Was the man hanged from a tree or merely choked to death by a strong miner? Stories conflict. Was he executed for stealing $200 in gold dust, or someone’s horse; for jumping a claim, or killing a fellow miner? Stories conflict. Originally known as “First” Garrote (to avoid confusion with nearby Second Garrote), the name appeared in contemporary newspapers as: Garote, Garotte, Gerote, and Garrotte. Spellings conflict. About the only thing that didn't conflict was the meaning of Garrote; which is Spanish for execution by strangulation.
The mining camp was founded in late 1849 or early 1850 by Mexican miners. By June of 1850, an estimated two thousand Mexican miners were working the rich placers, so rich that mining claims were restricted to ten feet square. An incident between Indians and white men occurred the following year which, according to the “Mountaineer” in the December 16, 1851, issue of the San Joaquin Republican, caused the Mexicans to leave in fear, drastically reducing the area’s mining population.
That same year, the local mining laws were amended and each miner was allowed fifty yards in length up and down a prospective creek. The town’s post office was established on November 29 of 1851, under the name Garrotte. The camp remained a lively place through the 1860’s, after which it began to dwindle in size; by 1875 the population struggled to reach one hundred. Those few citizens who remained; however, decided their town’s name had too bloodthirsty a ring to it and on January 11 of 1875, the post office and town name was changed to the more dignified Groveland. I prefer the first appellation.
The stretch of road between Big Oak Flat and Groveland winds through forests of tall pines; second growth as most of this area was heavily lumbered during the Gold Rush. A close look through the trees will reveal traces of the extensive mining operations that occurred here during the early days, traces that nature is just now beginning to conceal.
Groveland is located two miles east of Big Oak Flat on Hwy 120.
The Watts & Tannahill Building is one of two Gold Rush era buildings located on the Tannahill block. The two-story structure was erected circa 1851 for use as a general store. During the 1860’s and 70’s, the Masonic Lodge owned the upper story, using it for their meeting hall.
The Iron Door Saloon stands on the east end of the block. Known for a time as the Granite Store, liquid refreshment has always been available in this old building, leading to the Iron Door’s claim of being the oldest saloon in California. Constructed of stone sometime before 1852, it also once housed John Watts and James Tannahill’s general mercantile store.
The Groveland Hotel is the town’s largest adobe building. Built sometime between 1849 and 1852 by George Reed, a prominent sawmill operator during the ’Rush, the structure has remained a hotel during most of its existence. It was owned and operated by Matthew Foot from the 1860’s to the late 1870’s. The building has undergone relatively few structural changes over the years, with the exception of the addition of the large annex to the east which was built by Tim Carlon in 1917.
Casimir Reboul's Trading Post saw the beginnings of business in Garrote, and is perhaps the town's oldest building, dating back to the early 1850s. Reboul ran his trading post in this adobe building from 1855 until 1872, when he sold it to Michael Noziglia. The business changed hands again in 1878 when Luigi Cassaretto acquired the store, after which it remained in the Cassaretto family for many years. Repaired, refurbished, and remodeled over the years, the original adobe building still lurks somewhere behind the modern facade.