The Georgetown district, towards the northern end of the Mother Lode, played a historic role during the Gold Rush. It was both a lode and placer mining district. Located in northwestern El Dorado County, it extends from Garden Valley north, through Georgetown and continues on to the Middle Fork of the American River.
Mining began in the district in 1849 soon after gold was discovered at Coloma. Miners from Oregon, looking for placer gold, were the first to work the area. Legend has it that the town was first called Growlersburg. There’s two versions of how the town got that name. One is, that the miner’s were finding such large nuggets in their gold pans, that they “growled” as they rolled around in the pan. The other is that a group of miner’s had set up camp in a cold, damp canyon that didn’t get any sun, apparently causing them to “growl” a lot. Whatever the reason, the name was soon changed to Georgetown. It was named for either George Phipps or George Ehrenhaft, which is also a subject of debate.
Georgia Slide, a mining town lost to history is located in this district, close to Georgetown. Seam deposits were mined here on a large scale. Hydraulicking was the main method of extraction from 1853 to about 1895. Some activity was seen here again in the early 1900’s. The famous Beebe and Alpine mines were worked on a large scale in the 1930’s. There has only been minimal prospecting here since that time.
A two mile wide belt of mariposa slate runs north and northwest through the central part of the district. Greenstone and green schist are found on the western side of the slate belt, while to the east, serpentine, slate, quartzite, mica schist and amphibolites can all be found. Some spots have very deeply weathered bedrock. Andesite covers tertiary gravels at exposed points on some of these northern hills.
In this deeply weathered bedrock, many quartz veins and veinlets were found . The gold became concentrated in these seams, and was worked by placer mining methods. Gold found below the bedrock was extracted using lode mining methods. A seam deposit found at Georgia Slide was said to be 1000 feet long by 500 feet wide. Many high grade pockets were found here, some veins being up to 500 feet long. The gravel pockets found here also yielded gold.
The Fricot Nugget
In August 1865, William Russell Davis who owned the Grit mine at Spanish Dry Diggin’s near Georgetown, found a cluster of crystallized gold that weighed 201 ounces(about 13 pounds). Mr. Davis’ great-great granddaughter told me that the nugget was found approximately 100 feet laterally on the drift and that it was not embedded in quartz. It was instead sluiced from the wall.
Davis owned the piece for several years until it was later shipped to New York where it was purchased by a Mr. Jules Fricot(pronounced Free-co), who was a former resident of the Grass Valley district. Fricot displayed the specimen at the Paris Exposition in 1878. The cluster then disappeared for a number of years.
In 1943, the cluster was rediscovered by a California State Division of Mines employee in a safe deposit box at a bank in Angel’s Camp in Calavaras County, California. Although the bank manager had one of the most extensive gold collections in California and knew the Fricot family well, he had no idea that the famous cluster was in his very own bank! The State Division of Mines employee convinced the nuggets owner at the time, Marie E. Burton, to donate it to the California State Gem and Mineral Collection in memory of her father, Jules Fricot. It was put on display at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
There were much larger gold specimens found during the Gold Rush period, but the Fricot Nugget is the largest one I know of that was classified as “crystallized gold“. It’s permanent place of residence is now the Mariposa Mineral Museum in Mariposa, California. It is occasionally sent to other museums for display.