History of Kelsey

Seven miles northwest of Placerville on what is now Highway 193 is the town of Kelsey. Founded by pioneer Benjamin Kelsey it was one of the first towns established during the Gold Rush. Benjamin Kelsey had left Independence, Missouri on May 8, 1841 and crossed the continent to California. He worked for a time for John Sutter at Sutter’s Fort until he went to Oregon in 1843. At the news of the gold discovery Kelsey and his family moved back to California and were among the first to begin seeking their fortunes in the gold fields. Kelsey’s wife Nancy, who was 18 at the time, and their baby daughter, were the first Anglo-American women to cross into California.

During its heyday Kelsey boasted six hotels, twelve stores, twenty-four saloons and gambling houses, and served the camps of Louisville, Irish Creek, Elizatown, Fleatown, and numerous flats such as Yankee, Chicken, Stag American, Spanish, Union, and Columbia. The Black Oak mine alone produced $1.25 million in gold before it ceased operation in the late 1800s.

It was to Kelsey that James Marshall fled for his life when he was threatened by miners in Coloma for defending his Nisenan friends from vigilantes. When he moved back to the Motherlode region years later it was in Kelsey where he settled, opening a Blacksmith’s shop. It was to be his last home.

Today only a few buildings and foundations remain of the once booming town. Marshall’s shop was used for a time as a museum and then allowed to fall into disrepair. Mining was conducted in the area until the 1960s.