All that remains of the once bustling gold rush town of Gold Hill are the ruins of the Gold Hill Bar and its winery. Gold Hill, located atop an ancient river bed, is six miles northwest of Placerville. It was a “dry diggings” are which means it lacked sufficient water to washout the “paydirt”. In 1853 the Gold Hill Canal Company was formed to bring water in to the area for mining purposes. Although originally for mining, the canal helped establish Gold Hill as an agricultural area after the gold was depleted.
In 1869 the Wakamutsu Tea Colony was formed near Gold Hill by Eduard Schnell who had married the daughter of a Japanese Aizu Samurai. Schnell formed a colony of ex samurai, farmers and tradesmen escaping civil war in Japan on a 160 acre plot of land where they began a silk and tea plantation. Among the settlers was a young Japanese woman of 17, Ito Okei.
The colony encountered many problems including resentment from miners and others in the area primarily due to the amount of water the colony used. Bad harvests, unsuitable climate for production, and finally Schnell’s abandonment of his venture led to the disbandment of the colony. Some colonists returned to Japan and other left the region to seek their fortunes elsewhere in California. Two remained: Okei and Matsunosuke Sakurai went to live with a local family, the Veerkamps until his death in 1901 and is buried in the cemetery in Coloma. Okei worked as a nanny for the Veerkamps and died of Malarial fever in 1871 at aged 19. Before her death she requested that she be buried atop a hill from which she would look out and enjoy the view that reminded her of home. The Veerkamps honored her request. Her grave stone still marks her final resting place and the ranch house Okei lived in still stands today as part of the American River Conservancy. She is believed to be the first Japanese woman buried on American soil and the colony is also the only settlement of Samurai outside of Japan.
What remains of Gold Hill can be seen along Cold Springs Rd