A Historic Gold Mining Park
Sutter Creek, California
Like many communities in the Sierra Foothills, Sutter Creek grew out of the great gold rush of 1849. Thousands of men of every nationality arrived seeking fortunes through toil, sweat, and luck. Americans from the East labored next to Chinese, Chileans, Englishmen, and Mexicans. They came to work the placer gold deposits of the mountain-fed streams around a location that would become known as Sutter Creek. A few succeeded in attaining the fast wealth that had been touted in the pamphlets and stories that had inspired their journeys, but many more failed.
Others turned to more traditional trades, realizing that there was more money to be made providing for the miners then there was in mining itself. They set up tents and erected small cabins to serve as bakeries, blacksmiths, boardinghouses, mercantiles, restaurants, saloons, and more. These individuals and the miners that they served were to become the founders of Sutter Creek.
As early as 1851, some of the miners had identified the source of the loose gold that they were recovering from the placer. Known as the Mother Lode, this source was in the bedrock, in and around Sutter Creek. Miners began to dig deeper into this rock and erected stamp mills to crush the ore and recover its gold.
It was soon apparent that the mines were showing no end in their ability to produce. Realizing that they were going to be here for awhile, local residents began to replace their tents and cabins with proper houses and commercial buildings.
As the town of Sutter Creek matured, it changed-sometimes rapidly. Stone, brick, and wood-framed false front buildings appeared along what would become Main Street. Heavy industry, in the form of several foundries-including Tibbits, Mannon, Fullen & McAdam, Donnelly & Howard and finally, Knight Foundry-developed to support the mines, mills, and fledging community. The headframes and mills dominated the town's landscape, their stamps pounding 24 hours a day. Men began to send home for their families and soon the streets were filled, not just with scruffy miners, but women and children, too. Schools and churches joined saloons and brothels. Farmers and ranchers moved in to take advantage of the rich soil and rolling grasslands cleared of trees by the timber-hungry mines and their boilers. Devastation also helped to reshape the town. Several times fire leveled much of Sutter Creek's business district, which was always immediately rebuilt and often improved. Much of what stands today was built after the last great conflagration in 1888.
Sutter Creek entered the 20th century with the mines and mills
going strong, including the Lincoln, Wildman, Mahoney, Old Eureka mines. Samuel Knight's famous foundry was manufacturing heavy equipment that was being shipped all over the western United States and as far away as Alaska, South America, and Africa. The hills were covered with livestock, orchards, and vineyards. Main Street was lined with neat and tidy bakeries, shops, banks, and even a theater for opera. Sutter Creek led the way in developing hydro-electric power for lighting and was supplying Amador City and Jackson as well. Another technology that would again change the face of Main Street was beginning to take shape. By the 1920's, most of the livery stables and blacksmiths had disappeared in the wake of the automobile revolution, replaced by gas stations, garages, paved streets, and auto dealerships.
Mines provided the foundation on which Sutter Creek was built, economically and socially. When the mines boomed so too the town, and when returns were low so was the mood of the town. The 20th century saw mining fortunes rise and fall around Sutter Creek. World War I and II brought temporary closures of the mines. The Great Depression had the opposite effect with abundant labor and low material costs providing a perfect environment for profitable mining operations.
The last operating mine in Sutter Creek-the Central Eureka-closed in the 1950's, bringing
the era of hardrock mining to an end. The Knight Foundry continued operations into the t(sic) and then only reluctantly closed. Agriculture remains strong, with cattle and vineyards vying for space on the rolling hillsides. Today the town is largely dependent on tourism, with thousands coming again from around the world to experience Sutter Creek's rich history. Many descendants of the original settlers of our community still live in the Sutter Creek and cherish the history of their ancestors who arrived over a century ago with their hopes and dreams.
Text and photos from Images of America-Sutter Creek
by Kimberly Wooten and R, Scott Baxter, Arcadia Publishing, 2006
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