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The Grand History of El Dorado County’s Oldest Church

Oct 02, 2015 02:39PM ● By Jerrie Beard

 Men from all occupations—blacksmiths, bankers, farmers, shopkeepers and preachers—were among those headed to the gold fields in 1848 and 1849. While many succumbed to the temptations of alcohol and gambling, others retained their morals, and the preachers gathered their flocks. In Placerville, the Methodist faith was preached by Reverend Hosford in 1848, and Reverend Joseph Meek organized Methodist churches in Coloma and Placerville. In 1851, Reverend Bateman organized a church building program, which culminated in the construction of the Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church on the hillside above Cedar Ravine overlooking Main Street.

The church was constructed with local timber, and the finished siding was brought around the Horn from the East Coast. The little church lacked only one thing—a bell—so the congregation raised funds, and two parishioners were sent to San Francisco in search of one. A suitable bell was found on the hull of a beached ship: the Straffordshire. The owner was located and the bell purchased. 

By 1861, the congregation had outgrown the church, so money was raised to build a bigger one on five acres of land donated by parishioner Frank Goyan Sr., an immigrant from England who came to Placerville in 1853. The new brick edifice and cemetery was located at the corner of Cedar Ravine and Main Street, where C&H Auto Parts now stands. The original wooden church was sold and moved down the hill to a foundation on Cedar Ravine where it served as living quarters; the bell was moved to the schoolhouse.

In 1920, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schaeppi purchased the original church building and donated it to the M.E. Church. It was refurbished and a second story was added, which served as a classroom, office and youth center. 

 In 1944, the properties of the M.E. Church and the First Presbyterian Church of Placerville merged and articles of incorporation were affected to form El Dorado County Federated Church. In 1953, the Federated Church building (located on Thompson Way) was dedicated. The brick church on Main Street was sold in 1959—along with two smaller adjoining buildings—to Art Howe who wanted the property for commercial buildings. 

In 1961, during the destruction of the two-story building next to the brick church, workers “suddenly came upon a startling discovery—there was a separate small building inside the one he was tearing down!” reported the Mountain Democrat on July 7, 1961. “A little more investigation determined the origin of the structure…it was the original wooden Methodist church, built in Hangtown in 1851.” 

John Hassler, president of the Historical Society in 1961, worked with the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, the Historical Society and members of the community, to have the little church dismantled piece by piece and moved to land behind Federated Church on Thompson Way. One of the larger contributors was Dr. Frank Gerbode of San Francisco who had grown up in Placerville. He provided monetary support and was instrumental in locating and returning the old ship bell, which had made its way to San Francisco over the years. 

The refurbished M.E. Church was dedicated on July 30, 1961, and currently serves as a small chapel, meeting room and classroom.

Photos courtesy of