The Colfax Heritage Museum contains an eclectic collection of items that tell the history of the Colfax area, as well as illustrate the strong relationship to and influence of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The railroad transformed the area and catered to the needs of early pioneers who farmed the local fruit orchards, and struck it rich with gold mining, and lumber. Colfax was a primary link for shipping these critical items by railroad to populations throughout the expanding Sierra Nevada. The Heritage Museum houses an outstanding collection of pharmaceutical, cooking implements, historical records, railroad items, tools, costumes, and even an elaborate doll house depicting the early life of Colfax area residents.
Throughout the year, the museum changes displays to reflect the seasons including the special historical holiday collections.
Located at 99 South Railroad Street in downtown Colfax in the Old Colfax Train Passenger Depot, there is no charge to visit the museum. Please contact the museum to schedule school field trips and walking tours through historic Old Town.
The Building of Colfax:
As the iron rails were being laid up the steep slope of the Sierra on their way to Donner Summit, large temporary camps were put up to house and feed the many workers involved in the job. It was Camp 20 which later became Colfax.
The Speaker of the House, Schuyler Colfax, was sent by the President to check the progress of the work. His great oratory and personal charm made him so popular with the citizens that they named the new settlement after him.
The new town was laid out by the Central Pacific railroad and sold to two merchants from Auburn. Their names were Mr. Kohn and Mr. Kind. On July 29, 1865 they started the selling of lots to prospective merchants and other folks. It appears that Kohn and Kind realized around $7,000 for all their properties. The finished rails reached Colfax in September and the town remained the terminus of the line for over a year.
The railroad truly transformed this area in a hurry. Before this, people living here were mostly involved in supplying the miners passing through to other areas and catering to their needs. Roads consisted of hard- packed dirt with freight wagons and dusty stages providing travelers with their "comforts." Travel in winter was all but impossible and life was rough. The settlement called Illinoistown contained few families or permanent dwellings, being a collection of tent houses and semi-permanent structures. After the railroad was completed, the more enterprising citizens realized their future belonged in Colfax and very soon they moved up the hill to make the new town their home. Others came from Yuba and Nevada Counties, especially when news came out about the finding of a rich quartz ledge in the neighborhood. Illinoistown quickly disappeared and Colfax really boomed. It was for many years a true railroad town with a large dose of agriculture flourishing in the early part of the 1900s.
Take Colfax off-ramp from I-80 (approximately 50 miles East of Sacramento, California). Follow the signs into town. Go to the crossing of the railroad on Grass Valley Street at the center of downtown Historic Colfax (Main Street and Grass Valley Streets). The Museum is located in the refurbished Colfax Train Depot at 99 Railroad Avenue, where the statue of Schuyler Colfax is standing South Side of Grass Valley Street at the railroad crossing.