Experience Columbia, California
Visiting downtown Columbia today is much like walking into a prosperous California Gold Rush mining town, circa 1857.
You can visit the Wells Fargo Express building, see its scales for weighing gold, and
ride a horse-drawn stagecoach. You can visit the Matelot Gulch mining supply store, pan for
gold, and climb around the marble rocks.
Columbia also has many events throughout the year. See the list of upcoming events at the far right column. You can also see
videos of some past events by clicking on the "Videos" button above.
Above all, you can see historic buildings, with many including exhibits. Use the
to explore downtown--its map with pop-up photos as you move the mouse allows you to take a
virtual walk down the street.
You can see a live play at the Fallon Theatre. Coming is "Church Basement 2", "The Sound of Music", "Mark Twain's A Murder, A Mystery, and a Marriage", and "Sanders Family Christmas".
You can take an aerial tour of Yosemite in a small plane from the Columbia Airport.
fish at the Springfield Trout Farm.
Columbia also has many restaurants where you can have breakfast, lunch, or dinner, from the
historic Black Bart's Inn and City Hotel Restaurant to Mexican and family/Greek food outside the park.
You can also have beer and other alcoholic drinks or sarsparilla at the three saloons in Columbia.
A Tour of Columbia, California
as it looked in 1858
History of Columbia, California
The town of Columbia began as the result of some clothes and blankets that had become wet.
A party of miners led by a Maine physican named Thaddeus Hildreth had been prospecting without
success in Calaveras County for a month. On their way back to Woods Crossing they spent the night
camping. Overnight it rained, and the next morning, while waiting for their clothes and blankets to dry, one member of the party
decided to pan in a nearby gulch. He found gold, and soon all five men in the party were finding substantial amounts of
the yellow metal. The date was
March 27, 1850, more than two years after the initial find at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento. Other miners, hearing of the discovery,
soon arrived, and within a few months the area was a thriving tent city of more than a
thousand miners. They named it "Columbia".
There were difficulties. Toward the end of the summer the creek dried up and there was no
water to wash the gold from the gravel and dirt. Rains that winter allowed mining to resume, but
it was a dry winter and the water again ran out. An initial effort to build a ditch to
a nearby creek helped, but it was not until the ditch was extended, with wooden flumes, to the
Stanislaus River that there was a reliable source of water. Once that happened, the town
thrived. The gold was rich, and by the end of 1852 there were perhaps 5,000 people and one
hundred and fifty businesses in the town. By 1857 it had 27 restaurants with some of the finest
chefs from Europe.
Fires hit Columbia in July, 1854 and again in August, 1857, devastating the town, which intially had only
wooden buildings. Each time Columbia was rebuilt, bigger
and grander, with new buildings increasingly stone with iron shutters to protect against fire.
The town also acquired two hand-pumper fire engines and built underground cisterns to store
water for use against fire.
By the 1870s, the gold began to be played out, and the population of Columbia dwindled. In 1945,
the California legislature created Columbia State Historic Park. Existing historic buildings were restored, and new replica buildings
were constructed from old photos and plans, leading to the town you can see today.
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