The discovery of gold in Auburn was the first in the area that would become Placer County and the third such find in California. Less than four months after James Marshall’s gold discovery in Coloma in 1848, Claud Chana, Francois Gendron and Philibert Courteau, and a party of about 25 Native Americans found gold while they were camping in Auburn on their way to Coloma. The original town name, “North Fork Dry Diggings,” was changed to Auburn in 1849. Placer County officially formed in 1851 and the City of Auburn became the county seat and remains so today.
Auburn is located at the crossroads of Highway 49 and Interstate 80. Highway 49 takes its name from the “1849ers.” The long and often winding highway travels through the entire stretch of the Mother Lode. Interstate 80 crosses the Sierra in about the same route as the original Central Pacific Line and currently the Amtrak route.
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. As a foothill community, Auburn temperatures create opportunities for colorful, scenic views during seasonal changes each year. The city retains a small town flavor, encompassing a total area of about seven square miles and less than 13,000 residents.
The city has expanded far beyond its historic roots as a Gold Rush town and center of transportation. The Historic Placer County Courthouse, visible from both directions of Interstate 80, is located adjacent to the Historic Old Town. Auburn amenities also include a state recreation area (lakes, hiking trails, American River), a large and well known farmer’s market that operates June through September, and a vibrant arts community including museums, theater, music and art galleries.
A free guided tour of Old Town Auburn begins at the Placer County Courthouse at 101 Maple Street every Saturday at 10 am. Call (530) 889-6500. For more visitor listings and information, a search for Auburn will produce a dozen different Geotourism postings including places to visit, enjoy and dine.
Placer is a Spanish word describing surface mining. Gold that had been “placed” in streams or on the ground through natural erosion was processed by planning, rocking, and similar techniques. Such mining efforts made Placer County residents some of the richest in California.