Highway 49 Revisited
Exploring California's Gold Country
By Ringo Boitano
Courtesy: Marshall Gold Discovery
State Historic Park
There's Gold in Them Thar Hills
In the 1840s, the population of California
was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers
had arrived from all over the world - and they came for one reason:
gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutters
Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.
James Marshall, the Discoverer of Gold.
Courtesy: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
Adventurers poured into the area in search of quick
riches, creating a period in American history that has never been repeated.
Mexican miners called the area La Veta Madre (The Mother Lode), and
the locals called the new arrivals 49ers, due to their year of arrival.
Camps and towns sprang up wherever gold was found, and then were abandoned
when it ran out.
(Click on the map for enlargement)
Highway 49 Revisited
Today, visitors still flock from around the world to
California Gold Country to discover the areas rich history. Reminders
of those glory days can be found everywhere along historic Highway 49,
which runs 321 miles along the Heritage Corridor and links many of the
19th century Mother Lode mining towns. The region extends from the sweeping
Sierra Nevada Foothills in the west to the spectacular mountains of
the High Sierra in the east. This is an area brimming with state historic
parks, like Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park and Columbia
State Historic Park, allowing visitors a look into the days of the Gold
Rush history. Almost 300 camps have vanished or are ghost towns in decay.
Some are just a stop at the side of the road, but if it is Gold Rush
history that you want this is the place. On these back highways,
visitors will also find a wealth of charming small towns with restored
Victorian inns, boutiques, antique shops, and award-winning wineries.
Scenic wonders include pristine lakes and rivers; giant sequoias, pines,
cottonwoods, and oaks; and green hillsides, dotted with seasonal flow.
Gold Country South
Tuolumne County is the recreational and cultural center
of the Gold Country. Conveniently located near Yosemite National Park,
keep your eyes peeled when exploring the back roads, for a sign or plague
can easily be missed, introducing you to an area of countless wonders.
When you see the sign, Jamestown, California -
Gateway to the Mother Lode! you know you have arrived. Located
on Highway 108/49, this small gold rush town is your first stop when
visiting Tuolumne County. Main Street is lined with Victorian hotels,
saloons, restaurants, antique shops and galleries. The "old west"
atmosphere makes historic Jamestown the ideal place to introduce the
family to the heritage, charm and authenticity of this historical Sierra
Nevada foothill town.
Angels Camp is nestled on scenic Highway 49, with a
history similar to that of many California Gold Rush towns. In 1848
Henry Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode Island, opened a trading post.
Soon there were as many as 4,000 miners working the surface gold of
Angels. Today, Angels Camp's population is nearly 3,000, and the entire
town remains honeycombed with miles of mine tunnels. One of its most
popular attractions is Moaning Caverns, an immense limestone miracle
with a main cavern large enough to hold the Statue of Liberty, which
is open to the public.
Courtesy: Columbia State Historic
Columbia State Historic Park
Established in 1850, Columbia State Historic Park is
the best preserved of all California gold rush towns. Once known as
the "Gem of the Southern Mines, over one-half billion dollars
in gold (at today's currency rate) between the 1850s and 1870s was mined
in the area. At that time it was the states second largest city.
Today it is a year-round getaway that offers a unique blend of museums,
displays, town tours, live theater, shops, restaurants and saloons.
No other location offers a better overview of Californias gold
rush history. This is an essential stop on your tour. Docents (trained
volunteers) appear in costumes throughout the park, and interpret life
in a California gold rush town with living history demonstrations, which
give visitors a greater appreciation and understanding of California's
early days. Popular events include the annual Columbia Diggins,
which is a re-creation of the "tent town" days of early Columbia.
Docents in costume and character perform various "scenes"
depicting life in the rough and ready days of the early 1850s. Gold
Rush Days are offered the second Saturday of each month. The park is
located three miles north of Sonora, off Highway 49.
During the mid-1850s, an estimated five thousand Chinese
immigrants from Canton lived in this area that was known by names like
Chinee, Chinese Diggins and eventually Chinese Camp. Like everyone else,
the Chinese came for the gold. Many had been driven away from other
camps, and settled here due to the openness of the early population
of Salvadorians, who accepted the outcast miners without problem. Others
then gravitated to the camp, feeling safe and comfortable among others
of their nationality. Chinese Camp is easy to find -- it's right on
Highway 49 about 5 miles south of Jamestown. Today it has less than
200 residents, but there is ample evidence of its colorful past. Much
of the camp, though, is in dissreappear and surrounded by barbed wire.
St. Xavier’s Catholic Church (circa 1855) and cemetery sits on a hill,
overlooking the town, and makes a great stop for photo opportunities.
Known as the Queen of the Southern Mines,
this pristine city offers historic charm with many of its existing buildings
dating back to the 1800s. Even side streets are lined with Victorian
homes and old-fashioned gardens that hark back to the days of 49.
Mark Twains cabin, where he wrote "The Celebrated Jumping
Frog of Calaveras County" is located on Jackass Hill, just outside