Iowa Hill (No. 401 California Historical Landmarks)

In its heyday, Iowa Hill was the principal town of Eastern Placer County. It is located on the narrow neck of a high ridge between the North Fork of the American River to the north, and Indian Canyon to the south.  During the 1850s and 1860s, numerous camps flourished within a radius of five miles of Iowa Hill. Gold was discovered in Iowa Hill in 1853. By 1856, the production value of the mines exceeded $100,000. By 1880, the production value was up to $20 million.

Fire swept through the town in 1857 and burned it to the ground. Since most of the structures in Gold Rush towns were built from wood frame or canvas tents, fire was a destructive force common to mining camps throughout the Mother Lode. Residents would take what they could and move to another camp and begin life again. Another fire burned through the town in 1920. This fire left a store built of bricks and a Wells Fargo vault.

Some of the short-lived camps in the area included Independence Hill, Roach Hill, Bird’s Flat, Stephen’s Hill, Elizabethtown, Wisconsin Hill, Grizzly Flat at Grizzly Canyon, and Montana Flat. The towns faded into memory when the diggings ran out. Or, as often happened, fire scorched the town and left people searching for new homes.  

Today, Iowa Hill is a quiet mountain hideaway with a couple hundred full time residents and summer cottages. The area offers far-reaching scenic views. Land-line phone service began in 2010. There are still no electric connections. Everyone uses generators for their electricity. When planning a visit, be aware that the winding and very narrow road is dangerous with steep cliffs and not recommended for trailers.

Iowa Hill does not have a school. The children are educated through a county approved independent study program because the roads are unsafe for busses or vans to transport the children to and from an area school. 

Hydraulic mining in both the Jameson and North Star mines continues today in Iowa Hill. The largest quantities of gold still lie beneath the center of the town’s business district. The production value is, so far, considered large enough to offset the expenses of mining.

The California Historical Landmark is located one-tenth of a mile southwest of the post office on Iowa Hill Road in Iowa Hill.

Placer County

Placer is a Spanish word describing surface mining. Gold that had been “placed” in streams or on the ground through natural erosion was processed by planning, rocking, and similar techniques. Such mining efforts made Placer County residents some of the richest in California.

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Latitude: 39.108509 Longitude: -120.859382 Elevation: 2862 ft

About this Establishment

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder.

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

Share your experience. Please leave a comment below if you've visited this historical landmark.

Time Period Represented

1850s and 1860s


Visited the town last month. It is fun to visit, not a lot there but the store is interesting. They still take gold or cash for purchases. The two cemeteries about 1 mile beyond the store are very interesting to visit. The road is narrow and takes a while to get there from the river, but if you have time and don’t mind driving slow on a paved road its a fun side trip.

Ann Penfield, 4/25/2013

I have been working in Iowa Hill since 2003. People who just visit do not see what is there. There is a school just off the main and the only intersection. It has been active since the 1850 until just recently and is handled through the Colfax Elementary School system.

Jim Crfawford, 9/24/2014

After Nam I used to go to Iowa Hill and sit in the woods to get my head back together. Lonnie Simpson noticed me after awhile and invited me to his mine "Simpson’s Hacienda". Between him and his wife Agnes, and their special friend Elmer Lubitman I was slowly brought back to reality. I used to help them work the mine and they found an ounce an hour on a fairly regular basis. I built a secluded camp up from the mine on Roach Hill near the Old Sheep Camp and spent almost 30 years camping there deer hunting and cutting firewood. Around the 80's the hippies were leaving as the pot growers moved in and killed most of the deer. In the 90's every outlaw from Sacramento was using it as a hideout. I backed off in the 90's after Lonnie and Agnes sold the mine. I was friends with Axel and the Old German also who lived near the mine. People thought I was crazy but I remember more than once camping at night at the Sheep Camp and hearing sheep all around me and there were no sheep to be found. Iowa Hill is a very spiritual place, a healing place. I miss it.

clayton kemmerer, 11/4/2015

I remember when there was nothing but a dirt road into Iowa Hill from Colfax and 2 stores, and lets not forget Jack Dempsey the donkey everyone knew as the mayor of the town. McCallesters Store was on the right entering town with a dance hall, bar, post office, food and hardware, out front was the gravity Gas pumps with the glass bowl on top that held 10 gallons of gas. Turn right at the stop sign on the corner and the other store was at the bottom of the hill on the left, that was Macey’s store it burned down around the early to mid 1950's due to the owners son Herby playing with matches.

SR friend of Herby's, 5/30/2016

My name is Patrick Bunch and my great grandfather was born in 1854 in Iowa hill. His name was James Frances Frey.His father was Will Frey James was the first child born in Iowa Hill in1854.

Patrick Bunch, 8/28/2018

such memories,My name is Betty Thompson I was born in Auburn, 1934, two months premature, weighed in at 3 and 1/2 lbs, went home to a tent on the hillside of the Morning Star mine, my bed was a shoe box put into a powder box, to keep out the little mice looking for a warm bed, spent a lot of years in the Iowa Hill school, we moved from the mine to Iowa Hill, mama had a small bar room, located near Schwabs Store, She sold beer and cut the miners hair when they came up from the river, then we moved out near Fowlers Place Mr Fowler was the painter that painted the bridge down on the river, he must have been the county bridge painter, his left arm was missing just below the elbo, but that sure did not stop him from working He had a sawmill , his son logged the place ,hauling one log at a time up over the mountain behind our house,then later on he went off to the Navy. My sister and I walked to school , Mrs George and Lila Randall were teachers in our one room school house at that time , many a day we would ride home with Mr Henderson on the County road grader. we could stand on the grader next to him, Can you imagine doing that today,I have a picture of Jack Dempsey and Herby and Arvilla Macy's baby, Herby at the Iowa Hill Store , Mrs Demond( the baby's great grandmother) had the store at that time, I have some pictures of Iowa Hill and many more memories.

BBetty Thompson Campbell, 11/19/2018

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