Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Driving California Route 49

 Explore Gold Rush History Along California's Highway 49

California’s Gold Country is famous for making some 1849 miners very rich. Travel on California Route 49 offers one of the most scenic and historic drives you'll find in California.

nevada city california hotels
National Hotel, Nevada City CA
In the spring the Sierra Nevada foothills shine with a different kind of wealth that isn't necessarily gold. Colorful wildflowers pop into brilliant bloom and the the sun warms newly green hillsides. A drive along the winding and beautiful Highway 49 shows you first hand the history of the California Gold Rush.   All along this historic highway are historic plaques. While you'll enjoy the historic sites along the way you'll also explore nineteenth-century towns that today offer cutting-edge restaurants and nearby wineries.

From north to south, California Highway 49 winds for over 300 miles and offers the northern California tourist one of the most spectacular and unique scenic drives in all of the west. Below are a list of towns that you'll pass through on California Route 49. These are stops you'll be glad to add to your California trip planner. 

The towns and sites detailed below follow CA State Rte 49 from north to south.

Nevada City

Nevada City is among the most interesting of California Gold Rush towns. Visitors from all over the world have traveled to Nevada City. This is a town where the entire downtown district is a National Historic Landmark. Aside from the many historic landmarks that take you back to the Gold Rush days you'll find unique restaurants, comfortable lodgings and fine shops, boutiques, galleries and museums that are all there for your explorations.

old nevada theater
Old Nevada Theater Building, Nevada City CA
Nevada City borders the Tahoe National Forest and located nearby to many Sierra lakes and rivers. The town of Nevada City itself is ringed by deep green pine covered hills.

Today, the town has a population is just 2,800 but that is quite different than the years of the great Gold Rush. In 1850, there were 10,000 people living there. During the election of 1856 the 2,082 ballots from Nevada City were exceeded in California by only Sacramento and San Francisco.

When you visit Nevada City make sure to explore the famous National Hotel and the1861 Firehouse Number 1 Museum.

Grass Valley

The famous mining district of Grass Valley is located  in western Nevada County California. The Nevada City district adjoins it on the northeast and the Rough-and-Ready district is to the west.

Placer gold was first found in Wolf Creek in 1848 not long after shortly after Marshall's discovery at Coloma. The earliest mining was done by David Stump and two others who arrived from Oregon. The shallow placers were rich but were mined fast.

historic grass valley ca
Holbrooke Hotel, Grass Valley CA
Gold-bearing quartz was discovered at Gold Hill in 1850 and soon afterward at Ophir, Rich, and Massachusetts Hills. Quartz mining soon developed into a major industry that extended for another 100 years. The Gold Hill and Allison Ranch were the leading lode mines during the 1850s. Mining here was decreased to a degree during the Virginia City Nevada Comstock Rush of 1859-65, but the Grass Valley mines were again busy in the late 1860s. The Grass Valley camp declined in the 1870s, and by 1880 the only mines that were active were the Empire and Idaho.

In 1884 the North Star mine was reopened and activities increased; the North Star, Empire, Idaho-Maryland, Pennsylvania, and W.Y.O.D. all were highly productive. The Idaho-Maryland mine had yielded a total of $12.5 million. From 1900 to 1925, the North Star and Empire mines were the largest producers, the Idaho-Maryland having been idle during the first two decades of the twentieth century. By 1928, the North Star had had a total output valued at $33 million.

In Grass Valley you'll want to be sure to explore the historic Holbrooke Hotel. The hotel was first built in 1852 and completely renovated in 1862 after a fire at the then Exchange Hotel. The Holbrooke took it's current name in 1879 and claims to be the oldest continuously operated hotel in California's gold country.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below...

A Visit to Nevada City California

A Visit to Grass Valley California

Virginia City Nevada and the Comstock Lode

Drive the 13 Mile Long Route 66 in Kansas

auburn ca history
Old Auburn Hook and Ladder No. 2 Firehouse

Auburn California is located where CA State Hwy 49 meets Interstate 80. This of course makes Auburn very accessible from the Sacramento area. Auburn is located in Placer County which took it's name from the early placer mining of the late 1840's. Placer is the Spanish word surface mining.

The first name for this mining settlement was called “North Fork Dry Diggings". The name was changed to Auburn in 1849 and Placer County was created in 1851 just after California statehood.

With the American River Canyon at its border, Auburn sits nestled in the foothills of the Sierra at elevations that range between 1,000 and 1,400 feet.

The Historic Placer County Courthouse is easily seen traveling either east or west along Interstate 80. The courthouse is located right next to the Historic Old Town. The old Hook and Ladder No. 2 Firehouse is located within this historic district. A free guided tour of Old Town Auburn begins at the Placer County Courthouse at 101 Maple Street every Saturday at 10 am. For more information call (530) 889-6500.

Being situated in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the temperatures offer opportunities for colorful, scenic views during seasonal changes each year.

angels camp hotel
Old Angels Hotel
Angels Camp 

The town of Angels Camp was named after Henry Angel in 1848  who was the town's first store keeper.

During the year 1849, nearly 4,000 miners camped in the one mile area from Angels Creek to Utica Park.

The cry of "gold" of course brought the miners but as with some other areas the placer gold was worked out in just a few years. The story after that is that a man by the name of  Bennegar Rasberry had his  muzzle loader rifle jam. Rasberrythen fired the rifle into the ground where the ramrod split a stone to reveal the glittering gold inside. This reportedly was the beginning of Quartz Mining in Angels Camp.

As mentioned above, easy to find placer gold brought prosperity to many gold rush camps. In and around Angels Camp placer gold was found in China Gulch, Six Mile Creek, Cherokee Creek, Greenhorn Creek.  Angels Camp became a trading center for the neighboring mines. Angels Camp had a population of over 300 by the spring of 1849.

Angels Camp mining continued for a great while however all the mines in the town closed during World War I and were never to reopen. In addition to the Angels Camp Museum you'll want to stop at the Angels Hotel. The Angels Hotel was constructed with one story in 1852 and a second story was added in 1857. This is the historic hotel where Mark Twain reportedly heard a story that he later turned into the famous The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.If you have the opportunity of visiting the Angels Camp area during May you'll want to consider attending the world-renowned Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee. The Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee is held each year during the third weekend in May. This “County Fair” features exhibits, entertainment, rodeo, horse events, livestock exhibits and a carnival.

california state route 49
CA State Route 49 along the American River

Sonora California is called the "Queen of the Southern Mines".

Many of the first miners to reach California's Tuolumne County were discharged Mexican War veterans and miners from the state of Sonora, Mexico known as Sonoranians. During 1848 there weren't yet the multitude of gold seekers and the relatively easy placer gold was quite abundant.

Animosity between Americans and Spanish speaking gold  miners increased at the end of the Mexican War. This was a period when Americans considered California their territory giving them the right to grab its riches.  As more miners came to the area the Mexican Sonoranians were forced from their diggings and moved along the gold laden creeks.

On March 17, 1849, Sonoranians vacated their camp and moved to a new camp on Wood’s Creek. Today this is the site of Sonora High School. When the Americans realized the Sonoranians had moved to a new camp, they began to follow and prospect for gold nearby.  In the area of today’s Coffill Park, Americans found rich diggings.  The camp was engulfed by Sonoranians and others and became known as Sonoranian Camp.  Later this settlement took on the name of Sonora.  The old Indian trail which extended from the Wood’s Creek diggings down to the American diggings later became today’s Washington Street.  This was the center of commerce for the miners and later for the City of Sonora.

Among the sites in Sonora to add to your trip planner is the Sonora Inn at 160 S. Washington Street. Built in 1895 the hotel was first named the Hotel Victoria. Add to that the Tuolumne County Museum at 58 W. Bradford Street and the Railtown 1897 Historic Park located just about five miles south of Sonora along California Hwy 49 in Jamestown.

main street jackson california
Main Street, Jackson CA

The Kennedy Gold Mine is named for Andrew Kennedy, an Irish immigrant, who reportedly discovered a quartz outcropping in the late 1850's near what is now Highway 49.  The Kennedy Mining Company was formed in 1860 when he and three partners began digging shafts near today's mine property entrance. 

Today visitors can walk up the well marked trails to get a good look at the huge tailing wheels erected in 1913 that carried vast amounts of gravels up and over the hills into a settling pond. Only two of the original wheels are still standing, one on each side of Jackson Gate Road.  The others lie in ruins, victims of the elements and age. Picnic areas and restrooms are available. 

The Kennedy Mine operated on and off until it finally closed in 1878.  Eight years later in 1886 fifteen people invested $97,600 to reopen the mine under the corporate entity of the Kennedy Mining and Milling Company. In 1898 the company began sinking a new shaft 1950 feet east of the original shafts.  This East Shaft would eventually reach a vertical depth of 5912 feet, the deepest vertical depth gold mine in North America at the time.  In 1928 a surface fire burned all the structures except the Mine Office and the Stamp Mill.  All other buildings and foundations were built after 1928.  The company operated the mine until 1942 when the U.S. Government closed gold mines because of the war effort.

jackson california travel
Historic Firehouse, Jackson CA
 In addition to a short hike to the old Kennedy Mine you'll want to explore historic Court Street in Jackson with it's historic churches and courthouse.

Also consider making a stop at the Amador County Museum located at  225 Church Street. See their Gold History exhibit and their Native American and Chinese American exhibits. The Amador County Museum was built as a home in 1859 by Armstead C. Brown, one of Jackson's earliest settlers.

Driving State Route 49 through the old California Gold Country offers the traveler great photo opportunities, historic state and national landmarks, unique historic hotels and B & B's and a wide array of specialty shops. Whether your Ca Rte 49 vacation includes the entire route or just a portion of it you're certain have a scenic and fun western trip.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips. Angels Camp, American River and Jackson photos in the public domain)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please share your comments...