Gold Rush Nostalgia on California's Route 49

The romance and excitement of the gold rush have not been forgotten along California's Route 49.  

Come aboard as Magic Carpet Journals travels there! 

by M. Maxine George

WLeger Hotel, Mokeolumne Hill about 100 years do coastal Californians go for weekend getaways? They head for the hills - the same hills that lured gold seekers from all over the world during the famous California Gold Rush, in the middle of the nineteenth century. The peace and tranquility of this interesting setting are the magnets that now provide the irresistible attraction. Route 49 is permeated with an aura of the history, romance, and the mystique of the early days of the old west. The communities abound with tales of adventure, uncanny luck, violence and heroism, all the elements of thrilling wild west stories.

Gold was first discovered there in 1848, however California was scarcely settled at that time, so only those locals who heard about it via word of mouth, appeared to search for riches that year. The next year, 1849, word began to filter across the country. After an announcement about the gold find was made by the President in the US Congress, word spread like wildfire, far and wide. The result was that 1849 saw thousands gravitate to the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in their quest for gold. They came not only from the eastern part of the continent but throngs appeared from across the seas. Small settlements exploded into thriving communities which supplied the rapidly mushrooming population of prospectors and miners. The city of San Francisco was spawned from a settlement of 500 people to become the bustling seaport city needed to bring in people and supplies to the hills that crawled with people, much as anthills crawl with ants.


Today the highway that leads you through the old gold country is appropriately named "Route 49." This highway wends it's way through the foothills along the old gold rush trail, connecting the picturesque old towns that have now become sleepy little communities whose inhabitants have preserved much of their historic heritage. Each town positively oozes with it's own tales of those exciting days. During a visit to the Leger Hotel, in Mokelumne, we were told the tale of a ghost, who is said to haunt those halls. It seems that the owner of this establishment, one George Leger, was known to have an eye for the ladies. He came to an untimely end. Although his body was discovered in his own bed, his unnatural demise is believed to have occurred elsewhere in the building, at the hands of a jealous rival for the affections of a local lovely. Visitors often feel a cold chill when passing just outside George's bedroom door.

Does George still linger here? Untimely deaths were not unusual in this establishment. Shootings regularly occurred in the bar and in the surrounding town. If you stroll down the street today, you can sit in a small, tree-shaded park amid a setting infamous for violence and mayhem. This now peaceful town was once noted for the number of murders that were perpetrated there each week by the itinerant gold seekers.

The town of Columbia was officially proclaimed a national monument to commemorate those bygone days. There visitors may have a look at the carefully restored town, giving an insight into the area that once came within a whisker Washing hanging over main street of Angel's Campof becoming the capital of the fledgling state of California. While some of the carefully preserved buildings are open only to viewing, other shops conduct business along the main street, much as they might have a century ago. Entertainment is still staged in the playhouse.

As you wend your way along Route 49, through towns like Sutter Creek, Jamestown, Sonora and Angels Camp among others, you will find each town displaying it's heritage with pride. The clean streets are lined with many old businesses and homes. Each community has it's own historic society dedicated to the preservation of the wonderful old buildings and the fascinating stories from that bygone era. Mark Twain's story about the Jumping Frog Contest of Calaveras County reputedly originated in a bar in Angel's Camp.

For those looking for a quiet getaway to an interesting place, California's Old Gold Country on "Route 49" provides a fascinating variation.

Story and picture by M. Maxine George

For further information about "Route 49" contact:

California Trade and Commerce Agency, Division of Tourism 

801 K Street, Suite 1600, Sacramento, CA 95814 

Telephone: (916) 323-9882        Fax: (916) 322-3402 

Calaveras Visitors Bureau    

P.O.  Box 637, Angels Camp, CA  95222 

Telephone:    (209) 736-0049       

Fax: (209)736-9124 

Tuolumne County Visitor's Bureau 

P.O. Box 4020, Stockton Street, 

Sonora CA  95370 

Telephone: (209) 533-4420  Fax: (209) 533-0956                           


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Last Updated on January 06, 2006 by M. Maxine George editor.  1999 Magic Carpet Journals. All rights reserved