by M. Maxine George
Gold was first discovered there in 1848, however California was scarcely settled at that time, so only those locals who heard about it via word of mouth, appeared to search for riches that year. The next year, 1849, word began to filter across the country. After an announcement about the gold find was made by the President in the US Congress, word spread like wildfire, far and wide. The result was that 1849 saw thousands gravitate to the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in their quest for gold. They came not only from the eastern part of the continent but throngs appeared from across the seas. Small settlements exploded into thriving communities which supplied the rapidly mushrooming population of prospectors and miners. The city of San Francisco was spawned from a settlement of 500 people to become the bustling seaport city needed to bring in people and supplies to the hills that crawled with people, much as anthills crawl with ants.
Today the highway that leads you through the old gold country is appropriately named "Route 49." This highway wends it's way through the foothills along the old gold rush trail, connecting the picturesque old towns that have now become sleepy little communities whose inhabitants have preserved much of their historic heritage. Each town positively oozes with it's own tales of those exciting days. During a visit to the Leger Hotel, in Mokelumne, we were told the tale of a ghost, who is said to haunt those halls. It seems that the owner of this establishment, one George Leger, was known to have an eye for the ladies. He came to an untimely end. Although his body was discovered in his own bed, his unnatural demise is believed to have occurred elsewhere in the building, at the hands of a jealous rival for the affections of a local lovely. Visitors often feel a cold chill when passing just outside George's bedroom door.
Untimely deaths were not unusual in this establishment. Shootings regularly occurred in the bar and in the surrounding town. If you stroll down the street today, you can sit in a small, tree-shaded park amid a setting infamous for violence and mayhem. This now peaceful town was once noted for the number of murders that were perpetrated there each week by the itinerant gold seekers.
The town of Columbia was officially proclaimed a national monument to commemorate those bygone days. There visitors may have a look at the carefully restored town, giving an insight into the area that once came within a whisker of becoming the capital of the fledgling state of California. While some of the carefully preserved buildings are open only to viewing, other shops conduct business along the main street, much as they might have a century ago. Entertainment is still staged in the playhouse.
As you wend your way along Route 49, through towns like Sutter Creek, Jamestown, Sonora and Angels Camp among others, you will find each town displaying it's heritage with pride. The clean streets are lined with many old businesses and homes. Each community has it's own historic society dedicated to the preservation of the wonderful old buildings and the fascinating stories from that bygone era. Mark Twain's story about the Jumping Frog Contest of Calaveras County reputedly originated in a bar in Angel's Camp.
For those looking for a quiet getaway to an interesting place, California's Old Gold Country on "Route 49" provides a fascinating variation.
Story and picture by M. Maxine George
For further information about "Route 49" contact:
California Trade and Commerce Agency, Division of Tourism
801 K Street, Suite 1600, Sacramento, CA 95814
Telephone: (916) 323-9882 Fax: (916) 322-3402
Calaveras Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 637, Angels Camp, CA 95222
Telephone: (209) 736-0049
Tuolumne County Visitor's Bureau
P.O. Box 4020, Stockton Street,
Sonora CA 95370
Telephone: (209) 533-4420 Fax: (209) 533-0956
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