Although inhabited by Miwok Indians centuries earlier, Groveland’s recorded origin was during the California Gold Rush. Local settlement started in late 1848 when James Savage discovered gold in what was then called Savage’s Diggings, which incorporated Groveland and Big Oak Flat. The earliest known permanent building was an adobe trading post established in 1849 by a Frenchman named Casimir Reboul. In July of that year, a couple of men, reputedly of Mexican origin, were accused of a crime. Some say it was the theft of gold dust totaling $200; others say horse theft; claim jumping and murder are also suggested as the crime.
All that is agreed upon is that they were hanged form an Oak tree located by the trading post, and that the area was subsequently named “Garrote”, the Spanish term for death by strangulation. When a nearby camp had a similar hanging, they took on the name of “2nd Garrote”, and “Garrote” was thereafter referred to as “Garrote I” or 1st Garrote”.
The town’s post office was established on November 29 of 1851, under the name Garrote. The population was a combination of Miwok Indians (settled in villages or “Rancherias” in the Deer Flat and Big Creek areas), Mexicans, and Caucasian settlers. The town quickly became a boomtown bustling with numerous saloons and bordellos. On Sundays, miners would come into town to spend the day drinking and gambling.
The camp remained a lively place through the 1860’s, in the 1870’s the placers became less productive, most of the miners moved on, and cattle ranching became a more productive business. By 1875 the population was down to about one hundred, and the citizens that remained began to feel that their town’s colorful name was not genteel enough. At the suggestion of a town dignitary, Benjamin Savory, the post office and town name was changed to Groveland, in honor of the town in Massachusetts from which he came.
Soon thereafter, a second gold rush began with the use of hydraulic mining, deep shaft mining, and milling operations – thanks to the more favorable price of gold. This rush lasted until 1914, when Groveland was selected to be the construction headquarters for the Hetch Hetchy Water Project. It was during the Hetch Hetchy days of 1915 to 1925 that Groveland had her heyday, serving as headquarters for both the building of the railroad and construction of O’Shaughnessy Dam, mountain tunnels, canals, and other reservoirs. This occasioned a sudden influx of a great number of men, some with their families. During this time, a number of old buildings were refurbished and new ones constructed.
Since that period, Groveland’s economy has been supported by a variety of businesses, including cattle ranching, forestry and park services, construction, and tourism to Yosemite National Park.
For more information about the Groveland history, visit The Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum in downtown Groveland has rotating historical displays and is an excellent place to learn more about the history of the area.