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 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.