Calaveras Architecture

Image of Calaveras Architecture

The historically and architecturally significant buildings in Calaveras are diverse in style, as well as in method and period of construction. They are built of adobe, stone, brick, wood, or concrete and have sidings of brick, wood, stucco, and plaster. The architectural styles represented are Neoclassical, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Eastlake, Mission Revival, False-front commercial, Craftsman, Spanish Eclectic, Tudor Revival, Art Moderne, and various vernacular adaptations of all.

The first dwellings were the brush houses of the Mexicans and canvas tents of the miners, followed by the adobe homes and business establishments of the Sonorans (from the Mexican State of Sonora). Soon, however, more permanent wood structures were built, with the first frame houses constructed in the simple one-story vernacular Greek Revival or National Folk style. Commercial buildings were usually built close together on both sides of the main streets, one or two stories high, with gable roofs, front porches, and French doors. Fires and damage from earthquakes [and floods] destroyed many of the structures and buildings of those early days, and those that were not damaged through such actions were later razed in the name of “progress,” were inundated by reservoirs, abandoned and forgotten, or otherwise decreased in importance as settlements.

After many towns were destroyed by fires, the scourge of the Mother Lode in the early days, more affluent merchants began to rebuild in the more permanent brick or stone. Although many Americans built of stone, it was the Italian and French stonemasons, so experienced with this method of construction in their homelands, who built the majority of the lasting stone structures in the California foothills. They built commercial establishments, residences, basements, storehouses, outbuildings, ovens, walls, corrals, ditches, and numerous other structures with the abundant local schists, slates, marbles, and andesites.

As the camps became communities and women and children moved west to be with their menfolk, the appearance of the towns changed. Back streets were lined with one and two-story frame houses, picket fences delineated planted yards and gardens, and churches, schools, and social halls were constructed, usually in a simple Greek Revival style. Farmhouses dotted the landscape, surrounded by their attendant barns, bunkhouses, blacksmith shops, sheds, corrals, creameries, and springhouses.

During the 1880s and 1890s Second Gold Rush, numerous false-front commercial establishments, as well as Italianate, Eastlake, and Queen Anne residences were constructed. From the 1910s through the 1920s, Craftsman bungalows were built in communities and on ranches alike. During the late 1920s and 1930s, a romantic nostalgia for the Hispanic culture culminated in the Mission Revival and Spanish Eclectic styles, both in commercial and residential architecture. The immense popularity of the style, coupled with a period of economic development in the county, spurred many property owners to cover the facades of their original buildings with stucco in the Spanish Eclectic style.

Most of the residences and commercial establishments in the county were built by local carpenters and builders and in later years from pattern books and style guides, and not as high examples of any particular style. In most instances they were vernacular adaptations that do not conform to pure academic categories, commonly combining elements from several different design types or historical periods. However, no matter how ambiguous these vernacular buildings may appear in terms of style, they are, nonetheless, accurate reflections of the tastes at the time of their construction as well as an important indication of the building techniques and materials of their day, with a compatibility not often found in major cities and commercial centers.