Clarksville Region Historical Society Preserving El Dorado Hills' Past
● By Bill Romanelli
Hal Erpenbeck, Mike Roberts, Betty January and Janette Rogers Booth - Photo by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group
Betty January had lived in El Dorado County for years before she’d ever heard of Clarksville. “I had no idea there was a town here long before El Dorado Hills,” she says. “And the more I learned about it, the more I realized that this whole area is rich with local history that’s crying out to be recorded and remembered.”
That discovery launched January and a group of local citizens to form the Clarksville Region Historical Society in 2006. Hal Erpenbeck served as the first president with Betty as VP; collectively, they set about uncovering and preserving the history of the area.
The 60-second story on Clarksville is that it was started around 1850, the height of the Gold Rush, when the population of El Dorado County was around 40,000. One of them was a man named Clarkston—he was credited with establishing “Clarkston’s Town” on what is today the southern portion of El Dorado Hills, near Town Center. It wasn’t as much a population center as it was a center of commerce for people going to and from the gold fields. It became such a popular stopping place that the U.S. Postal Service built a post office there in 1855, and renamed the town “Clarksville.”
It might still be thriving today if it hadn’t been on the losing end of decisions to move the railroad—and later Highway 50—away from it. It started a slow descent into obscurity and ruin; by the 1970s, there wasn’t much left but a few foundations and walls overgrown with weeds, and the town was almost lost to history. In its heyday, however, it was one of the most popular stopping places in the world. There are stories of lines of covered wagons going through town that were literally “all day long.”
“I wholeheartedly believe this area has the most unique history on earth,” January says. “When gold was discovered, people came from all over the world to find their fortunes, and most of them came through here.” Many of them arrived and stayed—people with names like Kybruz, Tong and Joeger, among others. Many of them are buried in the Clarksville cemetery and their descendents still call the area home.
It’s from these descendants, and others who’ve gleaned nuggets of the region’s history, that CRHS accomplishes its mission. On the fourth Wednesday of every month, they hold a free public meeting at the El Dorado Hills Library with guest speakers talking about the railroad years, the Pony Express Station, or the vigilante justice that led to 13 hangings in the 1850s.
“Our actual history can be so much more exciting than anything you can make up in a story,” January says. “The stories of the people who came through and lived here—how they lived, fought and struggled for what they wanted—it’s really a study in the stamina and dedication of the people who brought us to who and where we are today.”
Visit edhhistory.org for more information.