Getaways : Angels Camp
There are scores of charming little leftover Gold Rush towns along California State Highway 49 as it rambles among the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada. They’re filled with antique stores, restaurants and real estate offices.
But Angels Camp has something none of the rest have. Angels Camp has The Hop of Fame.
Like Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, with its sidewalk plaques honoring movie stars, Angels Camp’s Hop of Fame honors winners of the yearly Frog Jump Jubilee.
More than 80 brass plaques — 17 inches by 22 inches each — adorn the sidewalk on both sides of Main Street in Angel Camp’s historic district, commemorating Jubilee champions.
The Jumping Frog Jubilee, which began in 1928, was inspired by Mark Twain’s famous short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” That story put both Twain and Calaveras on the map. He had heard the tale that inspired his short story in an Angels Camp saloon during the months he spent searching for gold in nearby streams.
Not far from the hop of fame, just up Main Street to the north is Utica Park, with its life-sized statue of Twain. Warner Brothers Pictures commissioned the statue by Italian sculptor P.C. Manuelli and presented it to the city in 1944, on the night the movie company premiered its feature film “The Adventures of Mark Twain.”
The Academy Award nominated movie starring Fredric March had its west coast premier in Angels Camp.
Originally the statue included large frogs, leaping enthusiastically from the bull rushes at Twain’s feet, but they were hack-sawed off and carried away during a June 1957 takeover of downtown Angels by the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
Still, Angels Camp isn’t all frogs and Mark Twain. Gold and gold mining created this city with its picturesque buildings and meandering streets. In the old days, Angels Camp vibrated to the roar of stamp mines and danced to lively saloon music.
And Utica Park, with its tall shade trees, picnic area and children’s playground, exists above what once was a thriving goldmine. Between 1865 and 1905, the Utica Mine’s 125 miles of underground workings yielded more than $40 million in gold. But in 1889 it became the site of the area’s worst mining disaster when the North Shaft collapsed and buried 17 men.
A stone monument stands on the site of the disaster, commemorating the lives lost.
Farther up Main Street to the north is Angels Camp Museum. A rare steam tractor named “Ol’ Beth” stands out front. Don’t be fooled by the small building facing Main Street. This is a sprawling treasure-chest of area history. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday, the museum covers three acres and includes a picnic area, gold panning area and working exhibits that demonstrate old-time printing, weaving and carpentry.
The museum’s 9,000-square-foot Carriage House contains one of the nation’s largest collections of wagons, carriages and buggies from days gone by.
There’s the 1912 Dunbar & Co. horse drawn popcorn wagon. There’s Mrs. Adams’ Milk Wagon, which delivered milk, cream, butter and buttermilk throughout the area. There’s even a spooky 1880 hearse. And right up front is a fully restored 1856 stagecoach that in the mid-1800s ran between Placerville and Genoa, Nev.
For historic architecture, check out the 100-year-old Saint Basil Serbian Orthodox Church on Main Street just above Utica Park. This gem with the white walls and turquoise dome was built by Serbian gold miners (who also established a Serbian cemetery in nearby Altaville). Although congregations declined after the mines closed, the beautiful church is still used for special occasions.