What about that name?
Placerville has been known as Old Hangtown — it’s even on the welcome sign — since the gold rush days, because of several hangings from a giant white oak near the center of town, according to town lore. And for more than 100 years, one of the most famous establishments was Hangman’s Tree bar, a classic dive like many others in small Sierra Nevada foothill towns. What set Hangman’s Tree apart was the dummy infamously hanging above the entrance, perhaps the most photographed thing in town. Hangman’s Tree closed in 2008, when the building was deemed unsafe, and the structure was unoccupied until Sue and Tim Taylor purchased it and the adjacent Herrick Building in 2012 and began restoring both buildings. “We can fix this,” Sue Taylor recalls telling the previous owners. “The city was going to tear it down.” The Taylors restored the saloon, saving what they could and recreating what they couldn’t, and reopened it as Hangman’s Tree Ice Cream Saloon in 2017. Most of the floors are original — you can still see burn marks from cigarettes — and Sue Taylor says the stump of the famous oak is still beneath the floor in the middle of the shop. In 1934, the building became California Historic Landmark No. 141.
Why an ice cream store?
Jamie Nutting, 30, who graduated from Union Mine High School in El Dorado, returned to her hometown of Camino, where the family still lives, after her parents asked her to manage the business. They decided on an ice cream parlor, Nutting says, because “we wanted to do something for all ages and family friendly.” She tells the story of George Peabody, considered one of the foremost historians of El Dorado County up until his 2014 death at 96, who she says would bring groups of children into the bar to show the history of the building, including a huge mural behind the bar that depicts the town during the gold rush, but the bartenders would make them leave because they were underage. “History should be open for all,” Nutting says as she scoops ice cream for a young boy. The family embraces the building’s history so much that they produced the brochure “A Guide to Artifacts and Decorations,” which includes the 18-foot redwood bar that came from a bar in Sacramento that was frequented by John Sutter. Nutting also is an entrepreneur; she sells the brochures for 50 cents because, she says, “everyone has questions.”
What’s up with George?
When you stroll down Main Street, it’s hard to miss George, but he hasn’t always been hanging there. He was stolen the night before the bar closed, but he mysteriously showed back up three years later. Earlier this year, the family took him down for about a month to spruce him up; he returned to his spot in March. Nutting embraces George, even taking him around town to visit other businesses, which she documents on the store’s Facebook page. In April, for example, “he was spotted trying to sweet-talk his way into a free hat” at Combellack’s, a clothing shop on Main Street. Nutting says she doesn’t hear complaints about the dummy, though a Shingle Springs man’s efforts to have it removed in 1996 attracted national attention, including a story in Newsweek.
What’s it like on Main Street?
The Taylors decided to purchase the buildings because Main Street is like a family, Nutting says. “Everyone knows everyone.” During renovation, Nutting says, “everyone was so excited because the business had been closed for so long. Now it’s a gathering hub, a place people come to gossip.” Walking along Main Street is like taking a step back in time: The Cary House Hotel, opened in 1857, is just across the street, and not far down Main Street is Placerville Hardware, which proclaims to be the “oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi.”
Why closed on Sundays?
For most businesses, Sunday is a busy day. But not for Hangman’s Tree. Nutting, who is married and has a young son, says she works most evenings and her husband works days, so Sundays are the only time they have together. “It’s a quality-of-life thing,” she explains. It’s not the only unusual aspect of the business. They don’t have a business phone because Nutting says they don’t need one. They also are occasionally closed on Tuesdays, especially in the winter when business is slower. “Most of the town closes on Tuesday,” Sue Taylor points out.
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