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Gary B. Speck



Tucked into the green Boise Basin northeast of Boise, Idaho is a totally different world: a world where the past comes alive.  This is a world of ghost towns, forgotten mining camps and lingering memories.  Here in this eighteen square mile forested basin, if you listen carefully, you just might hear the scuffling sound of shovels digging into the rich soil, the busy rumbling of stamp mills and the bustling shouts of humanity driven by the golden dream of riches.


The Boise Basin exploded into the public awareness in 1862 when gold was discovered along Grimes Creek, Elk Creek, Granite Creek, Mores Creek and Ophir Creek.  A number of mining towns sprang up in the basin, including Idaho City, Centerville, Pioneerville, Placerville and Quartzburg.


Leaving the state capital and its urbanity behind, head southeast on Interstate 84, and exit at EXIT 57, dropping onto State Highway 21.  Only 34 miles from the Interstate, old wooden false fronts and brick buildings welcome you to Idaho City, Boise County’s seat of government, itself a worthwhile stop.  At the top of Idaho City’s Main Street, the graded dirt Horseshoe Bend Road loops past the cemetery, winding its dusty way towards New Centerville, a loose-knit collection of “rustic” cabins, mobile homes and outbuildings.


Beyond New Centerville, at mile 4.6, is a road junction.  The left fork continues towards Horseshoe Bend, which is a small town on State Highway 55, about 30 miles north of Boise.  The right fork continues to Placerville, only 1.2 miles beyond. We rolled into PLACERVILLE not really knowing what to expect. I was definitely pleased.  Driving into town past a couple of whitewashed buildings, and circling around the freshly mowed, sweet smelling grass of the town square, I felt a sense of victory – of relief.  This was definitely a worthwhile stop!  At the top of the flagpole in the center of the square, “Old Glory” fluttered in the gentle breeze, and I could almost imagine a Fourth of July celebration and band concert in the park.  Yet there wasn’t a single person to be seen anywhere.


After one circuit of the square, I backed into a flat spot between the City Hall and the Boise Basin Mercantile.  This little town was a real find.  To say I was pleased is an understatement.  The official 1990 population of Placerville was 14, and in our hour plus visit, we saw only one other person.  She set a library book on the bench in front of the Magnolia Saloon building, got back in her truck and headed down the small hill next to the building, and disappeared in a cloud of dust.


Most all the standing buildings are in a good state of repair, but at the time of our visit, none were open.  I peeked in windows and glass doors, noting only a couple that may still be in use, or at least were until quite recently (summer 1999). 


Off to the southwest towards the cemetery, weekend and summer cabins are beginning to fill in among the trees.  Even so, the Placerville of today is MUCH smaller than it was in 1863, when it had over 100 buildings and 3254 people.  Some of the businesses then, included five blacksmiths, five meat markets, seven restaurants, 13 saloons and a batch of hotels, boarding houses and general merchandise stores. In 1899 or 1900, Placerville was decimated by a major fire.  What remains today was spared by that fire.


The Boise Basin is fertile ground for exploration, and if you have a vehicle capable of traversing rough roads, you have a much better chance of getting into the back country and finding the ruins of places like “Old” CENTERVILLE and PIONEERVILLE, as well as BOSTON, BUENA VISTA BAR, ELKHORN, GABRINUS MINE, GRANITE CITY, MAMMOTH MINE & MILL, MAYFLOWER MINE, MOORSTOWN, PINE GROVE and POMONA, among others. 


From 1862 to 1870 every grain of soil was panned, sluiced and washed for gold. The entire basin was a placer mining bonanza, with finds as rich as $100 per day, or $20 for a flour sack full of dirt.  However, a summer-time lack of water created hardship, but within a year or two even that minor inconvenience was licked by means of ditches from streams to the diggings. Later, dredges worked the deeper placer deposits, and hard-rock mining followed by the early 1870s.  The future of mining in the Basin was assured ... until 1942 when the federal government required most mines to close for the duration of the war.   




·        Ctr Sec 14, T7N, R4E, Boise Meridian & Baseline

·        Latitude: 43.9432267 / 43° 56’ 36” N

·        Longitude: -115.9470600 / 115° 56’ 49” W


This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for May 2003.




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FIRST POSTED:  May 03, 2003

LAST UPDATED: August 24, 2009




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