Andrew Kelsey had arrived in California in 1841 with the first immigrant group to reach what was then Mexican Territory by the overland trails, so he was available to take early advantage of the gold discovery in Coloma. He evidently found Coloma too crowded for his liking even in 1848, for he climbed up the hill (Mt. Murphy) that year and discovered diggings that became the Kelsey gold camp.
Impatient to find a richer strike, the man didn’t stay long, but the name stuck. There was gold enough to attract others and soon Kelsey was one of the flourishing camps appearing almost overnight all over the Mother Lode. A Samuel Smith from Baltimore opened the first miner’s supply store, and a Dr. Paul built the first hotel. Saloons and other necessary establishments were hurriedly erected, and Kelsey became a community instead of a camp.
Kelsey’s real claim to fame is that James Marshall spent the remainder of his life there, after he left Coloma in disgust and sorrow in 1871, when his fame as the gold discoverer had worn off and had turned to disrespect and persecution by the townspeople. In Kelsey he had friends. He located two famous mining claims in the Kelsey vicinity. The Big Sandy and the Grey Eagle, and did considerable amount of work on the latter. Marshall had a workshop and blacksmith shop at Kelsey and became of close friend of the town’s Kelly family, considering the place his real home and expressing an adamant wish to be buried there. He died in Kelsey in 1885 at the age of 75, in the old closed Union Hotel where he had lived.
Kelsey got its start due to gold, and continued to develop through the early years because of it, eventually reaching a population of a thousand. Between 1849 and 1860 it was growing, active place. By the 1870’s it was smaller and sleepier, the population dwindling to less than 100, until the discovery in the 1890’s of an extensive, very high quality slate belt woke things up. Welch slate miners were imported, and the town that had been almost deserted took on a new life. It also took on the new name of Slatington which it kept for some 20 years, until slate lost its popularity as a building material and the industry went into a decline. Then Kelsey became Kelsey again.
Like the gold before it, Kelsey slate lost its allure in the early 1900’s. An interesting thing about natural resources, however, is that they seem to move out of or back into fashion as their value diminishes or increases in some new way. It was not until the 1930’s, during that brief period before World War II closed the mines, that Kelsey gold shone brighter than ever, and not until much more recently that slate came into its own again.