Columbia (No. 123 California Historical Landmark)
Photo © Sierra Nevada Conservancy
Columbia was one of the largest, richest, noisiest and fastest growing Gold Rush towns in the Mother Lode. The area known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines,” between 1850 and 1870 produced $87 million in gold – over one billion dollars in today’s market. Some miners discovered as much as 15 pounds of gold every day.
Because Columbia became a state park in 1945, it was never completely deserted. Today Columbia is a town of living history with more original buildings than other Gold Rush era towns. Visitors can stay in a historic hotel, enjoy fine dining or bakery sweets, listen to music in historic saloons, picnic, be entertained in the theater, make old fashioned candles or ride a stagecoach, weather permitting. California State Park staff encourages visitors to come with family or friends to solve an actual crime that occurred in Columbia in the 1850s. Search for clues, interview witnesses from the past, and solve the mystery. This fun-filled morning ends with a trial at the Justice Court. Cost is $15 per group of up to 6 people. Reservations are highly recommended as space is limited. Call the park at 209-588-9128.
Unlike many Gold Rush era communities, the buildings were built of brick, so the town was never destroyed by rampant fires burning the wooden structures in other towns. At its peak, Columbia was the second largest city in California. Its businesses consisted of four banks, 30 saloons, 27 produce stores and an express office. The residents were thought so “wicked,” they brought in bears and bulls to fight each other for entertainment. Horace Greeley was said to have considered the opposition between “bears and bulls” the source for the famous Wall Street description of stock market dynamics.
Columbia State Historic Park is located three miles north of Sonora, off Highway 49.
A treasure of natural wonders and lively gold rush history, Tuolumne County offers visitors vivid scenery. A portion of Yosemite National Park lies within the county, along with giant redwood groves and impressive geological features. Both Bret Harte and Mark Twain wrote stories set in this area during the Gold Rush.
California Historical Landmarks Program
Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region
2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California
3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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Time Period Represented: 1850-1870