Early settlers to Volcano believed the bowl-shaped landscape was a crater formed by a volcanic eruption. No volcano was known to have existed in the area, however, the name stayed on. Volcano was also called Soldier’s Gulch and Crater City. In its heyday, the population of Volcano swelled to 5,000 who witnessed the city’s turbulence, and its excitement. Today less than 200 people call Volcano their home.
Today the town is considered by many as much a “gem of the Gold Country” as the treasure that was taken from it. Sitting inside the deep valley, visitors pass distinctive rock formations that surround the town. The landscape itself gives rise to the imagination of ghostly shapes haunting the valley. Mildred Hoover’s commented in her authoritative book, Historic Spots in California, “Volcano is the Sleepy Hollow of the West. One can look for goblins in the ghost rocks or headless horseman to come galloping from the steep wooded mountain road.”
Volcano is among the most picturesque towns in the Gold Country and a city of many “California firsts.” The first amateur theater company and the first circulating library opened in 1854. A year later, in 1855, the first private school began. During the following year, Amador County held its first public hanging. The first astronomical observatory opened in 1860.
As the city’s population boomed, the number of buildings in town increased to keep up with the demand for goods and services. The Historic St. George Hotel was built in 1854. Volcano’s peak years were between 1849 and 1857. The business district consisted of eleven stores, seventeen hotels, three bakeries, two saloons, a library and a theater. More than anything else, the Gold Rush Era in Volcano is remembered for wild times at the dance halls and saloons.
Today, Volcano’s musical and theater tradition continues. The town features a small theater and an outdoor amphitheater that presents several stage productions each year.
Volcano also holds stories of great riches. The hydraulic mining operations attracted miners to Volcano like magnets. Hydraulic mining used high pressure water jets to wash gravel away from mountainsides. Downstream rivers become flooded from tremendous amounts of sediment. Riparian habitat was also destroyed.
Some miners found as much as $8,000 of gold in a few days of work. A single mine yielded $1 million in gold. Volcano started its decline in 1857 when the newspaper closed down. However, mining operations continued until the passage of the “Anti-Debris Act,” also called the Sawyer Decision, rendered in 1883 made hydraulic mining illegal.
The Sawyer Decision was one of the first environmental decisions in the nation and changed the course of mining for camps throughout the Mother Lode. Hydraulic mining abruptly stopped. Populations sharply declined anywhere hydraulic mining was the primary method of extracting gold. People moved on to other diggings and the camps they left behind stood virtually abandoned.
Volcano is near the town of Jackson and three miles northwest of Daffodil Hill – a grove of more than 250 varieties of daffodils.
Amador County was one of the most productive of the “Mother Lode” counties. The mine shafts were reported to be among the deepest in the world. Mining continues in select areas today. The eastern slope of Amador County begins at Kirkwood’s historic stage stop known today as the Kirkwood Inn. The relatively narrow county is aligned between the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers and roughly follows an important emigrant trail route. Gold rush camps and boomtowns abound in the history of the area. Amador County is also recognized for its dozens of vineyards and wineries.