Town of Dutch Flat (No. 397 California Historical Landmark)
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The quiet community of Dutch Flat dotted with Victorian homes and surrounded by pine covered mountains reveals only a few clues of its wild past during the Gold Rush days. As a bustling community in its heyday between 1851 and 1873, more people lived in Dutch Flat than any other place in Placer County. Between 1850 and 1860, nearly 2,000 Chinese immigrants lived here. That number was nearly as many as the Chinese that lived in San Francisco at the same time. The opera house featured evenings with Mark Twain. Residents were active members of amateur drama and debate societies.
The town was originally settled by two German immigrants, the Joseph and Charles Dorbach brothers. They operated a general store and way station. The name is thought to have come from Charles’ nickname, “Dutch Charley Flat.”
Dutch Flat was a major center for hydraulic mining and the first Gold Rush-era town to use "new black powder," later known as dynamite. The forest that has grown in during the last 100 years, hiding the damage from the high pressure water hoses blasting gravel from the face of the mountain to reveal the gold hiding beneath the surface. The mountains adjacent to town were carved out by the hydraulic mining operations, revealing man-made canyons and amphitheaters. Today’s canyons expose bedrock, ancient river gravels, remnants of Dutch Flat’s volcanic history in ash layers and volcanic mudflow layers.
Miners staked 45 different claims within a 1-½ mile radius. In the later years of the Gold Rush, large mining companies bought small claims and worked them all on a large scale. The Cedar Creek Company of London purchased 32 different claims. Historical records describe one of the gold nuggets found was worth $5,000, when gold was valued between $12 and $17 an ounce. Although the hydraulic mining operations ceased in 1873 after the passage of the Anti-Debris Act, there is speculation that as much as $30 million in gold still sits inside the mountain.
Dutch Flat was an important stopping point on the stagecoach line, shipping supplies to the Nevada mines. The Towle Lumber Company, among the largest in the state, owned more than 20,000 acres of land. The company operated a narrow gauge railroad, 38 miles long, and employed a workforce of 20,000 men.
The original idea for what would become the Central Pacific Railroad was born in Dutch Flat in 1859. Dr. D.W. Strong, a local pharmacist, met with Theodore Judah to discuss possible routes through the Sierra Nevada. Judah went on survey expeditions to study different routes. Strong and Judah sold their first subscriptions to finance the new railroad in Dutch Flat. Read about the “Big 4” railroad barons in Auburn.
To learn more about the development of the Central Pacific Railroad, visit the Newcastle Railroad Station. Visit the Colfax Railroad station site to find out about the Chinese immigrant workers and completion of the transcontinental railroad. To see historic train cars and guided tours, visit the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
Visitors today can view structures built during the 1850s and remnants of former gold mining operations. The Dutch Flat Hotel, a stone jail, the Odd Fellows Hall and the Mason building are still standing. The Mason’s vault is said to contain original records from the Gold Rush era. Remnants of dams and mining equipment are located off Main Street. The Golden Drift Museum is also located in Dutch Flat.
A pioneer cemetery is located in Dutch Flat. The Chinese burial grounds are now vacant. Family members removed the bodies to send them home to China for burial. The Chinatown of the Gold Rush was located at the site of the railroad tracks.
Dutch Flat has remained a viable town and continues to thrive today because of its short distance off Interstate 80, the main highway. The town retains much of its original character, although like dozens of Gold Rush era boom towns, it could have become one more ghost town.
The Dutch Flat Historic District encompasses 480 acres and 45 buildings.
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.
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. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.
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: 1851-1870s