Sonora, Gold Rush cross-roads; Columbia and Tuolumne City are near!

Kids, including author's grandson, Hunter with curly hair, can pan for gold and agates at Columbia State Historic Park.

 

Westside Lumber Engine No. 2 resides in Tuolumne City Park, a remnant of the glory that lumbering once brought to the city, just six miles from Sonora.

Wells Fargo stagecoach rumbles into Columbia, offering rides to visitors to Columbia State Historic Park.

On Wednesday, we shared a feature on Sonora, its Gold Rush and lumbering history (http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel/2014/10/08/sonora-visitor-friendly-cross-roads-of-gold-rush-and-lumbering-history/) and mentioned nearby attractions.  Here is a bit more insight on two, both within about six miles of Sonora:

Columbia (just four miles north), took root in March, 1850, when Dr. Thaddeous Hildreth and others settled here and began prospecting. Soon, Hildreth Diggin’s had found the precious metal; in weeks more than a 1,000 miners descended on the area. The gold camp was initially named American Camp, and, eventually, Columbia.  Today, Columbia State Historic Park preserves the old Gold Rush town of Columbia as a museum of living history! Open seven days a week, all year, the park offers activities and history for all ages, from young to old!

Originally, almost all the buildings were made of wood and a huge fire ravaged the city in 1854, destroying most of the wooden buildings in the business district. Most were rebuilt in 1855, but a second fire in 1857 destroyed more framed buildings and some of the brick ones; the town again rebuilt and further emphasized brick buildings and state-of-the-art fire suppression.

By the early 1860s, most of the easiest placer gold had been sluiced out, and the town began a slow decline. In the following 20-some years, many of the vacated buildings were torn down, and their sites were mined for gold. By the late 19th century and into the 20th, the town was in visible and steady decay – residents had dropped to below 500.

Columbia’s business district is closed to all but foot traffic, and a host of businesses, shops and volunteers bring the town to life, much as it appeared in 1855!  Take a stage coach ride, pan for gold, tour blacksmith and livery shops, get a free tour led by period-dressed docents, grab lunch or an ice cream and take in life as it was more than 150 years ago! Best of all, admission, parking and guided tours are free, so a day spent here is easy on the wallet!

Just six miles to the southeast of Sonora is a real gem; Tuolumne City, which preserves vestiges of the old Gold Rush town of Summersville, but it’s even more interesting due to its hay-day as a logging and lumber capital of the Mother Lode. Tuolumne began in 1854 when Franklin Summers and family settled nearby. In 1856 James Blakely arrived and discovered the first quartz outcropping, which would become his “Eureka” quartz and gold mine.

Other nearby mining towns would spring up (and then disappear), Lone Gulch, two miles south, and Cherokee, two miles north. Later named Cartersville, then Tuolumne City, the gold would quickly be mined out, and the area developed as the heart of logging and lumber production for cities in the valley like Modesto and Stockton.

Of several logging operations, the Westside Lumber Company became the main player, expanding its railroad, the size and complexity of its mill, and developed Tuolumne City into a lumber town of major proportions in the first sixty years of the 20th century. The mill closed in the early 1960s, after a major fire during a labor dispute.

Today, remnants of the lumber empire of the Westside Lumber Company take center stage. Several of the company’s buildings remain, though in states of disrepair. Pieces of logging equipment dot the town, from a huge Steam Donkey next to the fire station, to lumbering equipment on the edges of town.  You’ll find the lumber company’s Steam Engine #2 in the city park; nearby are the Municipal Auditorium and the local museum (open Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4 PM excluding holidays, at 18663 Carter Street, (209) 928-3516; http://tuolumnemuseum.wordpress.com/). Visit the Tuolumne-band of the Miwuk Indian’s Black Oak Casino, just a mile away (www.BlackOakCasino.com).

Dining, lodging, camping options: Both Columbia and Sonora offer quick to gourmet dining options.  Sonora offers many motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts and a number of good to fine restaurants. Black Oak Casino also offers hotel accommodations, several cafes and a fine restaurant, the Seven Sisters. Campgrounds can also be found along Highway 49, and up Highway 108 in the Sierras.

How to get there: To reach Columbia, just 1.5 hours from Stockton; go east on Hwy. 4, then south on Hwy. 49 and watch for the Columbia turn-off. Sonora and Tuolumne City are further south down Hwy. 49.

What’s nearby: Gold Rush towns like Angels Camp, Amador City, Sutter Creek and Jamestown make for a nifty collection of historic towns in the Mother Lode.

To plan your visit, go to www.visitcolumbiacalifornia.com or call the State Park at (209)-588-9128.  For Sonora and Tuolumne City insight, go to the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, www.tcchamber.com, or call 209.532.4212.

Next week, we will share insight on Apple Hill, just off CA Hwy. 50 to the east of Placerville, and nearby Coloma, site of the first gold discovery in 1848!

For more insight into wonderful California and western travel destinations, see my blog: http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or, write to me, tviall@msn.com Happy travels in the west!

 

 

 

 

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