Long before the town of Madera was on the map, gold — heavy, coarse gold — was discovered in abundance along a gulch in what is now Eastern Madera County. With miners probing for placers on every creek and stream of the southern Mother Lode, it is no surprise that this entire area, approximately 35 miles from present-day Madera, was inundated quickly with picks, pans, and prospectors who were all infected with gold fever.
Some have estimated as many as 10,000 souls rushed to the area when word of the discovery leaked out in 1850. A more realistic estimate, however, points to a figure of 1,500. Most of the miners were concentrated in the Texas Flats area, just a mile or two west of present-day Coarsegold.
As was the case in all gold mining camps, some enterprising soul laid down his washing pan and proceeded to mine the miners. Such was the case in the Texas Flats area in 1850. Charles Michaels opened a general store just a quarter of a mile west of present-day Coarsegold. In time the community grew, but it was first identified as “Michaels.”
The placer mining eventually came to an end, but the town of Michaels lived on. About this time, one John Krohn, came to Coarsegold Gulch from San Francisco and met Michaels. The two men became friends and later partners. Krohn moved his family and belongings to Coarsegold Creek and built a home. Soon he and his partner, Michaels, were making a good living providing goods and services for the miners, prospectors, and travelers who were now frequenting that area. Soon stages were passing through, and people were homesteading, while miners continued to work the streams and soil.
The first post office was opened on August 6, 1878, and it was dubbed Coarse Gold Gulch. Krohn was the first postmaster. Later Krohn and Michaels built the Coarsegold Hotel, and they planned a grand ball for the opening. Krohn’s daughter, Mary, was to be the “Queen of the Ball.” Michaels purchased a special dress for her, but just before the opening, he became seriously ill. On the day of the ball, his condition became desperate, but before he lapsed into a coma, he ordered that there was to be no cancellation of the dance. Michaels died that evening, and the decision was made to proceed with the festivities as planned.
With Michaels’ passing, the people gave Krohn the title, “Father of Coarsegold.” He formed many warm friendships and continued to assist the Chinese and Indians in the area. Goods were often exchanged by bartering, and economic activity was brisk during those early days of Coarsegold.
In 1895, the name of the town was changed to Gold Gulch, which in turn was changed in 1899 to the present name of Coarsegold. Krohn and his wife, Louisa, raised 11 children in the Coarsegold area. He was known as a good provider, but also rather stern. He demanded impeccable behavior from his children as he developed responsibility in them by “insisting that they perform meaningful chores.”
Farm animals were raised, slaughtered, and dressed, always avoiding waste. Fruits and vegetables were cultivated, harvested, and prepared for winter storage. Clothes and bedding had to be laundered and mended.
Immaculate housekeeping was maintained in the hotel. Room floors were scrubbed and the corners were cleaned with a nail wrapped in a rinsing cloth. Supplies in large quantities had to be brought from Fresno. Wagon wheels had to be repaired. Mining equipment had to be equipped and modified. Gold had to be weighed and sent to San Francisco. Postal service had to be provided. Indeed, the “first family” of Coarsegold lived the true pioneer life.
When Krohn passed away, his wife took over the family business. One of her most pressing problems was the liquidation of a debt of $4,000, which was owed to the company that supplied liquor for the saloon. After the debt was paid, Mrs. Krohn’s first action was to close the saloon. She is reported to have said that it was “a detriment to the community.”
Mrs. Krohn also took over the job of postmistress and managed the family store. Louisa Krohn had the distinction of seeing two of her sons serve as Madera County supervisors.
Today the seeds that the John Krohn family planted have sprouted into a vibrant community. It now has two schools and a historical society that has published a book on the history of the area. There is a strong sense of community in the area — an identity that sets it apart from surrounding towns. As one travels east on Highway 41 to Yosemite, Coarsegold stands as a monument to the pioneer perseverance of John Krohn and his contemporaries.
Originally published in the Madera Tribune