On Highway 120 in historic Big Oak Flat stands the Wells Fargo-Gamble Building, one of Tuolumne County's oldest still-standing structures. The Wells Fargo-Gamble Building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1991.
It was built sometime just prior to 1852 by Alexander Gamble and was an impressive commercial hub. Big Oak Flat was a gold rush mining camp that grew to become an incorporated city on May 10, 1860. Due to the transitory nature of the California gold miners, population estimates for that time vary widely from 3,000 to 12,000 residents.
From the 1850's to the early 1940's the building housed many important businesses including Big Oak Flat's first Post Office, a Wells Fargo Express Office and Daily Stage, Justice Court, Mercantile Stores, Saloons, an Apothecary, Cobbler Shop, Meat Market, and - after a catastrophic fire destroyed the city in 1863 - part of the building served as the city's jail.
According to a story passed down through the family of subsequent owners, the jail portion of the building was constructed prior to the gold rush by the Hudson's Bay Company using Native American laborers. To date it remains just a rumor, as no evidence has been found to prove the story (yet!).
Legend also has it that the only earth not mined for gold in Big Oak Flat is that which lies beneath the Wells Fargo-Gamble Building!
The building stood vacant from the early 1940's until 2007, when the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society (STCHS) accepted it as a donation and took on the enormous duty of restoring it to its former stateliness. The donation also included the yellow house adjacent to the Wells Fargo-Gamble Building. The house was built in 1901 and may be eligible for listing on the California Register of Historic Resources and the Tuolumne County Register of Cultural Resources.
Restoring the buildings will not be possible without donations, grants, and help from our proven community of volunteers. STCHS and the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum are proof of our area residents' dedication to saving our past. STCHS was formed about 25 years ago by concerned citizens after the sudden and unauthorized demolition of another rare gold rush era building in Big Oak Flat. In 2001 STCHS and community members finished building the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum, funded completely by donations and fundraisers. If you'd like more information, to volunteers your services or expertise, or to make a donation, please contact the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum or the STCHS.