Coulterville is an authentic California gold rush town that was "too tough to die". During its heyday, it was a major gold mining and supply center. Coulterville remains filled with historic buildings and memories of the “’49ers” and has been designated the California State Historical Landmark No. 332. Coulterville also serves as the base point of the newly designated John Muir Highway.
George and Margaret Coulter traveled by covered wagon from Pennsylvania to California in 1849. Learning that the large number of placer miners seeking their fortunes in the 3 local creeks had to travel 30 miles over rough trails to get supplies, Coulter purchased a large supply of merchandise and opened business in a large blue canvas tent over which he conspicuously flew the American flag. The tent soon became a landmark to the nearly two thousand miners in the area and they called the place Banderita or “Little Flag.” In 1852 the discovery of gold caused the community to grow rapidly. Hard rock mining kept the town thriving as placer gold grew scarce. On March 5, 1872, , the name of the town was changed to Coulterville to honor its founder.
The lore of gold drew miners from around the world. During the Gold Rush, Coulterville boasted of nine nationalities with a population estimated at over five thousand. Chinatown had an estimated population of over a thousand. The Sun Sun Wo Co. Store, built of adobe in 1851, is all that remains of that area of town.
The town was plagued by both fire and flood. In 1862 a major flood wreaked havoc, with all buildings located along the creek destroyed or heavily damaged. Large portions of the town burned in three major fires, each occurring in July, exactly twenty years apart - in 1859, 1879 and 1899.
Boasting to have had the “crookedest railroad in the world”, the original “Whistling Billy” locomotive now stands under the local hangman’s tree next to the museum. Across the street stands the Jeffery Hotel, whose 30” thick walls, made of rock and clay binder, date back to 1851. The connecting Magnolia Room is an authentic early day saloon. In its heyday, there were 25 saloons and 10 hotels scattered around town. In the late 1800’s, Coulterville became a popular stop over for Yosemite bound tourists. They came by stagecoach and horseback and stayed overnight. The first paved route into Yosemite National Park ran through Coulterville, bringing the horseless carriage. This route, via Coulterville (Highway J132), is still one of the shortest and most scenic ways to travel to Yosemite National Park.
42 HISTORIC SITES
1- WHISTLING BILLY An eight-ton Porter Locomotive shipped around the Horn and brought to Coulterville in 1897 by mule team. Purchased by the Merced Gold Mining Company for $3,500, it ran on 30 inch gauge track and could haul 15 ore cars, each weighing 5 tons when loaded. The tracks, just west of town, ran 4 miles from the Mary Harrison Mine to the Black Creek Potosi Mill, or “Forty-Stamper.” The train crossed over Maxwell Creek on a wooden trestle at a height of 50’ above the water and became known as the “Crookedest Railroad in the World” due to the many switch backs and turns it traversed.
2- HANGMAN’S TREE The town’s Hanging Tree was used to mete out frontier justice. One such infamous incident, in which outlaw Leon Ruiz was hung in 1856 for killing and robbing 2 Chinese miners of $600 worth of gold, indicates that the local Chinese population had sufficient political power to receive justice… uncommon in that era.
3- COULTERVILLE HOTEL This structure is a remnant of the Coulterville Hotel, which was never rebuilt after the last great fire of 1899. The original structure was built in 1882 by William McCarthy as a private residence. McCarthy, both the pharmacist and Wells Fargo agent, built his house next to the building that housed both businesses. In 1894, the building was leased to Percy Davis who added 2 stories and opened it as the Coulterville Hotel. The hotel burned in the Great Fire of 1899, leaving nothing but the rock walls. The entrance to the Northern Mariposa County History Center has been built into the remnants of the structure.
4- WELLS FARGO AND McCARTHY’S STORE The Wells Fargo building was built of brick in 1856. Nelson Cody, brother of Buffalo Bill Cody, was an agent in the 1870’s, serving as postmaster. Beside the Wells Fargo office was McCarthy’s pharmacy. This building is now a part of the History Center, with some of the original interiors used for displays.
5- BANDSTAND Originally a bandstand, over the years, it was used as a poker parlor, a barber shop, and during World War II, to spot airplanes. It was erected on the site where the current day post office stands and moved to its current site in the early 1900’s.
6- JAIL Not very big, but effective! The cable from the Mary Harrison Mine hoist was used for reinforcing the walls, making it quite escape proof.
7- BARRETT BLACKSMITH SHOP Originally a blacksmith shop, this building was later used as a garage and gas station and eventually as a grocery store.
8- E.E. WARNE STORE This unique building was constructed in the 1870’s or 1880’s by E.E. Warne. There was a general store on the first floor and family living quarters on the second floor. The Knights of Pythias held lodge meetings upstairs for several years. The building became an antique store in 1973. Restoration was completed in 2003. It continues to house an antique store on the ground floor, with the living quarters above currently operated as a Bed and Breakfast.
9-POWDER HOUSE Built in 1860 to house explosives used at the local gold mines. This is the only known powder house in the county where adobe materials were used. Due to explosions, very few remain standing today.
10- BRUSCHI BROTHERS WAREHOUSE Originally built as a warehouse by the Bruschi Brothers, it was converted to a general store when the other Bruschi stores burned down. The interior did not burn during the great fires because the ceiling had several inches of dirt above it. Only the wooden shingle roof burned. One side served as a meat market, and the other half was used for general merchandise. Today it houses a café and beauty salon.
11- THE MINT The oldest record of ownership of this building was by Tom Harlow, who operated a blacksmith shop here prior to the fire of 1899. Rebuilt after the fire, it became a soft drink parlor and later a bar and restaurant named “The 49 Club,” becoming Brown’s Leather and Clothing Shop until it was sold to Louis Miliani who owned it from 1936 to 1944.
12/13- Gazzolo Store - Built around 1860, it was originally two buildings. The right side housed a barber shop and post office with a clothing store on the left. The clothing store burned in one of the many small fires that plagued the town in the late 1800’s. After a fire in 1995 that gutted much of the interior, it was rebuilt as a single structure and now houses a thrift shop.
14- Gazzolo Building - The first story of this building was constructed in the 1850's and housed a saloon. Ice was hauled from Yosemite by wagon and stored in an ice room. The second story was added in 1899 originally as a fandango hall, then housed the dormitories for the California Division of Forestry in 1933.
15- COMMISSIONA STORE The main part of this building was built in the 1870’s and was a general store operated by Mrs. Commissiona. Later the Canova family operated the store until the 1940’s.
16- ELLIS HOUSE This building is believed to have been built shortly after the 1899 fire. It was the childhood home of Vince Ellis, a longtime resident and stage driver of Coulterville.
17- I.O.O.F. BUILDING Built of redwood after the 1899 fire, this building has always been an I.O.O.F. Hall and is still used for lodge meetings and community events.
18- CANOVA HOUSE Both the residence of Giacoma Canova and also the site of his General Merchandise Store. Built in the early 1860's,it was operated until 1917., The building housing the store was moved from the side to the rear after that and incorporated into the house.
19- CANDY’S PLACE This building was used as a bordello by Candy, and it is said that the roses from the rose bush in front of the house were her trademark.
20- SUN SUN WO CO. STORE This building was constructed of adobe in 1851 and was in continuous use as a general store until about 1920. The store served a wide area and not just the local Chinatown. Old documents show that extensive orders were placed by the surrounding ranchers and miners. Some ranches even had direct telephone lines to the store in later years. Now operated as a gift store, the original shelves and counters are still in use. In the back of the store is a room now used as an office, but evidence exists indicting that part of this room was used as an opium den. It is one of the earliest Gold Rush buildings and one of the last adobe structures left.
21- SITE OF THE CHING CEMETERY The local grade school teacher would take her classes to observe from under the oak tree at the intersection of Highway J132 and Broadway as the burial ceremonies were so elaborate.. The Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) trees grow in profusion here. The seeds of these trees were brought here by the Chinese and planted in areas considered friendly and safe to them.
22- THE BOARDWALK This building was originally a garage built in the 1930’s by the Canova family. It housed the Coulterville Fire truck before the present Firehouse was built.
23- CANOVA WAREHOUSE The 3 foot thick walls of this building were constructed of schist stone, mud, and mortar by Mexican stone masons about 1870 and used by the Canova family until 1959.
24- GRENFELL HOUSE Built in the 1870’s, it was the home of Ed Grenfell, Coulterville’s Postmaster from 1908 through 1928.
25- HARLOW HOUSE This was originally the home of the Harlow family. The Harlows owned and operated a livery stable nearby.
26- YOSEMITE GARAGE Built in 1915 by Demetri Bruschi, this tin covered building was used as a stage stop and then as a garage for the first Model-A tour buses en route to Yosemite. It also served as the headquarters for the Division of Highways and in 1933 it was the1st headquarters for the Northside California Division of Forestry. It now houses the Thom Jenkins V.F.W. Post and Canteen.
27- SAMPLE FAMILY HOME Originally built as a residence, this building later became Sample’s Rooming House. After that it became Holland’s Grocery Store. It is now the Coulter Café and General Store.
28- BRUSCHI STORE Built in 1860 by Francisco Bruschi, this building was used as the family’s first home and housed their bakery. The original walls of schist and mud still survive.
29- CIGAR STORE Over the years this shop has had many occupants including a candy store, goldsmith, and cigar store.
30- OLD JOHNNY HAIGH SALOON The Haigh family arrived in 1849 and Johnny Haigh operated a saloon here. Like the shops on either side, the structure is protected against fire by a layer of dirt in the ceiling.
31- OLD POST OFFICE Once Alex Guerra’s barber shop, this building was later the home of the Coulterville Post Office, and is now the location of the North County Visitor Center and Chamber of Commerce office.
32- CAFE A general store in 1896, this building was later used as a cafe.
33- CHINESE LAUNDRY Used as a storeroom for the Magnolia Room for many years, this room was originally a Chinese laundry.
34- MAGNOLIA SALOON Part of the Hotel Jeffery, the saloon with the polished bar and bat wing doors, houses displays of historical interest. An untouched example of early day saloons, the “atmosphere” one gets here can only be had after many decades of operation. One of the oldest saloons in continuous operation in California.
35- HOTEL JEFFERY Originally a Mexican structure built of rock and adobe, the 30” walls date back to 1851. It was rebuilt in 1903 after a fire.
36- THE OLD SCHOOL HOUSE Constructed in 1917 was and used as a schoolhouse until 1967. It is presently used as a Community Center and meeting place with community breakfasts served on the second Sunday of every month.
37- PUBLIC CEMETERY George and Margaret Coulter are buried in the center of this historic cemetery, just above the oak tree. Grave markers also display the names of many other Coulterville pioneer families including the Bruschis, Cuneos, Fiskes, Greeleys, Murphys, Musantes and many others. The intricate rockwork seen in the cemetery is the work of John Musante. The cemetery has been in continuous use since the 1850’s.
38- MUSANTE HOUSE Now a private residence, this house is a beautiful example of earlier Victorian architecture. The lovely rock gardens were constructed by John Musante. He also directed the construction of the ornate rock works that are seen in Yosemite Valley.
39- JAMES GAZZOLO HOUSE This house was built by James Gazzolo for his mother around the year 1900.
40- CATHOLIC CEMETERY With only one headstone remaining, not much is known about this cemetery, which is on private property.
41- TISCORGNIA HOUSE The old Goss Ranch.
42- COULTER HOUSE Now a private residence, this Neo-Colonial home was built in 1857 by George Coulter.