Charming Sutter Creek makes great weekend getaway
Sutter Creek, the jewel of Amador County, attracts tourists from around the world. Drawn to its rich gold rush history, visitors can be pleasantly surprised by the many boutiques, eateries, wine-tasting rooms and old-fashioned charm of this walkable Sierra Foothills town. For Northern Californians, Sutter Creek is just 45 miles southeast of Sacramento, off Highway 49, and makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
Following the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in January 1848, Sutter Creek grew out of the great gold rush of 1849. Thousands of men from the East coast, Italy, Ireland, England, China, Mexico, Chile, Germany and Eastern European countries poured in, seeking their fortunes. The world rushed into California and the gold rush era became a mesh of men, machines and mines.
However, not all fortune-seekers struck it rich. Many of the miners worked all week long only to blow their earnings on brothels, bars and gambling each Saturday night. Others saw the opportunity to make money by providing services to the miners themselves. Turning to more traditional trades, they quickly set up tents and small cabins for restaurants, saloons, bakeries, boarding houses, blacksmiths, dry goods and more. These entrepreneurs and the miners became the founders of Sutter Creek.
The town quickly evolved into one of the largest-producing hard rock gold mining centers in Amador County. By 1854, Sutter Creek was filled with mines on both sides of town, with names like South Eureka, Central Eureka, Old Eureka, Mahoney, Emerson, Lincoln and Wildman.
On Sept. 4, 1854, Sutter Creek became a township. Soon after, as women and children began to arrive, tents and cabins gave way to churches, schools and homes. By the turn of the century, Sutter Creek was a bustling town of diverse, respectable enterprises inhabited by a blend of citizens from around the world.
For nine decades, mining fueled Sutter Creek's economy. But when World War II struck, the war effort needed the men who were working the mines. An executive order closed all the mines, and with the exception of Central Eureka, none would ever open again.
Today, gold rush tourism fuels Sutter Creek's economy and attractions. Activities and artifacts left behind by the miners are found everywhere. A balance of old history and the 21st century, Sutter Creek maintains its gold rush heritage, supported by a dedicated group of local residents and businesses.
Well-preserved historical buildings line both sides of Main Street, but today these buildings house wine-tasting shops, boutiques, restaurants, antique stores and hotels. Sutter Creek boasts a lively calendar, hosting numerous events throughout the year, including a chili cookoff and car show, art and wine festivals, an old-fashioned Christmas Open House and even blues and ragtime festivals.
But for gold rush history buffs, Sutter Creek offers a rich and fascinating weekend getaway. We visited Sutter Creek during its Heritage Days event, held in late September. Volunteers dressed in gold rush-era costumes and enthusiastic docents led tours of the historical gold rush sites, including some that open only for this event. Lisa Klosowski, director of the Sutter Creek Visitor's Center said, “Sutter Creek is a community dedicated to coming together to preserve history. Heritage Days was designed to bring awareness of the history of Sutter Creek, and hopefully, inspire others to help with the effort.” And this first-time event was truly a showcase for the town's rich gold rush history.
Here's a roundup of the town's must-see historical gold rush activities and sites.
Historical walking tourSutterCreek.org
Orient yourself to this welcoming, walkable town by taking a self-guided tour. Located on the corner of Keys and Main Streets, the Visitor's Center offers a free, detailed, descriptive brochure and map of the historical places of interest.
Miner's Bend ParkSCCBF.org
An outdoor memorial to the men, machines and mines that led to Sutter Creek's founding, this park was built by a dedicated group of local residents. An impressive array of 16 different mining machines is on display, each with an interpretive sign. They describe the miner's work and the disasters that killed hundreds of workers in this dangerous industry. Head south on Main Street across the Creek Bridge up to the bend in the road.
Central Eureka Mine
The longest working mine in Sutter Creek, Central Eureka Mine is now a preserved gold mine on Summit Hill. With a mine shaft 4,900 vertical feet deep, Central Eureka, in conjunction with its sister mines, Old Eureka and South Eureka, produced a total of $39 million in gold. Drive south on old Route 49, left on Sutter Hill Road and left on Eureka Road.
One of the most formidable mining-related businesses in Sutter Creek, the Knight Foundry produced heavy machinery for the nearby mines. This high pressure, water-powered machine shop operated for several decades until World War II. The Foundry is now owned by the city and available for public viewing. Open every second Saturday.
Historic cemetery tour
Three cemeteries in one location provide the final resting place for the town's early founders. Many tombstones list the name and county or country of birth, revealing the tremendous number of early mining immigrants buried here. Head up Spanish Street to Mahoney Hill Road for a self-guided tour.
Opened in 1898 to sell dry goods, hardware, bulk products and apparel to the early residents of Sutter Creek, the museum remains filled with antique lost treasures. Open most Fridays from 12:15 to 3 p.m., or call ahead for an appointment, 209-267-0493. Located on Randall Street.
Mural of Sutter Creek
Although not as well-known as the other historical sites, this hidden treasure lives on in the Amador County Arts Council, a small storefront immediately next door to the Monteverde Museum. Rand Huggett, a retired local high school art teacher, together with some of his art class students, filled the entire room with a detailed and educational mural depicting the early mining days of Sutter Creek, the town's development and its current state as an old-fashioned, visitor-friendly Gold Country town.
Sutter Creek SchoolhouseSCCBF.org
Opposite the headframe from the old Emerson Shaft, the schoolhouse, built in 1871, once schooled 200 - 300 miner's children. Operating until the early 1960s, the school now awaits its recommission as a museum and archive. From Main Street, up Cooper Flat Road, and turn right on Cole Street.
For more information on lodging, events and the history of Sutter Creek, visit SutterCreek.org.