From the monthly archives:

November 2009

Columbia: California Gold Rush Ghost Town

by Ted on November 16, 2009

Graphic: Illustration of the town of Columbia.Columbia was only one of hundreds of settlements that sprang up during the exciting years when the cry of "Gold! " brought Argonauts from all over the world to seek their fortunes in California. Located in the heart of the Mother Lode, a mile wide network of gold bearing quartz that extends 120 miles along the western edge of the Sierra Nevada, from Mariposa northward to Georgetown, Columbia yielded $87 million in gold at 1860’s prices.
Unlike many of these settlements, which have long since succumbed to fire, vandalism, and the elements, Columbia has never been completely deserted. Through the years it has retained much the same appearance as when miners thronged its streets.  On March 27, 1850, Dr. Thaddeus Hildreth, with his brother George and a handful of other prospectors, made camp near here. They found gold, and miners streamed in to share the wealth. Before the month was out Hildreth ‘s Diggings, a tent and shanty town housing several thousand miners, was created. Its original name was soon changed to American Camp and then, because that sounded too temporary, to Columbia.
Meanwhile, Columbia ‘s tents and shanties were being replaced with more permanent structures. Streets were laid out, and by the end of 1852 more than 150 stores, shops, saloons, and other enterprises were going strong. There was also a church, a Sunday School, a Masonic Lodge, and even a branch of the Sons of Temperance.
Wood had been the main construction material used in these buildings. In 1854, fire, the scourge of many mining towns, destroyed everything in Columbia ‘s central business district except the one brick building. When the town was rebuilt, locally produced red brick was used for thirty buildings. Iron doors and window shutters, and bricks laid on the buildings’ roofs were additional fire protection.
In July of 1855 the New England Water Company provided piped water for firefighting and domestic use. Seven cisterns, each with a capacity of about fourteen thousand gallons, were built under the streets. Some still store water for firefighting. The early pipes were used until 1950, when the state installed a new water system.
In 1857 a second fire destroyed all the frame structures in the 13-block business district, as well as several of the brick buildings. Rebuilding began immediately, and the citizens decided to form a volunteer fire department. In 1859 the fire department acquired the “Papeete”, a small, fancifully decorated fire engine. Its arrival in Columbia was the occasion for much fanfare and celebration. A year later the Monumental, a larger hand-pumper, was added.

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After 1860, when the easily mined placer gold was gone, the town began to decline. In the 1870s and ’80s many of the vacated buildings were torn down and their sites mined, and Columbia ‘s population dropped from a peak of perhaps six thousand to about five hundred.
The town continued to survive, but not prosper for many years.  During the 1920’s ideas began to arise concerning the inclusion of Columbia into the new and growing California State Park System. By this time the town was quite run down. Many of the structures had become public nuisances and were falling down.
In 1945  the State Legislature passed a bill appropriating $50,000 to be matched by public subscription for the acquisition of lands and buildings in the old business section of Columbia. Thus, was Columbia State Historic Park born.


Yosemite—-Free Admission Veterans Day

by Ted on November 9, 2009

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Date: November 5, 2009

In celebration of Veterans Day, Yosemite National Park, and all other National Park sites across the country, will offer free admission Wednesday, November 11, 2009 for all visitors in honor of current members and retired members of the United States armed forces and their families.  Free admission is being observed by all public lands managed by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.

This fee free day has been observed since 2006 when former Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne made the announcement.  Waiving entrance fee waivers to all public lands on Veterans Day is one way to show appreciate for the millions of men and women who fight to keep America’s public lands accessible to all Americans.

Fees being waived for Veterans Day includes the fees associated with entrance into the park only.  All other fees associated with camping, lodging, or activities within the park are not waived.  The fee waiver is good for Veterans Day only.