I’ve spent many years doing various craft shows in the area and now I travel through out the region selling ads for the wedding/event publication I represent. So, that’s probably why I keep on writing about this wonderful area
Chaming, unique and historic are just a few descriptions of these wonderful little communities. In this article I’ll mention some information about a four of my favorite and towns in the Gold Country.
This is the first town you’ll find if you’re entering Tuolumne County on Hwy. 108 from the Modesto/Merced/Oakdale area. Its population is less than 2,500 people but it’s a very interesting and fun place to visit. Located only three miles from Sonora, this historic community is full of antique stores, unique gift shops, B & B’s, a variety of eateries and the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. I recall doing a craft show in that very park on a hot July weekend. Late in the afternoon, I returned to my charming B & B just a few blocks away, took a refreshing shower and drove to Sonora for dinner. Imagine my surprise when I drove out of the parking lot of my restaurant to total darkness. (The only lights around was the single block where the restaurant was located.) Elsewhere, there wasn’t a light except for the moon, the stars and car headlights. I drove, very slowly, back to Jamestown, to my lovely room, which was pitch dark, and spent a very hot night with no lights or air conditioning, trying to sleep. When I got ready in the morning, there was still no electricity; I had needed flashlight in my room the night before. As I was driving home the next evening, I learned about the huge blackout that affected most of the western states. Apparently the little coffee shop I had dined at was in a tiny area with their utilities not tied into the main power grid.
Many of the buildings on the main street of Jamestown were built in the latter part of the 19th century. These are the balconied buildings which now house many of the current businesses in Jamestown, notably a profusion of antique shops.
The Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is the site for the workshops, roundhouse, steam locomotives and cars of the Sierra Railway which arrived in Jamestown in 1897. Steam train rides are available on weekends. (Visit railtown1897.org. for more details.)
Groveland is located on Hwy. 120, less than 30 miles from Yosemite National Park. This small historic community is a convenient place for visitors from the San Francisco Bay Area to access Yosemite.
Originally, Groveland and nearby Big Oak Flat were known as Savage’s Diggings. James Savage had discovered gold there in late 1848. In a couple of years, the community became known as Garrotte due to the swift, harsh frontier justice implemented from a large oak tree in what eventually became the town of Big Oak Flat.
It soon became a Gold Rush boom town. But by the 1870’s, the easy pickings were gone and Garrotte changed from a rowdy mining town comprised mainly of saloons and bordellos to a quiet community catering to cattle ranchers. Even back then, a trickle of tourists were starting to take the new Big Oak Flat Road to reach Yosemite Valley.
In 1875, city residents changed the name from Garrotte to Groveland. The newly renamed community of Groveland experienced a second gold rush with the advent of deep shaft mines and milling operations. That second gold rush petered out by about 1914, but another boom period was about to begin. San Francisco had received the approval of the US Congress to build the Hetch Hetchy Water Project and Groveland was chosen to be the location of the construction headquarters for the immense project.
After World War II, there was one more boom, but it was very short-lived. Over 20 lumber mills opened and occasional improvements to the Hetch Hetchy Water Project brought in new workers. However, Groveland itself suffered from a serious lack of water every year, as the area’s private wells and springs dried up over the hot summer months.
Finally, Groveland citizens united and formed their very own water system. Then developer, Boise Cascade, came in the mid 1960s to begin development of a new resort called Pine Mountain Lake. It had 4,000+ residential lots, a country club, a golf course, club, stables and an airport. Today, the area is booming with tourism. You can stay in charming country inns and romantic B & B’s, eat in a variety of dining spots, and visit interesting shops plus enjoy all the outdoor activities you can think of – golfing, white water rafting, kayaking, fishing, swimming, hiking and winter sports once the snow starts to fly in the nearby higher elevations. And, remember its proximity to Yosemite.
Twain Harte is a town is just a few miles above Sonora on Hwy. 108. It’s a tad cooler than Sonora in the summer; several years ago we needed to light a fire every night to heat our cabin on a weekend trip in the middle of summer.
The Eprosion House is a great place for dinner or a Sunday brunch. It’s also the location for a couple of excellent craft festivals held every summer and fall in the adjacent park. There are always topnotch artisans at these shows along with good live entertainment.
There is also a great grocery/drug store at the only shopping center in town (a couple of blocks left of the main highway). Here you’ll find an excellent custom butcher shop, a great bakery and a drug store which is a combination craft store, drug store, gift and antique shop and book store. I haven’t been there in about five years, but I’m assuming it’s all still there.
There are not a lot of motels in the area once you drive above Sonora. However, there are many, many unique cabins to rent in the region. I’ve stayed in several lovely cabins, all within 10 – 15 minutes from Twain Harte. There are also several areas to camp nearby.
The “City of Angels” historic community epitomizes the California Gold Rush. You’ll still enjoy the sight of stately Victorian Houses along the highway as you drive into town. It’s located on the scenic Golden Chain Highway 49 just high enough to be above most of the winter valley fog, the extreme summer heat and below most of the winter snow. A wonderful museum offers an excellent display of the golden heydays of the 49er Gold Rush.
In 1848 Henry Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode Island, opened a trading post after deciding it would be more profitable than digging for gold. At one time, there were as many as 4,000 miners working the surface gold of Angels. This source played out quickly, but hardrock mining kept the gold industry flourishing in the area. The entire town remains honeycombed with miles of mine tunnels.
Angels Camp’s population today is nearly 3,000. Its popular attractions include Moaning Caverns, an immense limestone miracle with a main cavern large enough to hold the Statue of Liberty, open to the public for trips and rappelling. It’s also a huge draw and a great place to stay for tourists visiting the Gold Country.
This Sierra town is also home to the famed “Jumping Frog Jubilee” held every spring at the nearby fairgrounds. If you plan to attend, please make reservations way in advance of that weekend as the entire region fills up quickly. The country’s most famous storywriter lived nearby. Mark Twain’s first published work “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County” made him a household name. Today, you’ll find reminders of this famous man…and frog… all over town.
Enjoy your visit(s) to these charming and unique little communities nestled in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of the California Gold Country. And, look for more articles from me about more communities in this area.