Gold Country Itinerary #4
Coloma – Approximately 40 miles east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada foothills lies the tiny village of Coloma, the site of one of the most important events in history. It was the birthplace and early focal point of the California Gold Rush, and today most of the town is within the boundaries of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Visit Sutter’s Mill where James Marshall spotted some yellows flecks glistening in the water when he was inspecting the tailrace of the mill. The Gold Discovery Museum offers an excellent orientation to the park with informative exhibits concerning gold and its discovery, and the miner’s cabin and assorted mining equipment on the grounds will reveals some of the harsh conditions the miners had to endure. Among the multitudes seeking a golden fortune were the Chinese. They came in hopes of quick wealth to take back home. By 1855, one of every five miners was Chinese and Coloma’s Chinatown was the largest Chinese community in California. Today only two of their buildings remain, but their fabulous exhibits are reminders of the important Chinese legacy in California’s Mother Lode history. Try your luck at gold panning, and then enjoy an Old West barbecue before departing for Placerville.
Placerville – Tucked into a long, slender strip in the bottom of a steep-walled ravine, Placerville was known to the miners as “Hangtown” because of the multiple hangings that took place here. It was the gateway to the mines for overland travelers, making it an important supply point and quickly became the largest camp in the Mother Lode. Famous men like Philip Armour of meat packing fame and John Studebaker, who worked in a wheelbarrow shop (and later graduated to automobiles), got their starts here selling to the miners. A stroll past the Bell Tower and the site of the “hangman’s tree” will stir your imagination. Be sure to stop in the old Placerville Hardware Store. If THEY don’t have it, you probably won’t find it anywhere! The elegant lobby of the historic Cary House Hotel is certainly worth peeking into with its beautiful stained glass windows and rich mahogany and cherry wood furnishings. Horace Greely delivered a campaign speech here from the second floor balcony when he ran for U.S. President in 1872. Many wonderful antique stores and specialty gift shops line Main Street, including the first Thomas Kinkade Gallery. The world-famous “Painter of Light” grew up in Placerville.
Apple Hill – Agriculture is a way of life just three miles east of Placerville in a fabulously fertile stretch of land known as Apple Hill. Apples have always been its mainstay, but today more than 50 farms and ranches also provide the visitor with a bountiful variety of produce throughout the year as well as a beautiful, scenic drive – El Dorado County’s real gold! The wine industry in the region goes back to gold rush days, and many are producing award-winning wines today and you can sample them in tasting rooms.
Gold Country Itinerary #5 :The Southern Mother Lode
The southern section is the most sparsely settled portion of the Mother Lode, and although less gold was taken out here than in the northern and central mines, a substantial amount of wealth accumulated here, and many colorful characters roamed the countryside, and such names as Sonora, Chinese Camp and Mormon Bar recall the diverse population of miners who prospected in this area.
Columbia State Historic Park – Columbia is a living museum of the past and is the best-preserved gold mining town in California. In 1854 it was California’s second largest city, but today most of the town is a state historic park, and along its tree-lined streets and shady boardwalks you’ll find dozens of authentically reproduced businesses of the 1850s and 60s. Shopkeepers sell wares in period costume from the gold rush heyday. Columbia offers so much historical authenticity that it is the closest thing possible to a step backward in time. Only pedestrian traffic is allowed, and self-guided walking tour brochures are available at the ranger office. Sip a sarsaparilla, tour The Hidden Treasure, the only working gold mine open to the public, pan for gold, or take a stagecoach ride along the old mining trails around town. Special events include an Easter parade, a colorful Fireman’s Muster that features competition between old hand-pumped fire engines, an old-fashioned July Fourth celebration. The Fallon House Theater also has performances during the summer months.
Sonora – the “Queen of the Southern Mines” was the biggest, richest and wildest town in the southern Mother Lode. Settled in 1848 by miners from Sonora, Mexico, the camp mushroomed into a Latin-flavored metropolis with adobe houses and fandango halls. But eventually American miners attempted to drive the “foreigners” out. Lawlessness was rampant and the situation came to a climax when the state legislature passed a law requiring foreign miners to pay a monthly tax of $20 per man, and some 2000 Mexicans left town. When the tax was repealed in 1851, Sonora became known for its orderliness and civilized character. Today the area thrives on lumbering, agriculture and tourism with its biggest tourist attraction being St. James Episcopal Church. Built in 1860, it’s the second oldest Episcopal church of frame construction in California, and unlike the typical white Mother Lode church, St. James is painted a striking dark red. Across the street is one of the most beautiful old homes in the gold country, an elegant Victorian also painted the same dark red as St. James Church.
Jamestown – A town with brightly painted two-story buildings and an oasis of antiquity. Most of these balconied buildings now contain various businesses including many antique shops. Jamestown is also home to Railtown 1897, “The Movie Railroad.” Since 1919, Railtown 1897 and its historic locomotives and cards have appeared in over 200 television productions and movies. The Roundhouse has an operating turntable, a belt-driven machine shop, and Hollywood “props” plus historic locomotives and cars.
Steam train rides are offered from April through October, with special themed excursions operating other times during the year. Content provided by discovergold.org