San Andreas Area History – Gold Mining Towns
San Andreas was settled by Mexican Gold Miners in 1848. By 1850 over 1000 tents dotted the hillsides. The first church, built in 1852 was a canvas structure with a simple cross over the door designating it a church of the Roman Catholic faith. It was named for St. Andrew (San Andreas) and the name of the town was taken from this church.
In August 1852 the large San Andreas Nugget was found in a claim just north of where the town is located and sold to the Wells Fargo company for $12,000. In 1859 over $500,000 in gold dust was shipped. The channels were producing gold, although lack of water hampered the efforts of the miners until the miner’s ditches were completed.
Two infamous names from the Gold Rush often tied to San Andreas, are Black Bart and Joaquin Murieta. Handsome and debonair, Black Bart was a gentleman bandit who never harmed drivers or passengers and left bits of original verse behind signed “P08”. Black Bart held up the Milton-Sonora stage at Funk Hill on November 3, 1883, leaving several articles behind in his hurried flight. One of which was a handkerchief with a laundry mark traced back to a San Francisco Laundry where the mark was identified as belonging to C.E. Bolton one of the city’s leading citizens. He was arrested and brought back to San Andreas where he confessed to the robbery. His trial was held in the court room in San Andreas and he was sentenced to six years in San Quentin Prison. The jail where he was held still stands and is a part of the Calaveras County Historical Museum Complex.
Joaquin Murieta was considered by some to be a Mexican Robin Hood, who arrived in California in 1849, a Gold Rush hopeful. According to a fairly contemporary biography, sold as a dime novel in 1854, Murieta encountered racism, the stealing of his claim and raping of his wife, all of which contributed to his later bandit lifestyle. However, there is no corroboration from any reputable source. What we do know is that he led a gang of bandits that is reputed to have killed a dozen Anglo-Americans and more than two dozen Chinese. A bounty was placed on the heads of these outlaws and a band of Rangers formed by the California legislature to track them down. In 1853, they were allegedly found and two (including Joaquin Murieta) killed.
Gold Rush miners originally camped on the hillsides in small tents, and in the spring of 1851, the Bella Union was erected as the first frame building in San Andreas. This building served as the court room, saloon, gambling house, miners’ meeting hall and dance hall.
With the gold rush came other business ventures, including stores, stages, livery stables, saloons, dance halls, and gambling halls. As the people settled, married and had families, banks, grocery stores, hospitals, schools and social organizations were added. In addition, industry was added for building including saw mills, utility companies, and one of the largest enterprises, the Calaveras Cement Company.
San Andreas became the County Seat in 1866, and it remains the County Seat today. The Government Center, located on Mountain Ranch Road, was originally built in 1966 and has expanded over the years, recently adding a state of the art court house and jail facility.
San Andreas boasts two museums; the Calaveras County Museum Complex on historic Main Street and the Red Barn Museum. The museum complex on historic Main Street, open 10-4 daily, is housed in the Hall of Records and Court House buildings, and includes the upstairs portion of the Odd Fellows and Masonic Hall built in 1856.
The Red Barn Museum, open Thursday – Sunday 10-4 is located at the Government Center and is housed in a former dairy barn that serviced the County Hospital once located on those grounds. This museum reflects the rich history of Calaveras County and its residents
San Andreas Area History: Historic Walk Tour
- The Red Brick Saloon – 6 North Main Street Popularly known as Gooney’s Saloon for one of its owners, Gooner Everson, this building dates back to 1858. In June of 1858, there was a fire that destroyed much of downtown San Andreas. The land was purchased after the fire for $800, and the brick building constructed for use as a saloon. In later years, the building served as a dry goods, liquor and tool store, a saloon and harness shop, a jewelry store, harness shop and office, and finally returned to its original use as a saloon and restaurant.
- Cornell and Bowman Tin Shop and Hardware Store – 10 North Main Street This building survived the fire of June, 1858 and is one of the oldest buildings in San Andreas. It was operated as a tin shop, plumbing and hardware shop until 1898 when it was used for storage until 1922. It was then used as law offices as well as being used by the Central Bank of Calaveras County until the 1950’s. The interior of the main floor has an elaborate tin ceiling.
- Winkler’s Store – 14 North Main Street Originally built in 1858, this brick building was updated with a 1929 stucco façade. It served as the Bartholomew Crowley’s Empire Bakery and Restaurant, and through the years was used as a drug store as well as an Express Office, saloon, general store, and the San Andreas Post Office. It became Winkler’s Store in the 1920’s.
- Odd Fellows’ and Masonic Hall – 22 North Main Street Built in 1856, this is the second oldest commercial building in San Andreas. The upper floor was used as the lodge hall and the lower floor was rented out as a store, while the basement held a billiard table and saloon with refreshments. By 1881, the building was owned jointly by the I.O.O.F. and the Masonic Lodge #78. In 1900, the building was sold to Calaveras County and was combined with the Hall of Records for use as offices and meeting rooms. The lower floor of this building is now used by the Calaveras Arts Council as an office and gallery, while the upper floor is part of the Calaveras County Museum operated by the Calaveras Historical Society. The basement is currently used as storage for the Calaveras County Archives.
- Hall of Records – 30 North Main Street This two story building with iron doors and marble stairs leading to the entrance, was built in 1893 as an addition to the County Courthouse, located directly behind it. The Auditor’s and Recorder’s Offices were on the second floor and various other county offices occupied the lower floor. Today, the lower floor of the Hall of Records building houses the Calaveras Historical Society offices, the Calaveras County Museum bookstore and gift shop, and the upper floor features many displays for the Museum.
- Calaveras County Courthouse – 30 North Main Street (rear) The Calaveras County Courthouse was built in 1867 and was originally set back from Main Street with a turnstile at the entrance. It was the fifth Courthouse to serve Calaveras County since it was established as one of California’s original counties. Built at a cost of $14,300, the brick building served as a courtroom, jail, sheriff’s office, and offices for the auditor, clerk, superintendent of schools, assessor, and treasurer. Black Bart, the notorious stage coach robber, was tried and convicted in this courtroom before he was sent to San Quentin to serve his sentence. The building now is part of the Calaveras County Museum, and the courtroom is occasionally still used as a meeting or jury room by the County.
- Raggio Courthouse Saloon – 46 North Main Street The saloon was built in 1858 and had been almost continuously operated as a saloon by various owners until fairly recently when it was turned into offices. It was known as the “Courthouse Saloon” for many years, and much of the courthouse business over the years is said to have taken place there due to its proximity to the Courthouse next door.
- John Steel’s Bootmaker and Cobbler Shop – 48 North Main Street This small frame building was built shortly after the fire of 1858 and was originally occupied as a barber shop. In February of 1863, the building was sold to John Steel and D. Johnson and was a boot and shoe store. By 1881, John Steel was the sole owner and operated the John Steel’s Bootmaker and Cobbler Shop for 56 years. The shop has been converted into an office space, and is used as such today.
- Calaveras County Archives – North Main Street This one story stone building was constructed in 1855 by Joseph Zwinge on the site of his original American Hotel of 1853, a tent building. It has served many people over the years in the various businesses that have operated there including the American Bakery and Restaurant, Jenkins Brothers Hotel, the county library, the county museum, the Chamber of Commerce and today houses the Calaveras County Archives. It is the oldest remaining building in San Andreas, having survived the fires of 1856 and 1858, and is the only remaining building built completely of stone.
- Dr. Robertson’s Drug Store – 50 North Main Street This narrow rectangular building was originally 12’ x 25’ and made of brick, built in 1859. It was used as a cigar store for many years until Dr. Robertson with Mr. Friedberger purchased it and used it as his medical office and drug store. This building has most recently been used as a realty office.
- Blewett’s Café (now Cornerstone Church) – 52 Main Street Originally, this building was two buildings, one built in 1895 and the other built in 1897. Operating within the buildings over the years were a dry goods store, a tailor, doctor’s offices, a dentist’s offices, a drug store, the San Andreas Theatre, and Blewett’s Café, a popular eatery. The Blewett’s lived in the upstairs while the restaurant was downstairs, along with Judge Blewett’s office. This building was converted in the 1980’s into offices, and boasts one of the only private wheelchair lifts in the county. The building is now operating as a church.
- Calaveras Prospect Printing Office – 60 North Main Street Estimated to be built in 1884, this one story building was the home and printing office of Clarence Getchell, the publisher of the Calaveras Prospect. A water tower in the rear of the structure has since been converted into a house, while the front building now houses a hair salon and offices.
- C.M. Whitlock Brick Building – 41 North Main Street The original building was a one story brick structure constructed in 1859 for use as a store and by 1868 the building was used for selling cigars, stationery and by agents of the Wells, Fargo & Co. and Union Telegraph Company. In 1897, the second story was added to house the law offices that were to be conveniently located to the Courthouse building across the street.
- Dasso Store/Tiscornia Store – 35 North Main Street Originally a one story structure built in 1856, this building survived the fire of 1858 and was operating as a general merchandise store until 1924. The building was then sold and a second story was added over the original stone store to house part of Treat’s Hotel. This building has now been converted to offices, primarily used by local attorneys.
- Black Bart Inn/Treat’s Hotel – 31 North Main Street Built in 1893, this two story frame building was used as an office building, with grain storage on the first floor and offices on the second. Later, the first floor became a General Store with living quarters upstairs. In the 1920’s, the Bon Ton Chop House was located on the lower floor. In 1926, after the famed Metropolitan Hotel burned down, William T. Treat purchased the property to create a hotel for the community. There were a total of 24 rooms, 10 with baths. This building is now part of the Black Bart Inn, with a restaurant and bar downstairs, and offices and apartments upstairs.
- H. G. Allen Store and Post Office – 15 North Main Street This one story structure is estimated to have been built in 1860 with a stone foundation. It was operated as a barber shop, a bakery, a store, a post office, a telegraph office, and in 1902 as the Miner’s Saloon.
- Calaveras Citizen/Prospect/Enterprise Office – 11 North Main Street The building is a one story brick structure built in 1859. It was built as a dry goods store, and by 1873 it was a picture gallery and office for a few years until it returned to its original use as a store. The building housed the Calaveras Citizen during the 1880’s, and the Calaveras Enterprise and Lodestar operate there today.
- Snyder House/Robin’s Nest Bed & Breakfast – 247 West Saint Charles Street This home was built in 1895 by John J. Snyder, the District Attorney of Calaveras County in that year. He built it for his bride, whom he married in December of that year, and it was listed as “one of the finest residences in the mountains.” This home is now operated as a bed and breakfast.
- Ham Luddy House – 23 West Saint Charles Street This home, now converted into an art studio, was built in 1910 on the site of some early day “China Houses”. Its style was unique to the day, as it features “Chicago” windows and bungalow siding, while the other homes of the time were Queen Anne style.
- Odd Fellows and Masonic Hall – 5 W. Saint Charles Street This two-story building with arched window openings was built in 1900 for $1,079. In addition to being used as the meeting hall for the Odd Fellows and Masonic Lodge #78, this building was also used by the Calaveras Union High School from 1905 until the new school was built in 1928. The building is still used by the Masons for their meetings, and there are shops on the lower floor.
- Dragomanovich Store – 40 East Saint Charles Street This brick construction building was originally built in 1861 and remodeled in 1920. It was built as a storehouse for a nearby lumberyard, and then was used as a warehouse. In 1926, the building was sold and operated as a store until 1956. This office is now being used for a dental office.
- Thorn Mansion – 87 East Saint Charles Street The Thorn house is a two-story brick building built in 1861. This home served as the residence of Benjamin Kent Thorn and his wife, Annie. Ben Thorn served as a deputy sheriff before becoming sheriff in 1867, and he served ten terms as sheriff from 1867-1902. The Thorn Mansion is now privately owned and used for private parties and weddings.
- Wiggin House – 65 East Saint Charles Street Built in 1897, this house was built by Mrs. Sarah B. Wiggin for use as a rental unit. It was the typical style of the 1890’s Queen Anne Cottages built in San Andreas as rental units during the boom period of mining in the town. This building is now used for offices.
San Andreas Area History: Sheep Ranch
Outside of San Andreas is a charming little town called Sheep Ranch, once home to15 saloons, two churches and five gold mines, one of which was owned by William Randoph Hearst’s father, George. Sheep farming was the principal industry here until gold was found in 1860. Today, you’re likely to find sheep grazing in the center of this sleepy little town.
San Andreas Area History: Mountain Ranch
Originally known as El Dorado, this town established during the Gold Rush is now beautiful ranch and farmland. However, part of what is now Mountain Ranch was once known as Cave City – named for a cave discovered there in either 1849 or 1850. The cave was opened, after some development, as a tourist attraction by its discoverer, Captain Joseph Taylor. In those days, a pinch of gold dust was charged as an entry fee and visitors illuminated their tour with candlelight.
In those early days, Mammoth Cave (as it was known) was visited by many famous people, some of whom inscribed their names in the walls of a cave chamber known as The Registry Room. One notable visitor, John Muir, the great naturalist who founded the Sierra Club, wrote about his visit in lyrical detail in his 1880 book: The Mountains of California.
Cave City’s cave, later renamed as California Cavern, and now a State Historic Landmark, is still open today. Guided walk tours are given daily in their dry season, and here you can learn about the curious ways the locals used the cave through history. It was the site of church services, weddings, secret political meetings, a bar and was even reputedly the hideout of Black Bart. Before the arrival of westerners, drafts from the cave’s cool interior made its entrance a great spot for Indian grinding holes, by providing a natural source of air conditioning.
San Andreas Area History: West Point
A California Historical Landmark on Highway 26 near Main Street in West Point declares that the area was named by Kit Carson as he traveled with Captain John Fremont searching for a pass over the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It’s a beautiful, rural area of the county that was a thriving trading post prior to the Gold Rush, and housed famous author, Bret Harte for a time.
West Point, formerly Indian Gulch, was started when a group of adventurers showed up in the 1850s looking for gold. It became quite famous as a rich pocket mining district, where gold could be found in large quantities in a relatively short period of time – in a matter of hours – according to at least one report.
Today, you will find some remains of those rough and ready days, and hunting and fishing (there is even a trout hatchery) are good in the area. It is a great place to wander backroads for a bit of quiet and beautiful views.