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The Gold Rush Heritage of Sutter Creek

While it has always been presumed that Euro-Americans visited and even settled areas of the Sierra Foothill region prior to the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848, there is only one case where there is written proof that this happened — at a place called Pine Woods, near today’s Sutter Creek. In 1846, John Sutter sent a number of men out from his fort on the American River to search for a source of lumber. One such party discovered an excellent stand of sugar pine about 45 miles east-southeast of the fort on a ridge above two creeks. It is told the settlement started because of a single tent raised there for miners to use on rainy Sundays when they could not get to Jackson or Drytown.

Two years later, the northerly of the creeks would be named for a wealthy Californian who tried his hand at placer mining there — Jose Amador. The southerly of the two creeks would retain the name given to it by the workers at Pine Woods — Sutter’s Creek. By the mid-1850′s, mining interests had moved from the placer gravels of streams to the quartz ledges of the hillsides, and until the mines were shut down by executive order in 1942 Sutter Creek was a full-fledged mining town with some of the richest “deep rock” mines in the Mother Lode. After World War II, and with the centennial of Gold Discovery in 1949, the town quickly turned its attention to tourism, maintaining its Gold Rush heritage and its classic Old West facade. Today, Sutter Creek continues to attract visitors from around the world, drawn by a rich history and small town hospitality.Yes, Sutter did visit the stream in 1848, directing his Indian workers in a search for gold, but he didn’t stay long — Sutter was a land baron, not a miner. Others did stay, however, finding some success in the placer gravels downstream from the old saw pits. By 1854, when Amador County was formed from that part of Calaveras County north of the Mokelumne River, a significant camp had grown up along the stream. Boasting an impressive hotel and several stores and restaurants, Sutter Creek became an incorporated town that September.

Sutter Creek’s rich history includes many famous names like Sutter himself, but the story is incomplete without mentioning two names, first, Hetty Green the one time richest woman in the world (nicknamed “the witch of Wall Street”) was once the owner of the Old Eureka Mine located at the foot of the sweeping curve of Highway 49 just south of town. Second, Leland Stanford for whom the distinguished university is named. Stanford, received stake in Sutter Creek’s Union Mine, (later renamed the Lincoln), for payment of debt. After many discouraging failures at the mine, and almost ready to call it quits the Lincoln Mine hit the proverbial “Mother Lode”. With unlimited finances behind him Stanford became a Railroad baron, a U.S. Senator and eventually Governor of California.

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