time TBA! For more information, visit cameronpark.org.