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California Gold Rush Towns -- Gold Country Still Beckons: Columbia

In the late 1840s the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills area of California brought on a rush of gold seekers. With the rapid population growth of the area, the miners established many new towns. The once over populated bustling towns are now part of small town America with their historic past on display as a chronological record of American development. These wonderful little towns make informative and fun get-a-ways and vacations for all of us to enjoy.

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Located along Hwy 49 in Tuolumne County, practically the entire town of Columbia has been designated part of Columbia State Historic Park. Today it contains the largest single collection of existing gold rush-era structures.

From the discovery of gold in 1850 to 1852 a town had been established and grown to contain more than 150 businesses including saloons, three churches, meeting hall, Masonic Lodge and a branch of the Sons of Temperance. By 1860s the mining dwindled, the population went from 25,000 to the 400 who kept the town alive through the years.

Visiting Columbia

Visitors must park their cars in lots off Hwy 49 and walk into a by-gone era. On the south end of Main Street visitors will find a park-like setting, one must walk down steps or a downhill path to reach this park seemingly set in a gully. Here along with picnic benches is a sluice box where one can still pan for gold and large original mining equipment on display.

Most fascinating to me were the huge rock formations looking so out of place here. I soon learned that most of the mining done in this area was by Hyrdo Mining (water power.) The park where we stood was once a hill, the dirt was washed away by water in the quest for gold. All that is left of the hill is the limestone rock formations sitting in this gully. As one travels throughout the area you can see many lots where there were no buildings that were mined in such a fashion even in the middle of town.

Walking down Main Street on the boardwalk, visitors can shop in the original buildings some turned into emporiums, candy shops, bookstores etc. Others are on display as they were abandoned at the end of the gold rush, the city jail, surveyor’s office, newspaper office, etc.

Another curiosity I found was the marble doorsills and marble walkways in the residential areas, only to find out there were many marble quarries near-by. Marble from a local quarry was used in the Washington Monument and marble headstones from this region were very popular.

During the summer months and for special events local docents dressed in period costume give guided tours through the town.

Staying in Columbia

photo by Bobbie Green We stayed overnight in the Columbia City Hotel on Main Street. This is really getting into the town ambiance. The Hotel itself was last rebuilt in 1857 after a fire. It died out when the town died after the gold rush was over around 1870. Purchased as part of the State Park in 1947, it was restored and reopened to the public in 1975.

Part of the 2nd story was once used as a recital hall and the large room is period decorated as a parlor for the guest to use. The rooms are good size and furnished only with antiques. Some rooms have a half bath and all showers are down the hall. The hotel staff told us stories of ghost seen by guest in the parlor at night, but we did not see a ghost during our stay. The small elegant dinning room surprised me by serving scrumptious and appealing food. A local couple eating dinner there said this was there restaurant of choice to celebrate special occasions.

In the same building is the What Cheer Saloon. The Hotel was first known as The What Cheer House, hence, the What Cheer Saloon, still very original and a hang out for locals.

A word of caution to you who want to experience this lovely trip to the past. -- pack a small overnight bag just for this hotel visit because there are no elevators or bellmen.

Columbia Candy Kitchen is located near the hotel and offers viewing of the candy making. One is able to walk the whole town. It is a short hike to the cemetery, but some may want to visit by car. During the summer months a ghost tour called Stories & Stones is offered, which includes dinner at the City Hotel Restaurant and a walk to the cemetery for the stories. The Sierra Repertory Theatre has a location in the Fallon Hotel in Columbia, check the web site for performance dates and times. The two historic hotels, saloon and restaurants & concessionaries are managed by Forever Resorts; they have a reputation for administering smooth flowing operations.

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Bobbie Green grew up in southern California. She is a freelance writer and a member of the North American Travel Journalist Association. She has been published in various Senior Wire Publications, The Desert Valley Times, Nevada Magazine, Mesquite, Travel World International, and Besides enjoying her love of travel by doing it as often as she can, she enjoys photography and attends numerous travel trade functions. Presently she is enjoying desert living in Mesquite Nevada.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 7, 2016

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