Gold Towns: Sierra City

The majestic, jagged granite peaks of the Sierra Buttes rise almost a mile above the town. In Gold Rush days even these near-perpendicular peaks were climbed in search of gold, and there was feverish activity along the creeks that descend into the North Yuba River. The site was discovered in 1850. By 1852, tunnels penetrated the quartz ledges of the Buttes in all directions, and miners were using as many as 20 arrastras (Spanish for a crude grinding mill), run by mules, to pulverize the rock. During that winter avalanches from the steep mountains crushed every house in the mining camp, a disaster that prevented the establishment of a permanent town site until 1858. In 1860, an immense gold nugget, the second largest found in California and weighing 1,596 troy ounces, was extracted from the Monumental Quartz Mine. Sierra City is unusual among gold towns in never having suffered a serious fire. Historic structures include the two-story brick Busch Building, the Catholic Church, and the Masonic Hall. The cemetery contains gravestones dating back to the 1860s, and an old stage road (now State Route 49 ) follows the scenic canyon. Today the town’s main industry is tourism. None of the hard-rock mines are in operation, but the Kentucky Mine just outside the town limits houses a mining museum.

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