Birthplace of the
COLOMA, El Dorado Co., CA
History hangs thick in the air at Coloma,
the birthplace of the world’s greatest treasure hunt, the California Gold
Rush. 175 people still live where
history drips from the trees, flows through the icy waters of the South Fork of
This IS where it all began 150 years ago on the cold, frosty morning of January 24, 1848. It was on that particular morning that the construction foreman inspecting the water flow through a recently completed sawmill, spotted a shiny object twinkling in the frigid water flowing through the mill’s tail-race. He stooped to pick up what proved to be a pea-sized gold nugget.
James Marshall changed
The California Gold Rush, was underway. Like tens of thousands of mythical Jasons, the Argonauts came from all corners of the world... Europe, China, and South America, in search of their own golden fleece. Many found gold, and many were fleeced.
The hills were swallowed up and digested. Rivers rerouted, and their former beds
scoured by the gold-crazed miners. It
all began on the South Fork of the
Johann (John) Augustus Sutter emigrated from
Sutter called his tract of land New Helvetia, and using Indian and
other labor built up his “fort”, from which he would rule his domain. He desperately needed lumber, and in 1845 he
contracted with James Marshall to build a sawmill along the South Fork of the
American River in the Culloma Valley, about 40 miles
east of New Helvetia and Sutter’s Fort.
By late 1847, construction on the sawmill and its
supporting camp began. In January 1848, the sawmill
was nearing completion, and on the 24th
After the discovery,
Two years after the gold rush began,
The site of Sutter’s Sawmill rapidly became a booming gold mining town as thousands of miners flocked to the golden riverbanks. Stores were quickly established, selling provisions for highly inflated prices to those that didn’t come prepared. Coloma was the first gold rush boomtown, but it didn’t last long.
A walk along the now quiet streets of this wonderful little town evokes the aura and mystery of the gold rush. The first stop should be the visitor center where after paying the nominal entrance fee, you can view displays that breathe life into 150 years of history. Here also you can add books on local history to your personal library.
But, to really appreciate and become one with the town’s heritage,
pick up the walking-tour brochure and stroll the main street. Here both buildings and vacant lots contain
small plaques with vignettes of the town’s history. The main street follows along the South Fork
A short distance north of the bridge a large cairn of river-rock marks the site of the original sawmill. Midway between the mill site and the bridge is a reproduction of the sawmill and a small building containing timbers from the original mill.
Just west of the mill is the “Mormon Cabin,” a reproduction of the cabin that housed some of the sawmill workers.
South of the bridge road, along the west side of the highway, are a couple small white houses. The first structure housed the “Coloma Greys”, and was built in 1855. The larger white clapboard structure just to the south is the 1856 Weller house. Mr. Weller owned a general merchandise business in town, but his store is now just a site.
Down the road a tad are the 1885 Papini
House, and the 1854 IOOF Hall. Across
the highway, starting form the south end is the 1921
In 1957 the school was closed, as the county reconsolidated all of the small school districts. In 1963 the building became an antique shop, and in 1978 it was purchased by the state. Restoration began in 1984, and in July 1987 it was opened as a museum. BUT...fate sometimes lends an interesting hand to man’s best interests. Three months later a runaway logging truck with 72,000 pounds of logs remodeled the building. Unfortunately the truck and driver were uninsured, and $44,000 worth of damage to the structure occurred. Money was raised, and on September 09, 1995 the building was re-dedicated.
Other buildings of interest on the east side of the street include
the brick shell of the 1855 Bell’s Store, a row of four small buildings (one
housing the present post office), and the 1852 Bekeart’s
Gun Store, which even today is still a gun shop. Scattered to the west of the main street is
Unfortunately time has been unkind to this historic old community. The early miners tore down buildings to get at the gold under them, and left behind holes where places like the Fashion Saloon, Coloma Brewery, Winter’s Hotel and the American Hotel once stood. Plaques with historical vignettes mark the sites today.
Coloma nestles in the trees along the west bank of the northward flowing South Fork of the American River, eight miles north of Placerville, some 40 miles east of Sacramento. Come visit Coloma, the birthplace of the California Gold Rush! It is well worth a visit. A visitor center shares the history of this wonderful old mining town. Coloma is California Historic Landmark #143 & 530.
This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for February 1999.
· SW¼ Sec 17, T11N, R10E, Mount Diablo Meridian
· Latitude: 38.7999014 / 38° 48’ 00” N
· Longitude: -120.8902160 / 120° 53 25” W
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FIRST POSTED: February 01, 1999
LAST UPDATED: September 21, 2009
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