History by Area


Alpine County Overview History

By Judith Marvin, 2011

The county name, Alpine, was derived from its similarity to the alpine country in Europe, and named when it was created March 16, 1864, from parts of El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Mono counties.  The impetus for its creation was the discovery of silver ore at several locations in the late 1850s and early 1860s, when prospectors from the Comstock region of Nevada began fanning out in search of silver-bearing lodes (Jackson 1964:9-10).  Major historic themes in Alpine County involve mining, transportation, communication, agricult


Calaveras County, CA

The history of Calaveras County is much like that of other counties in the California Mother Lode. Hoards of miners came; water systems were developed; settlements grew up around the more successful and environmentally rich mining areas; transportation networks developed, first as trails and then as wagon roads; farms, orchards, and truck gardens sprang up; saloons and fandango halls, along with boarding houses provided entertainment, bed, bath, and sustenance; and the bare bones of civilization in the form of government, newspapers, and social lodges developed.

The first recorded visit by a European to the area now known as Calaveras County was made in October 1806, when Gabriel Moraga, with his diarist and chaplain, Padre Pedro Muñoz, visited the Stanislaus River area on their search for potential inland mission sites. During a subsequent visit in 1808, the Moraga expedition named the major rivers in the region, calling the Stanislaus “Rio de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.”

General Mariano Vallejo was in the area in 1829 with a party in search of the escaped mission Indian, Chief Estanislao, for whom the Stanislaus River may have been named. It is believed that Estanislao received his Christian name when baptized, in honor of one of the Polish saints names “Stanislas.” The river became known as Rio Estanislao, and was anglicized by John C. Frémont in 1844. On the opposite side of the county, the Mokelumne River was given the name of the Indian group who resided there.


Angels Camp

The histories of Angels Camp and Altaville are typical of many other towns in the California foothills, with their booms and busts, colorful characters, and almost century-long dependence on mining. The prosperity of the communities was first based upon the rich placer gold found in Angels Creek and its tributaries of China Gulch, Six Mile Creek, Cherokee Creek, Greenhorn Creek, and their drainages. It wasn’t long, however, before both communities had become trading centers for the neighboring mines. Angels Camp had a population of over 300 by the spring of 1849 (Wood 1955:9). Altaville, also known as Forks-in-the Road and Cherokee Diggings, took its present name at a town meeting in 1857 (Gudde 1969:8).

It was not until 1854 that the first important quartz locations were made, all on the Davis-Winters Lode where the Winter Brothers and Davis & Co. were ground-sluicing. This lode roughly paralleled present Highway 49, running southeasterly from Altaville down to Angels Creek. Over the next few years the vein was developed all the way to the creek, but the low grade of the ore, coupled with the difficulty of processing the sulphurets bound up in it, ended the boom.

There was intermittent activity through the 1860s, and another small boom in the 1870s, but little sustained mining industry until the late 1880s (Leonard 1968:1) when advanced mining and milling technologies and the availability of foreign capital combined to warrant large-scale underground mining. Although not a consistent employer, the industry experienced several significant revivals, particular in the late nineteenth century and again in the early twentieth, and provided the lifeblood of the Angels Camp area (Marvin and Costello et al. 1994:15-18).

All the mines in the town of Angels Camp closed during World War I, never to reopen. On the western fringes, the Gold Cliff Mine struggled on for a few more years, as did the smaller family-operated mines in the area. Only the Melones Mine at Carson Hill provided steady employment until it, too, closed during World War II.

The preeminence of mining, however, ensured that all other local industries would be its auxiliaries. Transportation, lumbering, water, power generation, and ranching have all been directed and influenced by the mining industry (Davis-King and Marvin-Cunningham 1990).

The City of Angels, the only incorporated town in Calaveras County, was formed by joining Altaville and Angels Camp in 1924, reflecting the hopes of that era for increased prosperity. Although slumbering for several decades, the Angels area, like the rest of the foothills, has recently experienced a rapid growth in population; the economy is presently dependent upon employment by units of government, service industries, manufacturing, construction, tourism, and agriculture (Marvin and Costello et al. 1994:17-20).



The land that now encompasses Arnold was first taken up by the Willis Dunbar family of Murphys, who had an 880-acre ranch that provided meat, vegetables, timothy hay, potatoes, and fruit (primarily apples) to nearby resorts and lower elevations from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth. The Dunbars also had a sawmill, which supplied their lumberyard in Murphys, and extensive lumber operations in the area (Elliott 1885:96-97; Mace 1993:145).

It was the advent of the automobile, however, that led to the development of Arnold, as more and more families took to the mountains to partake of the clean rivers, lakes, and cool forests. Commercial establishments were developed along the Ebbetts Pass route to serve travelers and tourists alike, providing automobile services, sustenance, and lodging. Arnold was founded on one of these establishments, and received its name from Bob and Bernice Arnold, who began operating a bar, restaurant, and three cabins there in the 1930s. This business became the nucleus for several other commercial enterprises, all catering to the traveler.

The major growth in Arnold, however, developed after the construction of the Blagen mill, built in White Pines in 1939. A modern twentieth century operation, the enterprise was first a family business. The Blagens established a company town, named White Pines, near their mill on what is now White Pines Lake. The company ran two shifts of men, producing a great amount of lumber during World War II, and employed more than one hundred men. During this period the mill was taken over by American Forest Products, but kept the Blagen name. The mill flourished, but then waned in production, leading to its closure in 1962 (Davis 1993:7-8).

Today, due in part to its proximity to the Calaveras Big Trees and the Mt. Reba ski area, Arnold is one of the county’s fastest growing communities and is being developed primarily as an area for second homes and full-time residents.


  1. Costello, Julia G., editor. 1988 Historical and Archaeological Research at the Calaveras Big Tree Cottage Area. Report prepared for Calaveras Big Trees Association and California Department of Parks and Recreation.
  2. Davis, David H. 1993 Early Logging in the Sierras, with Special Reference to the Forested Valleys of Calaveras County. Heritage Resource Program, Calaveras Ranger District, Stanislaus National Forest.
  3. Elliott, W. W. 1885 Calaveras County Illustrated and Described. Bicentennial Reprint, 1976, by Valley Publishers, Fresno.
  4. Gudde, Erwin G. 1975 California Gold Camps. University of California Press, Berkeley
  5. Koeppel, Elliot H. 1995 The California Gold Country: Highway 49 Revisited. Malakoff & Co. Publishing.
  6. Mace, O. Henry . 1993 Between the Rivers, A History of Early Calaveras County, California. Cenotto Publications, Jackson, California.
  7. Office of Historic Preservation. 1998 The California Register of Historical Resources, Public Resources Code, Chapter 11.5, implemented January 1, 1998.
  8. Psota, Sunshine, and Judith Marvin. 2001 Historic Resource Evaluation Report of Three Roads Along State Highway 4 Between Camp Connell and Ganns, Calaveras County, California. Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University Academic Foundation. 
  9. Storer, Tracy I. and Robert L. Usinger. 1963 Sierra Nevada Natural History. University of California Press, Berkeley.


Copperopolis History

From its beginnings in 1860 to the end of World War II, Copperopolis has been directly related to and affected by the extraction and production of copper ore. Copper was first discovered in the area in 1860 by Hiram Hughes on Gopher Ridge at Quail Hill, and a few months later at the Napoleon Mine on Hog Hill, about six miles southwest of Copperopolis. Shortly thereafter a copper-bearing “gossan” was discovered by W.K. Reed and Thomas McCarty in the Copper Cañon Mining District, on the Union Copper Claim, and a short time later a second strike was made on the Keystone Claim. Other important claims included the Calaveras and the Empire. One year later the community that developed around the strikes became known as Copperopolis, the name derived from the word “copper,” plus the Greek word “polis” meaning city.

From rolling hills of grazing land, the area was transformed almost overnight into a booming community due to the extraordinary need for copper for munitions and shell casings for the American Civil War, developing into the second-most important copper district in the United States. By 1861 there were over 28 business establishments in town, a number that grew to over 90 advertised in the Copperopolis Courier in the period from 1865-1867. The strike came at a time when the Mother Lode gold mines were almost dormant and, although the copper excitement promised more than it ultimately delivered, for seven years copper was “king” in Calaveras County.

The town that owed it existence to the Civil War developed around the “Plaza,” with streets named for their associations with the war: Union (now Main), Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman. Staunchly northern in their sympathies, the town sported in addition to Union Street, the Union Hotel, Union Mine, and Union Bridge. Of the more than 60 commercial establishments which once lined the streets of the community in those years, only seven were constructed of brick, and only four are extant: two stores, a church, and the armory.

The center of town was destroyed in a conflagration in 1867, and, with the cessations of the Civil War and the need for copper for shell casings, was never completely rebuilt. Coinciding with the falling world prices of copper, the high cost of transportation, and the fact that most of the readily accessible ore was mined out, the town was virtually deserted. It had, however, for some five or six years, reigned as the most active business and mining community in Calaveras County.

In the early years ore was transported in bags of burlap and jute to Stockton by pack animals, and from there shipped by riverboat to San Francisco where it was reloaded and sent by sailing ship around Cape Horn to Atlantic ports and Swansea, Wales, to be smelted and refined. After the completion of Reed’s Turnpike, however, teamsters hauled the ore, which amounted to more than a million and a half pounds in a six-day period in 1865. By the early 1900s ore was transported by the steam engines of the Mountain Traction Company over a separate traction road to the railhead at Milton for transshipment to Stockton. (Courtesy Calaveras County Historical Society)

The community experiences another modest copper boom in the late 1880s, when the Ames Family of Massachusetts, owners of the Ames Tool Company, purchased the Union Mine, dewatered it and constructed a new smelter, operating until 1892. In 1899, a newly formed company, the Union Copper Mining Company, purchased the original claims and most of the properties in town. These operations were curtailed in 1902 and it wasn’t until 1909, when the Calaveras Copper Company purchased the Union interests and most of the town and commenced operations in earnest, that prosperity again abounded.

The mine was de-watered again, a new smelter constructed, and then began a long period of almost continuous operation. By this time Copperopolis was no longer the leading producer in California, but it did continue as the second- or third-largest producer in California through the year 1930. During this period copper prices fluctuated up and down, but the company continued to operate on a small scale, providing an important economic base to the local economy. Mining commenced again briefly during World War II at the nearby Keystone Mine, but shut down in 1945 and has been idle since.

Today the headframes and mill buildings of the mines have disappeared, leaving behind large slag and mine waste piles with the distinctive rust color of copper gossan, with only basement depressions remaining to show the location of the many once booming business establishments. As noted by a journalist in 1861:

There is great life and activity to business here. The hum of busy mechanics amid the rising mass of buildings is cheerful and gives the outsider an idea of the importance of this new mineral discovery.

This time, however, the discovery is land for subdivision.


Ebbetts Pass History

By Judith Marvin

The present Highway 4 alignment follows the approximate route of an early emigrant trail over the Sierra Nevada that was improved in 1855-56 and known as the Big Tree Road and in the early 1860s as the Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike.  Originally a free trail, it became a toll road from 1864 through 1910, and then a free county road in 1911.  It was accepted into the state highway system in 1926 and portions were paved in the 1930s.  The road was realigned in the mid-1960s when the Bear Valley Ski Resort was opened, making it an all-w


Mokelumne Hill

The village of Mokelumne Hill nestles on a small flat surrounded by hills and within a few miles of the Mokelumne River. The first inhabitants of the village were the Miwok Indians who lived along the Mokelumne River, in nearby Happy Valley, in Chili Gulch, and elsewhere. The name Mokelumne was first recorded by Father Narcisco Duran as Muquelumnes in 1817; according to A.L. Kroeber, it is named from the Indian Mokelumni, “people of Mokel”; but it is also listed as a corruption of the Indian name for big river.

The first white men to reside in the area were reputedly the French trappers who settled in Happy Valley in the 1830s. The first known white men mining in the region were Captain Charles M. Weber and a company who mined along the Mokelumne River in the Autumn of 1848 between Big Bar and Lower Bar. A party of miners from Oregon who discovered Big Bar induced a provision wagon to drive to the area and this was so successful that a store was opened in November in Mokelumne Hill by Mr. Syree. Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson’s Regiment of New York Volunteers reached Mokelumne Hill in 1848 and Samuel Pearsall of the Regiment was the first to discover gold in Mokelumne Hill on the north side of Stockton Hill. In later years Colonel Stevenson claimed to have been the first alcalde of the town.


Mountain Ranch (El Dorado)

Mountain Ranch (formerly, El Dorado and El Dorado Town) is a census-designated place (CDP) in Calaveras County, California, United States. The population was 1,557 at the 2000 census. The town is registered as California Historical Landmark #282. The town center is quite small with less than 50 people living in it, the 5 mile square area surround the town accounts for the balance of the population. Mountain Ranch’s post office was established in 1858. In 1868, it was moved to another town called El Dorado Camp 1.5 miles south; as there was already an El Dorado post office in California, El Dorado Camp became known as Mountain Ranch.



The history of Murphys is typical of many other towns in the California foothills, with their booms and busts, colorful characters, and almost century-long dependence on mining. The prosperity of the communities was first based upon the rich placer gold found in Murphys/Angels Creek and its tributaries and their drainages. It wasn’t long, however, before the community had become a trading center for the neighboring mines.


San Andreas

The area that is now San Andreas had been inhabited by Native Americans for several thousand years before the discovery of gold in 1848, when the first gold seekers traveled up the Calaveras River and its tributaries in search of the precious metal. A reporter for the San Andreas Independent recounted its Euroamerican beginnings:

In the winter of 1848, a few Mexicans encamped at the works of the Gulch (since called San Andreas) about one-fourth of a mile above where the town now stands, and commenced working in the bed of the Gulch by sinking holes and working out with bateas. In the fall of 1849, their number was considerably increased, but the place was not looked upon as worthy of any great note as a mining locality. In the winter of 1849, or spring of 1850, a few Americans came in and commenced operations in the main gulches, which soon had the tendency to bring in others.

In the meantime, the Mexican population continued to increase until, in the winter of 1850, they numbered 1,000, most of them camping on the hill where the town of San Andreas is now located. On all sides were seen small tents, such as usually designated any important mining locality in the prosperous days of 1848-1850 [San Andreas Independent, September 24, 1856].

By the fall of 1850, surface gravels in and around San Andreas had been nearly worked out, but in 1852 dry diggings were discovered on Gold Hill, a mile west of town on a segment of the main Tertiary channel. The spring of the following year the town was described:

If one can imagine the booths and penny theatres on a race-course left for a year or two till they are tattered and torn, and blackened with the weather, he will have some idea of the appearance of San Andres. It was certainly the most out-at-elbows and disorderly-looking camp I had yet seen in the country.

The Mexicans formed by far the most numerous part of the population. The streets—for there were two streets at right angels to each other—and the gambling-rooms were crowded with them, loafing about in their blankets doing nothing. There were three gambling rooms in the village, all within a few steps of each other, and in each of them was a Mexican band playing guitars, harps, and flutes. Of course, one heard them all three at once, and as each played a different tune, the effect, as may be supposed, was very pleasing (Borthwick 1948:256).

That same year, however, the upstream segment of the “Old Channel” was discovered under Douglas Hill, and “the mines were in full blast—every gulch which would pay was developing its treasure into the strokes of industry” (San Andreas Independent, July 30, 1859), and with shafts and tunnels, gravel miners followed it through the main part of town, until by 1859 there were more than 80 gravel mines working (Limbaugh and Fuller 2004:20). The tunnel and deep rock-lined channel as well as the stacked placer piles in San Andreas Gulch, appear to date to this early period of mining activity in the project area.

By 1859 most of the good mines had been exhausted, and the last good pay made in 1857, with only surface miners satisfied with small wages working after that time. As a reporter noted:

But the stranger who is shown around through our broken-up and rock-strewn ravines, where only the solitary chimney or dismantled cabin show that they were once inhabited, will be astonished at the information he will receive of a “splendid claim” once here, a wonderful “prospect” obtained yonder, or somebody’s “pile” taken years ago from a spot now covered with heaps of dirt and gravel. But with the fortunate finders of the golden drops, the “glory of Zion is departed.” The gulches are being deserted and will soon be left desolate (San Andreas Independent, July 30, 1859).

By the mid-1860s only Chinese miners were mining in town, reworking the claims abandoned by the Mexican and Euroamerican miners.

The name of the town is presumed to have come from a tent church called San Andreas (now St. Andrews), first used by the Mexican population of the community. When visited by J.D. Borthwick in the spring of 1853, it was described as a canvas structure with a small wooden cross surmounted on the roof over the door. The only “fitting up” was an altar, mostly decorated with “California candlesticks,” old claret and champagne bottles. The church was mostly occupied by Mexicans, with the women nearest the altar. The officiating priest, a Frenchman, afterwards gave a sermon in Spanish, “which was listened to attentively” (Borthwick 1948:257).

In 1853 three stone buildings were erected, the first fireproof structures in the town. These included the American Hotel (present County Archives), the Sullivan & Corcoran Store, and the Kohlberg Store (neither extant). The fire of February 1856 burned all but the stone buildings on Main Street, but they were soon rebuilt, this time with more stone and brick. The brick I.O.O.F. Hall and Masonic Hall, constructed by Putney and Eppley, was one of these, as were the 1857 Cornell and Bowman Tin Shop and Tassaro Stone Store. The early streets were named Spanish Avenue, French Street, and China Street, attesting to the large foreign-born population.

The third major fire in June 1858 destroyed numerous commercial and private buildings and it was in the aftermath that most of the brick and frame Classical Revival buildings extant from the 1850s were constructed. Brick buildings included the 1858 McGlim Saloon, 1858 Crowley’s Empire Bakery and Restaurant, 1859 Ganz and Prag Store, and the 1859 Wolfstein Cigar Store. Several frame commercial and residential buildings were constructed at this time also.

Prosperity was brief, however, for a newspaper account in 1865 reported:

San Andreas may be considered as a kind of capital for the mining region of the Calaveras, and its present condition may be briefly described by saying that it has “caved in.” It has been a place of consequence. Many of the buildings are of brick or stone with iron shutters, etc., but most of these and many of the frame buildings are untenanted. Our landlord told us that there were none but Chinese working in the placers, and that, though there were quartz mines in the vicinity, they were mostly in the hand of persons who neither had the capital to work them, nor would care to use it for that purpose if they had. As to the placers giving out, I cannot say I am sorry for it. They make the face of the country a repulsive wilderness wherever they are worked, and they are so uncertain that the population which works them must always be migratory and unsettled in their habits [San Francisco Bulletin, May 14, 1865].

All this was soon to change, for in 1863 it had been voted to establish the county seat, which had previously been moved from Double Springs to Mokelumne Hill, to Jackson, and back to Mokelumne Hill, in San Andreas. It wasn’t until after a superior court decision, however, that the actual move was accomplished in 1867. The first court was held in Sharp’s Theatre, but soon after a new courthouse was erected at a cost of $14,300 by architect and builder D. L. Morrill.

This move created another building boom in the small community, for homes for the employees who were to staff the county offices, and for the additional business and professional people who moved to San Andreas to serve them. The town’s population remained relatively stable from the 1870s to the turn of the nineteenth century, with the next boom period coinciding with the opening of the hard rock gold mines north of town, primarily the Ford and the Fellowcraft, as well as in nearby Fourth Crossing and Gold Strike.

Miners and businessmen flocked to the area, but the boom was short lived. It was during this period, however, that the county government expanded their facilities. In 1893 they hired the eminent San Francisco Bay Area architect William Mooser to design the Romanesque Hall of Records on Main Street.

The next boom occurred with the opening of the Calaveras Cement Plant south of town in 1926. Homes were built by the employees, commercial properties were developed, property was subdivided, and many older buildings, including several of the historic brick and stone buildings on Main Street, were remodeled to reflect the Mission Revival architecture then in vogue.

From the 1950s through the present, more subdivisions have been constructed and the county government has continued to develop. Today, many of the county employees reside outside of San Andreas and commute to work, and since the cement plant closed in the early 1980s, the community has again entered into a more stable period of growth.


Valley Springs

Since the Gold Rush, the West Calaveras area has been Calaveras County’s Gateway to the Mother Lode. From stage stops along the route from Stockton to the San Joaquin & Sierra Nevada Railroad from Lodi that established Wallace, Burson and finally Valley Springs in 1884, the western section of the county has provided access to business and visitors to the Mother Lode.  The area has also boasted its own resources, whether gold in Jenny Lind and Paloma, copper in Campo Seco or agriculture throughout the region.  With Camanche, New Hogan, and Pardee reservoirs, the Tri-Dam area has most recently become a magnet for boating, fishing and camping. Today, while still a rural community, a residential real estate boom has made West Calaveras and Valley Springs a place to go to instead of a place to go through.


Upper Highway 26 Communities
By Patrick B. McGreevy, Glencoe, 2007

The up-county areas of Northern Calaveras have been isolated for nearly 100 years by distance and temperament. The steep mountain canyons made travel difficult, and the immigrants who stayed were self-reliant folks who liked the remoteness.

The topography of the up-country is characterized by high plateaus separated by steep gulches of the Mokelumne River drainage lying some 1,700 feet below. The plateaus with their gentle slopes and springs were pleasant places to live and supported Native American villages connected by a network of footpaths and river fords.