With its existence originally based upon placer mining, Angels Camp had a population of over 300 by the spring of 1849. 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. Altaville, also known as Forks-in-the Road and Cherokee Diggings, took its present name at a town meeting in 1857.
There was intermittent mining activity through the 1860s, and another small boom in the 1870s, but little sustained mining until the late 1880s. At this time, advanced mining and milling technologies and the availability of foreign capital combined to warrant large-scale underground mining. The preeminence of mining ensured that all other local industries would be auxiliaries. Transportation, lumbering, water, power generation, and ranching have all been directed and influenced by the mining industry. Although not a consistent employer, the industry experienced several significant revivals, particularly in the late nineteenth century and again in the early twentieth, and provided the lifeblood of the Angels Camp area.
By the 1880s, Altaville, Spanish for “upper or higher town or village,” boasted a hotel, foundry, fairgrounds, livery stable, wagon making shop, blacksmith, dance hall, stores and saloons, as well as fine residences. In addition, several important quartz mines and mills coursed southerly down Main Street, while the Catholic, Public, and Serbian Orthodox cemeteries were established on the Stockton Road.
Established by Andy Gardiner and J.M. Wooster in 1854, the Altaville Foundry was purchased by David Durie Demarest in the early 1860s, operated in the 1890s by his son David Clarence, then purchased by Lawrence Monte Verda in 1928. The foundry manufactured a complete line of mining and milling machinery, shipping to other countries as well as mining regions throughout the U.S. later operating as California Electric Steel, its site is now occupied by the Angels Camp Town Ceter shopping mall.
Finally, most of the mines in Angels Camp and Altaville 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 Carson Hill Gold Mining Company provided steady employment until it, too, closed during World War II.
The City of Angels, the only incorporated town in Calaveras County, was formed by joining Altaville and Angels Camp in 1912, reflecting the hopes of that era for increased prosperity. Although slumbering for several decades, the rolling hills that once grazed cattle are no home to new families who are making the foothills their home.
By Judith Marvin, 2009