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Iowa Hill

March 17, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Iowa Hill, California, was formerly known as Iowa City, California. Today it is an unincorporated community in Placer County, California. In 1853 a group of miners from Iowa discovered gold there and as there was no one there to object, they named their camp Iowa City. (The name was changed to Iowa Hill in 1901). Located high atop a narrow slice of ridge between the North Fork of the American River and Indian Canyon, Iowa Hill had the good fortune to be situated directly atop the ancient Blue Lead Channel. Other camps soon followed, Independence Hill, Roach Hill, Birds Flat, Grizzly Flat and within a few years hundreds of miles of tunnels had been dug into the side of the mountains to reach the rich cement of the Blue Lead. By 1856 the mines in the area were producing $100,000 worth of gold a week. Tunnels driven through the hill demonstrated the fact that the whole of the ground on which the town sat was rich with extensive deposits of gold at great depth immediately under where the principal businesses were housed. The Jamison and North Star claims were the principal claims to gold. A tunnel was driven clear through the hill from the north side of town, 3,000 feet to Indian Canon on the south side of town. At Indian Canon there was a mill for crushing the stone and cement. The dirt being hard cement, it was found impossible to separate the gold from it by the ordinary process of Washington, so the experiment of crushing was made and answered the purpose. The North Star cement crushing mills were the first works of the kind erected for that purpose in the state.

Iowa Hill consisted of three large grocery stores, five dry goods and clothing stores, four hotels and the usual array of small shops. On February 2, 1857, the whole of the business part of the town was destroyed by fire. The town was immediately rebuilt with better buildings than before, but the town struggled, and never truly regained its former size. The buildings of Iowa Hill were principally of wood, yet there were some brick and stone. There was a daily stage running from Iowa Hill to Illinoistown.

Two newspapers were started in Iowa Hill. The News, by Olmstead and Miller in 1855 and the Patriot by E.B. Boust in 1859, both demonstrating shortly that the business resources of Iowa Hills were not sufficient to support a respectable newspaper.

The community did not have landline phones until 2010, always relying before that on radio communications and mobile telephones. The community still relies on generators for its electricity since Iowa Hills is not connected to the electrical grid. From 1959 to 1978 the Iowa Hill school was closed for lack of pupils. In 1979 they had the pupils, but no school. It was at this time that the concept of independent study for them was developed as it was deemed the Iowa Hill road was too steep and narrow for the transportation of school children. The determination was made by the California Highway Patrol. Even the use of a small van was prohibited for safety reasons. Today portions of the ridge road leading into town are barely wide enough for two cars to pass and appear ready to fall away at any moment, as the mountain walls on both sides have been so eroded by mining. The scenery along the Iowa Hill road is beautiful, but the one lane roads, no guard rails, sheer cliffs, are not for the faint of heart. Roads like these and the remote camps they lead to show how thoroughly the prospectors covered the hills in their search for gold.



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