Traveling through the historic mining communities of the 1849 California gold rush along State Route 49, The Mother Lode Highway.
After the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in nearby Coloma, CA by James W. Marshall in 1848 sparked the California Gold Rush, the small town now known as Placerville was known as Dry Diggin’s after the manner in which the miners moved cartloads of dry soil to running water to separate the gold from the soil. Later in 1849, the town earned its most common historical name, “Hangtown”, because of the numerous hangings that had occurred there. The name was not changed until 1854 when the City of Placerville was incorporated.
The original Cary House Hotel in Placerville was built during the Gold Rush by William Cary in 1847 – hence the name. From the very beginning, the Cary Hotel was an elegant place, built for the crème de la crème of Victorian society. It had 77 rooms and boasted a bathroom on every floor with hot and cold running water — a luxury for the era, let alone in the gold country of California.
Nashville (formerly, Nashville Bar, Quartzville, and Quartzburg) is located on the North Fork of the Cosumnes River, 10.5 miles south of Placerville, CA.
Panning for gold in Nashville, CA
This is pretty much the whole town.
Sutter Creek, known as the “Jewel of the Mother Lode,” was named after John Sutter, who sent a party to the area in 1846 in search of timber.
Sutter Creekbecame a destination for fortune hunters. A post office was established in 1852, and Sutter Creek became a town in 1855 and incorporated in 1913.
Random steel head frame along Highway 49.
She was pretty big and sat all by herself on top of a hill next to a junk yard.
Jackson, CA was founded in 1848 around a year-round spring. The settlement was named for a local lawyer who was liked by miners named Alden Appola Moore Jackson.
Although Amador County was an important mining center, its County seat of Jackson was not typical of the early gold camps.
The camp grew quickly, as besides being a popular mining spot, it was also a convenient stopping place on the road from Sacramento to the Southern Mines.
The camp became an important supply and transportation center for the neighboring towns, and by 1850 the population had reached an estimated 1,500.
Jackson grew first as a watering hole for cattle, then as one of the earliest and most durable of the Mother Lode’s hard rock mining areas.
In 1853, it became the county seat of newly formed Amador County, California. Previously, from 1851–1852, it had been the county seat of Calaveras County. Jackson may therefore be the only city to have ever been county seat of two different counties at different times.
She’s a Brick House @ Jackson, CA
Fargo Club is located in the historic Wells Fargo building and its beautiful hand-carved bar was built over 150 years ago.
The Butte Store stands as a solitary reminder of what was once a vibrant community. An Italian stone mason constructed the building in 1857 to serve settlers and miners as both their post office and general store. The Gnocchio family operated the store for 50 years, closing its doors in the early 1900s. The roofless building is the last structure still standing where 100 miner’s cabins once stood during the height of the Gold Rush era.
Mokelumne Hill, CA is commonly referred to as “Moke Hill” by locals. The town takes its name from the neighboring Mokelumne River, which in turn is Miwok for the “people of Mokel,” the likely name of an Indian village in the area.
Mokelumne Hill was one of the richest gold mining towns in California. Founded in 1848 by a group of Oregonians, the placers were so rich that the miners risked starvation rather than head to Stockton to replenish their supplies (one finally did and made it rich by becoming a merchant). Soon after, gold was discovered in the nearby hills, so much so that miners were restricted to claims of 16 square feet, and yet many of those claims were reported to have paid up to $20,000.
By 1850 the town was one of the largest in the area, with its population reaching as high as 15,000 with people of all nationalities: Americans, Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Chileans, Mexicans, Chinese, and others. Besides racial tensions, the easy gold attracted criminal elements, and the town gained a reputation as one of the bawdiest in the area. Notorious bandit Joaquin Murrieta is said to have been a frequent visitor to the gambling venues. Violence was a major problem as well. In 1851, there was at least one homicide a week for seventeen consecutive weeks. A “vigiliance committee” was formed and by 1852, the worst of the crime was eliminated.
Down & Out in Mokelumne Hill, CA
San Andreas, CA was settled by Mexican gold miners in 1848 and named after the Catholic parish St. Andrew, the town has been a noted mining camp since early days.
The gold from the initially discovered placers gave out after a few years, but the discovery of gold in an underground river channel in 1853 revitalized the camp and it soon became a town.
Mining of the channels was lucrative enough for the town to completely rebuild after fires in 1858 and 1863. The gold discovered here contributed greatly to the success of the Union during the Civil War.
Notorious highwayman Black Bart was tried here and sent to prison.
Angels Camp, CA is also known as City of Angels and formerly Angel’s Camp, Angels, Angels City, Carson’s Creek and Clearlake. Mark Twain based his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” on a story he claimed he heard at the Angels Hotel in 1865. The event is commemorated with a Jumping Frog Jubilee each May at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds, just east of the city. Because of this, Angels Camp is sometimes referred to as “Frogtown.”
Henry Angell, a native of Rhode Island, set up a tent store on the banks of the creek.
During the first few years, there were as many as 4,000 miners working the surface gold of Angels. This source played out quickly, but hardrock mining kept the gold industry flourishing in the area until very recently. The entire town remains honeycombed with miles of mine tunnels.
The mines produced more than $20 million worth of gold, processed by stamp mills in town.
It was said that when the last mill finally ceased operations, the townspeople couldn’t sleep, the silence was so loud.
Angels Camp’s population today is nearly 3,000. Its popular attractions include Moaning Caverns, an immense limestone miracle with a main cavern large enough to hold the Statue of Liberty.
Antique shops, restaurants and other stores can be found along it’s historic old town Main Street.
James Romaggi left his home in Romaggi, Italy near Genoa in 1850 for New York and sailed around the Horn to California. He made his way to Albany Flat, a booming gold rush town of about 3,000 just south of Angels Camp. A stonemason, Romaggi built himself a grand home almost identical to the home of his birth in Romaggi, Italy where his descendents have resided for over 200 years. The home was fabricated from local schist rock and adobe, with walls two feet thick, wood plank floors, and a metal roof. James developed his 100 acres to produce fruits, vegetables and grapes for wine to supply his store. Eventually he had a bar and card room for miners and travelers when his home became a stage coach stop. After James and Louisa died in 1905 and 1917, respectively, the home was rented and by the 1930′s it stood vacant. Hobos burned the flooring for heat during the Depression. In 1940, San Francisco resident Ernest A. Wiltsee purchased the property and planned to restore the home, but died without a will or heirs before that could happen. In 1957, the Bank of America Trust Company divided the home and Wiltsee’s estate into six equal shares and gave them to various public service organizations. None of these owners did anything to maintain the building, and over the subsequent years it slowly deteriorated. It still remains in ruins but there is hope that it will eventually be restored and used as a Gold Country Family Museum.
In the early years, many towns in the foothills changed their original names as more gold was discovered and seemingly overnight new land barons were created. Such is the story of the once sleepy town of Robinson’s Ferry. In 1848, at the edge of the Stanislaus between Carson Hill and Sonora, the first ferryboat service operated on the river was opened by John W. Robinson at Robinson’s Ferry. Historical accounts show that at the height of the Gold Rush, the two partners collected $10,000 in a six week period shuttling miners and supplies across the river. The town and ferry have been submerged beneath the waters of New Melones Lake. However, with the drought and low level of the lake, remnants of the old town and its mining history can be seen along the banks; the old stone foundations serving as a reminder of our early mining past.
At the top of Jackass Hill, west of Tuttletown, sits a replica of the cabin where Mark Twain spent the winter of 1864-1865. He was a guest of the Gillis brothers, local miners, who lived in the cabin. The original cabin burned and the fireplace and chimney were built in the replica here.
During his stay at Jackass Hill, Twain and his friend Steve Gillis visited a saloon in Angels Camp and heard a story about a jumping frog. Twain returned to the cabin and wrote about “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The book launched Twain’s publishing career. He and the jumping frog would later be recognized throughout the world. He also gathered material here for his book “Roughing it.” Twain would go on to write another 26 books, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” before he died in April 1910.
Twain was an author, a humorist and his life was filled with adventures that fed his imagination for timeless storytelling. One of his more famous quotes is, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
The glory days of Jackass Hill were from 1851 to 1852 when the diggings were rich with coarse gold. A lucky miner worked a few hours a day to build his fortune. Some claims of 100 square feet yielded as much as $10,000.
Jackass Hill was named for the jackasses in the pack trains that rested on the hill overnight to and from the mines. As many as 200 animals performed a concert each evening and the area was named Jackass Hill to remember their evening songs during the boom days of the California Gold Rush.
Jamestown, CA is the home of Railtown 1897 State Historic Park and the Sierra Railway, which operates steam passenger trains.
A scene from the movie Hidalgo was filmed in Jamestown. Exterior scenes from the TV series Petticoat Junction, The Wild Wild West and Green Acres were filmed in and near Jamestown.
One of the most photographed buildings in Historic Jamestown was built as a wood frame hotel in 1919 by David Martinez. In 1938, the Jamestown Hotel was refurbished in stucco as the Mother Lode Hospital owned by Dr. D L Farrell.
There’s so much to see along State Route 49. After a week long roadtrip through Northern California, by the time we got to the Gold Country it was already the 9th and final day, so we didn’t really have enough time to explore it as much as we wanted to. A return trip is definitely in the cards.