In History: Placerville Shakespeare Club
08/29/2017 03:41PM ● Published by Style
As more civilized influences made their way into gold country in the later part of the 19th century, benevolent societies—such as the Elks, Odd Fellows and Masons—began to spring up. On May 2, 1897, 20 ladies in Placerville met in Mollie Schueler’s parlor and formed the Placerville Shakespeare Club.
Initially the ladies convened to read, study and discuss the works of Shakespeare. Dues were 50 cents per year, and membership was limited to the number of ladies who could comfortably fit in the parlor. In 1901, after they joined the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, the club’s scope began to change. They became more civic-minded and started a campaign to clean up garbage and dry grass in the city—even placing garbage cans around town and asking the community to place refuse out on the sidewalks on certain days; at their own expense, the club then picked up and disposed of it.
In an effort to preserve the scenic roadway between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, the club lobbied the California Legislature to preserve the trees along Lincoln Highway and, in another instance, to pass a bill allowing people to “condemn and purchase property for its scenic value.”
Their scholarly endeavors included starting a free kindergarten for Placerville’s children, promoting the construction of two new schools, and founding the first city library. The Placerville Arts Association also owes its beginnings to a special interest group within the Placerville Shakespeare Club.
As their activities increased, so did their numbers. Having outgrown Mrs. Schueler’s parlor, the group met for many years in the courthouse. Then in 1921, they purchased a house and lot behind the courthouse. While the house fulfilled their immediate needs, members hoped to build their own clubhouse where they could host plays, show movies, and provide other events for the community.
Seed money for the clubhouse came in the form of a bequest from Mollie Wilcox Hurd in 1929. With much fanfare, pontificating, and a parade led by the El Dorado County Band, they broke ground and laid the cornerstone for the new clubhouse on Bedford Avenue behind the courthouse in May 1930. A copper box containing copies of local newspapers, information on the club and its members, projects and affairs, copies of contemporary books on the history of the area, and other artifacts of the time were sealed into the cornerstone. District Attorney Henry Lyon spoke and praised the club as an organization for accomplishment and intellectual advancement.
The ladies of the club worked diligently to pay off the mortgage by staging plays and hosting lunches for merchants and numerous other fund-raisers. They achieved their goal in 1948. Two years later, the state announced that the clubhouse property would be needed for the construction of Highway 50. The ladies agreed to give up their property if the state purchased another parcel along Bedford Avenue and moved their clubhouse, which they did.
As the club approached its centennial in 1997, the group, now nearly 150 members strong, faced the need to update the aging clubhouse. Funds were raised though an auction held at the fairgrounds (the Hangtown Craft Fair), other fund-raisers, rentals of the clubhouse for special events, and donations from members and the community.
The Placerville Shakespeare Club still meets in the clubhouse and the ladies continue to fund-raise, provide services to the community and scholarships to local students. The clubhouse is also available to rent for special occasions.
By Jerrie Beard // Photos courtesy of the Placerville Shakespeare Club.
Mountain Democrat: May 23, 1930; May 14, 1997; May 15, 1997