Gold Towns: Columbia

In its heyday, Columbia was known as the Gem of the Southern Mines. Founded in March 1850 when gold was found in the vicinity, the mining camp population soon swelled to 5,000 as thousands arrived. By 1852 there were 8 hotels, 4 banks, 17 general stores, 2 firehouses, 2 bookstores, 1 newspaper, 3 churches, and over 40 drinking/gambling establishments. Between 1850 and the early 1900s, $150 million in gold was removed from the surrounding hills. All but destroyed by fires in 1854 and 1857, the town was rebuilt each time with sturdier materials, embellished with iron shutters and doors. Settling families started ranches, and planted gardens. The community thrived; yet by 1860 the gold was rapidly diminishing and the only land left to mine was the city itself. Miners dug under buildings, tearing down houses to get to the gold underneath. Although the population shrank, Columbia never became a ghost town. As the centennial of the Gold Rush approached, it was adjudged the best preserved of the old gold camps and the most worthy of restoration. The town’s central downtown was purchased by the state in 1945 to become Columbia State Historic Park. Among the oldest buildings in town are the adjacent Franklin & Wolf and Brainard buildings, the Stage Drivers’ Retreat, and the Pioneer Saloon.  Several restaurants are housed in restored 1850s buildings, and numerous events throughout the year celebrate the pioneer days of old, as costumed State Park employees stroll the streets. The historic downtown district is a National Historic Landmark, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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