Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Sierra Gold Country Series: Columbia State Historic Park (3 of 5)

This town is one of my all time favorites! I am only able to give you a portion of what Columbia has to offer. If you ever take the trip to The Sierra Gold Country, please make this town a 'must~see'!

Columbia State Historical Park is located in Tuolmne County, a few miles north of Sonora. Its elevation is 2,139 and a population of approx. 2,000.

On March 27,1850, Dr.Thaddeus Hildreth, with his brother George and a handful of prospectors, made camp near here. In their search for gold, they panned the nearby gulch near Kennebec Hill, and gold they found! Within weeks, several thousand miners had made way and set up camp, that was known as Hildreth's Diggins. That name was changed to 'American Camp', which again was changed to Columbia.
Hildreth's Diggins is actually an annual event now named Columbia Diggins. Where you are taken back in time, to observe how they prepared their meals, made their own clothing, and cared for livestock.

Columbia has really never been deserted. It has thrived with people continuosly through out time. The walkways are wooden, and the streets are dirt ridden. It really is like taking a step back in time.

The Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store offers kitchenwares, minerals, silver and relics, as well as mining supplies. If you would like to learn to pan for gold, this is the place to start!
The Wells Fargo Co. Express building was once The American Hotel, which housed an office to Henry Wells and William Fargo. In 1857 the Hotel burns in a fire, and was rebuilt by Wells, Fargo & Co with wood, which was replaced with brick in 1858. In 1945, the deed was gifted to the state by Wells & Fargo.

The building is kept in historic fashion and is on display daily. It is the 'trademark' of the town and has been used in many western movies. Stage coach rides run daily, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

In 1851 it was known as the Columbia Market. Over the next few years, it under-went several different owners, and burned in 1854 and in 1857. It was rebuilt with brick in 1857 and rented out to John B. Douglass, who ran a very popular saloon with an aviary, paintings, fish, geological display and is also a stage depot.Over the next 110 yrs. it was owned by many people who ran different businesses from it. In 1968 it closed for restoration, and was re-opened as the Jack Douglass Saloon. It is one of the oldest saloons in the west and is currently operated by Pat Narry and Mike Keene.

As you walk back in time here, there is Nelson's Candy Kitchen, which has been turning out confections since the early 1800's. A Danish miner, C. Rex Nelson became the confectioner in 1930, and after 4 generations, are still producing fine candies from the original recipes.

In 1852 this building was an operating saloon until the fire of 1854. It was rebuilt, and resumed business as both a saloon and restaurant, until the fire in 1857. It was again restored and changed owners many times up until the late 1800's. It remained vacant until the state purchased it in 1947, and was made into a blacksmith shop. In 1998 it was rebuilt and purchased by Leannha Rhodes Parrott, she names it "Parrott's Blacksmithing" which she still owns and operates to this day.

This building is the only structure that is neither original or a reproduction of an original! It was used in a pilot for a T.V. series, called 'The Young Riders.' (I did not know this!)

After the company was finished filming, they decided it would be too expensive to take it down, so they donated it to the park. The park administration weighed the negative of a non-historical building, but found it being of positive nature by storing and diplaying artifacts.

The Columbia Museum, (also known as the Knapp Building) was owned by Sewell Knapp from 1853 until 1887, and was a general store. In late 1887, Knapp turns the business over to his son, who keeps it for a short time. It changed owners and was ran as a sandwich & ice cream shop, until 1948 when it became a museum. It becomes the Cavalier Museum in 1958 and was restored in 2002, then re-opened in 2003.

The museum houses many artifacts, and is full of information on the history of Columbia.

The first Chinese immigrants flooded San Francisco during the gold rush in 1849. They headed East, and Columbia housed as many as 2,000 at one time. They brought with them new foods, herbs, and spices, which was a delightful change to the 'bland' American food of the time.

They ran laundry shops, opium houses, and mined their share of gold. They were ran out in 1857, only to return in 1858. There was turmoil and fires through-out the years, which eventually dwindled the immigrants.

This exhibit was originally run as a bakery from 1854 until 1958, when it became a Chinese herb exhibit. It was restored between 2002 & 2007 and is now on display.

In 1876, James Wilson began building residence on the lot until his death in 1878. Mrs. Rose Wilson finished building and resided there with her family until the 1930's. It was restored between 1940-1941, then in 1952 was used in the movie High Noon.

It was then purchased from the McConnell family by the state in 2005.
Mrs. Geraldine Lucille McConnell known as 'Mrs. Columbia', was instrumental in the founding of Columbia State Park. She lived in downtown Columbia until her death in 2003, where she died of natural causes, she was 99.

From the early 1850's to 1861, this lot was home to many businesses (which we know by now,) that was ruined by the fires that riddled this town through the early years. In 1861 the engine company leased the building, that then occupied the lot, and used it as a firehouse. In 1910 the building was torn down, only to be rebuilt as it's present structure in 1911. In 1952 it was purchased by the state for $1.00! It is now known as Columbia No.1 Engine Company.

No.452 was built in Boston and sold to Brooklyn New York, May 24th, 1852, when it arrived they renamed it Phoenix #12. In 1856 it would be sold to King Kamahamaha of Hawaii and the name would be changed to 'Papeete'. Legend is, it was put on a ship headed for the Sandwich Islands, but when the ship reached San Francisco, the crew jumped ship to pursue gold instead! By this time the King no longer needed the engine, and it made its way (after usage) from San Francisco to Columbia.

The Fallon Hotel originated as four separate structures, each with a unique history of its own. Most structures in this town were made of wood, and fell victim to fires in the mid 1800's, hence the brick buildings. Owen Fallon was the constructor of this brick building in 1859, that started out as a boarding house, until he cut a hole in the east wall and joined buildings in 1863. He then named it 'Fallon Hotel', turning the upstairs into a ballroom until 1871, when he decided to turn the ballroom into more rooms for the hotel. It has changed names several times over the years, and was home to many theatrical performances. In 1986 the builing was restored and is now home to the theatre, theatre box office, and an ice cream parlor.

The Fallon House Theatre is currently home to many plays. For more information, click this link: Sierra Repertory Theatre.

The Columbia Gazette Office is a replica of the origainal, which is now home to Columbia Booksellers & Stationers.
I have come to the crossroads on this one. There is so much to be found here, it is literally astounding. I have visited Columbia on many occassions, via school functions, a day trip for two, and again for a family trip.

Some buildings here have more history than others, while some I cannot find, or there isn't any record...

Many buildings are preserved to perfection and are kept for display only.

This town and its structures conduct business daily, it's not some abandoned ghost town that you just stroll through. You can buy necessities from the store, have lunch, or even spend the weekend here.

Hopefully it won't be spent here either! I could not find history on this little Jail, but I am sure there is......somewhere!

The Pioneer Emporium has also had its share of owners, as well as many businesses. It is now host to household sundries and unusual gifts.

Columbia Kate's is a Teahouse where you can share a cup of tea and learn the history of the women of Columbia. She sells a collection of items online at

She also has a blog which I found very cute!

Columbia is also home to Columbia College, a community college in the Sierra Foothills.

Now, as usual I did not leave you with all history, buildings, and/or pics. We would be camped out for days! But I do have a treat for you if you are interested in more history, or can't make it to this location personally. Grab a drink & a bite to eat, because this will take you so far back in time, you will forget how to get back! Fish around this site for days.

I am so ready to head up to the next town, besides, I need lunch! Hitch a ride and lets see what we can find...........

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Sierra Gold Country Series: Sonora (2 of 5)

Located in Tuolumne County , Sonora 'The heart of Gold Country', is situated in the Sierra Nevada foothills of North California at an elevation of 1,825 feet, with an estimated population of 4,610.

The City of Sonora, known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines,” was established in 1848 by miners emigrating from the State of Sonora, Mexico. The early settlement was often referred to as the Sonoran Camp.

News of the gold discovery at the Sonoran Camp spread quickly and hopeful miners from the East Coast and foreign countries began the long journey to the promised land. Many boarded ships on the East Coast and sailed to Panama where they crossed the Isthmus on foot or horseback and vied for passage on crowded ships bound for San Francisco. From San Francisco it was an additional two day trip by schooner to Stockton and then a dusty stage ride through the foothills to Sonora. When arriving in Sonora the travelers were covered and choked with dust. They found a camp of dirt streets and tents with very sparse accommodations.

The Opera Hall was built in 1885 & the City of Sonora acquired this "Jewel of the Mother Lode" in December of 1986

On December 12, 1896, the headline of the Sonora Daily Union Democrat read, "Opera Hall To Go". The local newspaper was aghast, reporting, "It is a source of much regret to our people to learn that the only public hall in Sonora worthy of the City's name is to be converted into a carpenter shop and forever closed as a place for giving public exhibitions...It seems a shame that the one building in the town to which our people were able to point to with pride is to be transformed into a carpenter shop". The fate of the Sonora Opera Hall was sealed that day.
The following 80 years were hard ones for the Opera Hall as the building was modified to meet new needs. Throughout the 1980's, attempts by the private sector to raise restoration funds proved unsuccessful. Consequently, in December of 1986 the City of Sonora acquired the building and began the task of grant requisition and fund raising that has brought it to its present state of completion. The Opera Hall is once again the "Jewel in the crown of Sonora".

The hotel is named for Dr. Lewis C. Gunn, a native Philadelphian who was lured to the area to seek his fortune in the California gold mines. Recognizing the vast beauty of the terrain, he settled in Sonora, where using local labor he built the area's first two-story adobe building as his home and subsequently as his place of business after failing as a gold prospector.
Since Gunn's departure the house has been expanded well beyond the original two-story adobe core. For a while it served as a hospital. Later it was christened the Hotel Rosa Italia.
In 2002 Innkeepers Mike and Shirley Sarno purchased the Gunn House and undertook the most recent and most impressive restoration of this historic structure. Together, and like their historical predecessor, using local labor, the couple painstakingly restored, upgraded, and without detracting from the historical charm of the sprawling three-story structure, created a true labor of love. As a result, please visit and enjoy a bit of the past in one of the newly renovated, antique appointed rooms of the most historic hotel in Sonora. All rooms have modern private baths, heating and air conditioning, the highest quality mattresses, and local cable T.V. The Gunn House continues to remain a favorite getaway to California’s romantic and historic Mother Lode.

The Tuolumne County Museum and History Center is an impressive complex devoted to local historical displays, genealogical research and the Tuolumne County History Collection. The museum is a historic building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1857 as the Tuolumne County Jail and rebuilt in 1865 following a disastrous fire that killed the inmate who allegedly started it. In 1978 a building program was inaugurated resulting in the seismic stabilization and rehabilitation of the Old Jail, construction of the Museum Annex, conversion of the prisoners' exercise yard into a courtyard available for social events and restoration of garden areas.

St. James Anglican Church, also known as the Red Church, was built 1860 in Sonora California during the post-Gold Rush era. Its eight-sided steeple is an example of the Swedish architectural style. Rev. John Gassman, a Norwegian native, helped design the building and was the first pastor. The red painted board and batten exterior walls are made from California redwood. In 1868 a part of the church had to be rebuilt after a fire destroyed the steeple and the west side of the building.

The church was consecrated in 1870 by the Rt, Rev. William Ingraham Kip, first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California. Reportedly the seventh Episcopal parish as well as the oldest Episcopal church building in California, it has been designated California Historical Landmark No. 139.

As the area’s cultural center, Sonora is home to museums, art galleries and live theatre. The City also plays host to numerous festivals and special events throughout the year. Just outside the City limits are year-round outdoor recreational opportunities at resorts, campgrounds, lakes, golf courses and high country waterways.

With its rich heritage, historic charm and small town hospitality, visitors and locals alike enjoy a relaxing stroll along the City’s historic main street while shopping in the many specialty and antique shops, taking time out to have a delectable meal in one of its many fine restaurants, bakeries and coffee houses.

Today, Sonora is the commercial center for some 100,000 people living in Tuolumne, Calaveras and northern Mariposa Counties. Residents are proud of their city's historic roots and something relatively new to the community: the Black Oak Casino in nearby Tuolumne City is owned by the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians.

So here we go again, off to the next town. Ride along with only gets better!