Catch up on some history with this Get Outside adventure! California’s settlement began with the Gold Rush, when hundreds of thousands of people stormed the state in hopes of getting their chance at the American dream. With a migration of this size came violence, abandoned homes and structures, and haunting stories of the past that have been passed on for generations and continue to be told, right here in our backyard.
El Dorado County
Once upon a time, a golden flake glittered in the sun, and the history of the west changed forever. In January 1848, James Marshall was building a sawmill for Captain John Sutter, using water from the South Fork of the American River. He noticed several flakes of metal in the tail race water and recognized them to be gold. Though he tried to keep it a secret, the word spread quickly, and triggered the greatest mass migration in the history of the United States.
By 1848, Coloma had around 300 frame buildings and a large hotel. Today, just a handful of the original buildings remain, but the ghosts and stories of the past will live on in this infamous town.
Originally settled by Chinese Immigrants as early as the 1870’s, China Camp was established for fishing instead of mining. The mainstay of the 500 residents of China Camp was shrimp. In its heyday, there were general stores, a marine supply store, and even a barber shop.
Nearly 3 million pounds of shrimp were pulled from the bay each year and shipped to China or Chinese communities throughout the US. The museum at China Camp Village helps tell the story of these hardy fisherman.
In 1858, waterman “Bill” Body discovered gold in the hills east of Bridgeport, but he never lived to reap his rewards. He died a few months later in a snowstorm trying to reach his cabin.
The town of Bodie may look quiet, but it’s known for its reputation as being one of the most furious, violent, and lawless towns in the Mother Lode. The combination of money, gold, and alcohol often proved fatal, and each morning the newspapers were littered with the previous night’s murders.
Bodie’s population skyrocketed to more than 10,000 people, all of whom were trying to strike gold and become rich. The Bodie Butte mine produced over 25 million in gold and silver. There are about 100 buildings still standing in Bodie, which is now a National Historic Landmark.
Named for nearby rocks that look like volcanic activity, the town of Volcano had a reputation for violence, but soon became a place of “elegance” due to the delicate architecture. As hydraulic mining began, the town boomed and was believed to have over 300 homes, 11 stores, and 17 hotels along with bakeries, saloons, a library, and a courthouse. The famous civil war cannon “Old Abe” still sits upon a nineteenth century wooden carriage in town, and the St. George Hotel is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Douglas County, NV
The last ghost town on our list is one of the last stops in Utah’s territory before the treacherous climb up and over the Sierra Nevadas. Genoa was originally known as Mormon Station, named after Brigham Young, who established the colony and the first permanent trading post; the name Genoa was officially adopted in 1856.
The Overland Emigrant Trail, which was part of a complex series of trails that connected most midwestern states to the west, passed down what is now Genoa’s Main Street. Much of the town suffered from a devastating fire in 1910, but there is still plenty to see and do in beautiful and historic Genoa.
Click on the links below to watch both of the Fox40 news segments!