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Angels Camp: Trails, Roads, and Rails

Most of the major highways and corridors in California followed the routes of Indian trails, based largely on resource location.  In Calaveras County these routes were generally followed by the early explorers and cartographers, and included State Route 49 and probably portions of State Route 4.  They were also used by the miners and prospectors who first penetrated the region in search of gold.  With the advent of the automobile and other gasoline-powered vehicles, there grew a statewide interest in transportation and the early roads were widened, improved, paved, and eventually accepted into the state highway system. 

The earliest routes into the gold regions followed long-established Mi-Wuk Indian trails.  The first route into Angels Camp and the Stanislaus Diggings followed the Antelope Trail, also known as the “Old Stockton Trail,” and “Marshall’s Trail.”  The most direct route from Stockton to Angels Camp, Murphys, and the Stanislaus River ferries, it was promoted by Ben Marshall, one of Calaveras County’s early sheriffs.  By 1854 it had been improved to accommodate wagon traffic.  Soon known as the Angels Road, it crossed Salt Spring Valley and went up the newly constructed Carmen Grade and over Antelope Pass to Angels, Murphys, and other higher camps (Fuller, Marvin, and Costello 1996:9-11). 

After trails were improved into roads, most of the early travelers to Angels Camp and Altaville traveled by rail or steamer to Stockton, then over the Stockton to Angels Camp Road (present State Route 4) (GLO 1871).  Stagecoaches departed Stockton daily for the Southern Mines, and after the advent of the railroad to Milton, eastward by coach and horses operated by T.J. Matteson of Murphys and others (Elliott 1885:28).

Transportation to the Central Valley and Pacific Coast became much easier after the Angels Branch of the Sierra Railway was completed.  A branch of the Sierra Railway, established in Tuolumne County, the line reached Jamestown in 1897, Sonora in 1899, Summersville in 1900, and Angels Camp in 1902.  Crossing the Stanislaus River by Wood’s Ferry (Melones), the route continued past Carson Hill to a junction with the Murphys Road just above the railroad’s Angels Camp depot site, about a mile south of town.  The road from there to Main Street was lined with lumber and feed yards, livery stables, and mine dumps.  It was largely due to the mines and their freight potential that the Sierra Railroad Company had gone to the enormous expense of building its Angels Branch from Jamestown (Deane 1960:76). 

The depot and turntable were not located on Main Street, but on a conveniently level site from which to turn tracks toward Murphys and the Big Trees to access the huge stands of timber in the high country.  It was estimated that over 3000 people came from Calaveras County towns on September 10, 1902, to see the first scheduled railroad train.  At the time, the Calaveras Prospect said:


The railroad will bring new men and ideas into our midst, and arouse us to the fact that we have been asleep while the world had moved along and left us.  We should start by becoming better acquainted with our neighbors who, though only across the canyon, have had the benefit of rails longer than we—but who shall surpass us now (in Deane 1960:80).


Unfortunately for that writer, and Angels Camp, the railroad never reached the stands of timber in the high country, the mines shut down in World War I, and, along with the Great Depression, passenger service was discontinued on the railroad in 1939, along with the Angels Branch. 

Present State Route 49 was designated as such in 1934 when the state signed most of its routes.  It is 295 miles long, and extends from Oakhurst in the south to Vinton in the north, and passes through the most important historic mining communities of 1849, for which it was named.  The route retains many of its Gold Rush-era resources, including two National Historic Landmark Districts and numerous properties and districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places, California Register of Historic Resources, and California Points of Historic Interest, as well as other related structures and sites. 

When designated, it utilized the early Gold Rush routes known primarily for their destinations (i.e. Stockton to Sonora Road, Angels Camp to Sonora Road, Mokelumne Hill to San Andreas Road, etc.), connecting the major towns along its route under one sobriquet.  Also known as the “Golden Chain Highway,” it was proposed as a National Heritage Corridor in 2001 (National Park Service 2001).  State Route 4 was realigned west of downtown Angels Camp by Caltrans in 2010 and its original route south of town was redesignated Vallecito Road, the historic name, as it coursed easterly to Vallecito and points beyond (Beauvais 1871). 

Within the commercial center of town, streets included Main Street, the most common name of streets throughout the United States, with the southern section to Hardscrabble Street designated just Main or South Main Street, and that to the north designated North Main Street.  Rasberry Lane was named for Bennager Rasberry who owned the Rasberry mine at the top of the lane and resided there with his wife Maria and their family.  At the south end of town, the original China Street which coursed through Chinatown, was renamed Birds Way for the Bird family who developed the area in the 1920s and 1930s after the Chinese departed.  The eastern portion of Hardscrabble Street (named for its steepness) was originally known as Central Alley, so-named because it was in the center of Angels Camp at the time.  Finnegan Lane was named for James Finnegan (Finnigan), a local miner who owned a home at the southwest corner of Main Street and Finnegan Lane, above Angels Creek.  He was secretary of the Miners League when it was organized in 1860, and a constable in town.  He died in the early 1860s, when the lane was known as the Road to the Broderick Mine.  Church Street, originally Douglas Street, was named for the Congregational Church, constructed in 1904, at its confluence with Main Street (Beauvais 1871, Sanborn 1905, 1922, 1929).  Other streets included Gold Cliff, which led to the Gold Cliff mine; Bush Street, for Ephraim Bush who constructed one of the first homes on the street; and Cosgrove Lane, for the Cosgrove family. 


By Judith Marvin, 2011

Study from: Historic Resources Inventory and Evaluations, Historic Commercial Center, Angels Camp, Calaveras County, California.  Prepared for Planning Director, Angels Camp, By Judith Marvin and Terry Brejla, Foothill Resources, Ltd.  April 2011.



 Deane, Dorothy Newell, 1960    Sierra Railway.  Howell-North.  Berkeley, California. 

Elliott, Wallace W., 1885    Calaveras County, Illustrated and Described.  W.W. Elliott, Oakland, California. Reprinted 1976 by the Calaveras County Historical Society, San Andreas.

Fuller, Willard P., Judith [Marvin] Cunningham, and Julia Costello

1974    A Tour of the Royal Mine, 1903.  Las Calaveras 22(4).  Calaveas County Historical Society, San Andreas.

1900    Carson Hill and Its Gold Quartz Mills, Calaveras County, California.  Submittted to Carson Hill Gold Mining Corporation, Altaville.