The Mosquito Valley
Jan. 26, 2001

High on the ridge of the Georgetown Divide, about 10 miles north of Placerville along the Mosquito Road, is the community of Mosquito. It is about six miles east of Garden Valley, and has about the same elevation as Georgetown, which gives it a generally pleasant and moderate climate. The land is also rich in natural amenities making it ideal for upscale suburban development, which began in the 1960s. The Mosquito community is now the center of a semi-exclusive, 5,000 acre residential development known as Swansboro Country, complete with its own lake and airport.

With only a modicum of hype, the Swansboro developer offers in its sales brochure a picturesque image of Mosquito Valley: "Deer stand and watch you pass, gray squirrels flick their bushy tails and chatter in concern. In springtime, dogwood and buckeye bloom and Scotch broom scatters its gold across the hillsides in breathtaking brilliance against the verdant green. In autumn, oaks and sycamores splash red and yellow through the forest, the madrone curves its tattered trunk between the towering fir and pine, and manzanita spreads a gray-green cover over the rich El Dorado earth. Through the multi-greens of summer or the snow-trimmed fields of winter, streams play their crystal way across the rocks, and waterfalls leap down seal-brown boulders or moss covered ledges."

John C. Fremont was the first white man to traverse Mosquito Valley in 1844 on his trek west along the north bank of the South Fork that took him and his expedition to the vicinity of Pilot Hill and then on to Sutter's Fort at what the Spanish called Nueva Helvicia.

The region was first mined in 1849. There were two major camps in the area. Nelsonville, the more active camp where several stores were located, and Big House, also known as Lower Town, which was inhabited mostly by "Spaniards," a Gold-Rush term that covered about any Spanish-speaking ethnic group. The district known as "Little Mosquito" became notable for the relatively large number of nuggets and chunks of gold that were found, ranging in weight from 2 to 6 ounces.

Mosquito was not a major gold mining district. Placer mining paid well at first but gave way to quartz mining relatively quickly after the first strike, and quartz mining soon gave way to agricultural uses and fruit growing. The first crop grown at Mosquito was potatoes, however. Agriculture in the area was greatly aided by the Mosquito ditch that brought water over a 16-mile stretch from Slab Creek; built in 1853 at a cost of $200,000 for the miners, the canal soon became the major source of water for irrigation.

About the only major commerce in Mosquito was the sawmill built in 1851 in One-Eye Canyon, so named for the disability of its pioneer discoverer. The sawmill continued in operation for many years after the placer and quartz mines played out. Mosquito was made a voting precinct for the 1854 election. The first classes for school children were held in an abandoned granary, and the first school house at Mosquito was built in 1862, the same year a post office was established in Mosquito.

Historian Paolo Sioli wrote, "Mosquito has always carried the name of being a quiet, peaceful settlement," but he also notes that an Indian was lynched at the camp for killing a white man.

Sioli visited Mosquito in the early 1880s and found "large and fine-looking orchards producing excellent fruit of the harder varieties." He also was astonished "to find in this hidden place so many enterprising and well-to-do farmers, as may be seen without inquiry, observing the fine dwellings, fine barns and thrifty fields of grain and clover."

The Mosquito Road was first built to Mosquito and then extended on to Pino Grande, which became the center of a significant timber region. The suspension bridge over the South Fork about halfway between Placerville and Mosquito built in 1867 is still in use. It has become a county historical landmark.

Farther north on the Mosquito Road on the way to Pino Grande the traveler will find the ruins of a massive resort hostelry built by A.P. Elder in the early 1920s. Though known as the Deer View Lodge today, the building was called the Bret Harte Hotel by Elder.

The Deer View Lodge was actually a much smaller structure located nearby. It had been built in San Francisco for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. After the exposition closed, Elder had the lodge disassembled, crated, and hauled to the Georgetown Divide, where it was reassembled and used again as a lodge.

Over the years local historians and newspaper writers confused the two buildings and engrafted the lodge's name on the hotel. The error was perhaps to be expected, as Elder called the surrounding country "Deer View," which he further described as "Forest Primeval." It lies just east of Little Soapwood Creek.

Elder had planned the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, and he saw the Bret Harte Hotel as a sort of vacation Shangri-La for the socialite millionaires of the Bay Area with bountiful fishing, big-game hunting, and peaceful nature walks. Elder had a sense of literary history, and he also saw the hotel as a preserve for busy, creative artists.

Its builder wrote, "There is nothing more transcendently beautiful on this planet than this Hotel in its lines of Colonial and French architecture, with the giants of the forest in perpetual green as its constant and loyal companions ... The sight of these giants of the woods seems to set you up good and strong on your legs, and you breathe deep and full ... No other place like it in the world."

Elder died in 1924 before the hotel was finished, and his heirs lacked his enthusiasm for the project, allowing it to languish and deteriorate into dilapidation, a process which culminated in its collapse following a severe winter snow storm in 1936. All that remains now is the stonework. The hotel never opened; it never had a guest. It joined A.J. Bayley's Pilot Hill hotel as another of El Dorado's magnificent failures.

(Article used by permission of the author)

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