After the hardships and trials of crossing the Sierra Nevada, the weary emigrants following the Carson Trail no doubt welcomed a day or two of rest at the group of springs located here, sweet springs which provided cool, beautifully clear water. And once the travelers had rested and the stock had been watered, they would move on. No one could afford to stay for any length of time, they were bound for Coloma or the Southern Mines; the gold was waiting.
This all changed in the late summer of 1850 when a party of two hundred emigrants arrived from Missouri. The company was led by a man named McPike, and after crossing the mountains, they decided to rest here for a few days before moving on. The beautiful scenery, pasture and water changed their minds; however, and when they discovered gold in the ravines, the matter was settled, and so was Diamond Springs. Although some early accounts relate that the place was named after the finding of nice quartz crystals mistakenly thought to be diamonds, it was the crystal clear water of the springs for which the place was named.
Besides having an abundance of gold in the ravines and gulches, the camp’s favorable location helped its growth. Stages made regular stops, freighters made the town a base for their operations, and anyone traveling from Sacramento to Placerville passed through the town. The miners continued to mine and Diamond Springs continued to grow. By 1854, Coloma’s importance as a mining center had begun to decline and other towns began to covet the county seat. Placerville led in the agitation for the removal of the county seat from Coloma, and when the matter was finally voted on, Diamond Springs finished third in the balloting, from a field of five contenders.
By 1854, Coloma's importance as a mining center had begun to decline and other towns began to covet the county seat. Placerville led in the agitation for the removal of the county seat from Coloma, and when the matter was finally voted on,, Diamond Springs finished third in the balloting, from a field of five contenders.
Not winning the county seat proved no problem for the prosperous town. After all, the place had half a dozen saloons, a like number of general stores, a druggist, a carpenter, a jeweler, a bookseller, churches, stables, a temperance hall, a law library, an express office, a post office, hotels, dwellings, and fraternal organizations such as the Masons and the Odd Fellows.
A story is told that the early day chickens of Diamond Springs were accomplished gatherers of gold, hunting and pecking at small nuggets. One Sunday morning, a local chicken was caught and fried up for the afternoon’s dinner. When the lucky cook later panned out the chicken’s gizzard, he supposedly netted about $12 in gold.
One of the worst fires in the county's history struck Diamond Springs on the morning of August 5 of 1856. The fire began in a large building located in the center of town, and "...a strong breeze helped the flames to spread with fearful rapidity, sweeping everything before them...Citizens of Placerville and other places came to the assistance and worked with commendable zeal to check the flames." The fire was thought to be the work of an incendiary and to have some connection with two other local fires. These fires destroyed the three largest towns of El Dorado County--Placerville, Georgetown and Diamond Springs--within about a month's time. Diamond Spring's losses were estimated at over $150,000 and the total loss for the three fires was put at $1.5 million. No suspect was every apprehended, no motive was ever discovered.
The inhabitants rebuilt, although somewhat more slowly this time, as the gold production had finally begun to decline. To make future prospects worse, the town was visited by yet another destructive fire on September 23 of 1859, which once again claimed a large number of important buildings in the central portion of town. Losses from this fire were estimated at between $50,000 and $60,000.
Once again, the town rebuilt.
The I.O.O.F. Hall was built in 1852 on a foundation of brick with corners of dressed rhyolite tuff. Diamond Springs Lodge No. 9 was the first lodge instituted in El Dorado county, and one of the first in the state. The Odd Fellows still use their “fine commodious hall in the two-story frame building on the hill, visible far away.” It remains in excellent condition and looks much as it did when it was first constructed, if you ignore the air conditioner.
An interesting Stone Building of fine construction and preservation stands alone on an empty town lot on the north side of Hwy 49. The structure was built in the 1850’s of dressed rhyolite tuff, quarried in nearby Pleasant Valley. It originally housed a general store, possibly run by Louis Lepetit, and at one time had wooden additions on each side, which have long since disappeared. The building still looks capable of serving as some kind of store or business; perhaps with a little restoration it might one day be used again.