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Slabtown, Amador County Ghost Town

The early 1850's constituted the time bracket in which Huffaker's Mill supplied the material that both created and named Slabtown. In the absence of any old ambrotype that would give us an idea of the town's appearancem we may acquire a general impression from a scanning of Charles nahl's painting. "Sunday Morning in the Mines" Here are the green mill slabs nailed to round poles, the bark started to peel from both the weathered at the edges; window and door openings screened by the canvas stripped from the yards of tall ships after their ordeal of the Horn; picked clean of every usable thing and abondonded to ron in row upon row in the tide flats below Montgomery Street, the perfect illustration of what Bayard Taylor termed so aptly, "the rude and unlovely architecture of the early fifties."

In the ensuing years substantial buildings were erected; in the transformation the town assumed the look of its neighboring communities. Out of any listing of distinguished citizens emerging from the ebb, flow, and eddies of the swirling early population, a substantial segment were domiciled in, or at one time residents of Slabtown.

In 1905 a great forest and brush fire leveled much of the town. The rest in the intervening years fell into complete ruin and disappeared.

The environs of Slabtown and the country at and east of the Lode still bears the imprint, though it has mostly been neglected or destroyed, of the skill and energy of 1849 and the years immediately following. We owe them a debt that we not only cannot repay but probably cannot even fully comprehend.

Quite soon men from Italy looked up from the sluice boxes and arrastres and saw the deep red earth, the sloping hillsides, and a hot sun in a cobalt sky. In all essentials, they observed, this was quite like their own Terra Bella, and they were not long in doing something about it. The slopes were terraced and planted to Zinfandel and Mission grapes, and to all varieties usable for wine and table and in the production of raisins.

The small streams were dammed and diverted to gardens. Olive, almond, English walnut, fig, pear, nectarine, cherry, apricot, apple-just about every known fruit tree was planted and brought to production by highly skilled and sympathetic hands. In an incredibly short period of time, a far frontier, affording at best a mea­ger diet, was converted to a gourmet's paradise. To this day there are renowned dining places, in the Mother Lode whose Italian cuisine is flattered by attempts at imitation countrywide. And their roots are way back there.

In horse-powered days, some of the predecessors of these famed establish­ments operated at roadside, a great boon to teamsters of the long jerk lines, pass­ing drummers with full sample cases on the rear flats of the buckboards, cow men pushing their herds to the Sierra meadows in summer and returning in autumn, and the passing public in general.

A typical layout: Above a slanted stone wall back of the hitching racks was a large dining room, mostly glass-sided, and shaded old olive trees. At the rear was the cooking space, a large kettle of minestrone asimmer on the great range. On a sort of great butcher's block dry sausages of many kind, fat red onions, home­cured olives, varieties of cheeses, a great circle of sour Italian bread were arranged. All of this came from the good earth hard by. The bread was baked in the outdoor homo on the hill above. By a few passes of the large knife at hand, sandwiches of unbelievable savor were created.

In the stone wall close to the kitchen, an arched doorway led to the cold bodega deep in the heart of the mountain. Here were rows of oaken casks aging the wines; salamis in pendant stalactites completing their cure; cheeses-provoione, swiss and parmesan-mellowing to perfection. Shelving held spices, a most essential part of the magic of these places. From town, came cans of whole peppercorns, allspice, and cardamom; from the landscaped herb garden edging the stone paved entrance savory, oregano, coriander, basil, and rosemary were harvested and stored in square-faced apothecary jars. Will anyone ever have it so good again?


Information, photographs courtesy of the Amador County Archives, The Historical Marker Database, The Chronicling America Database, and Larry Cenotto, Amador County's Historian