In 1945, the town of Columbia became The Columbia State Historic Park to preserve and promote the amazing history of the gold rush in California. Today it is a living-history museum populated with costumed residents performing daily activities such as black-smithing.
It features the largest single collection of existing gold rush-era structures in California. Since we were visiting on a chilly early spring day, we had the town all to ourselves. It really was a "ghost town"!
The “49rs”, those seekers of a bonanza of gold, the dreamers and speculators, flooded in and eventually, the business people followed. They would make a fortune servicing those who were in pursuit of that bright shiny coveted ore.
Even with these improvements in water availability, fires were a constant threat. In 1854, a great fire destroyed all of the structures in town with the exception of the one brick building, so the town had to rebuild. This time, they built mostly out of brick, but in 1857, fire broke out again.
Finally in 1859, they developed a volunteer fire department and acquired the Papeete, a small, fancifully decorated fire engine. Its arrival in Columbia was the occasion for much fanfare and celebration. A year later the Monumental, a larger hand pumper, was added. This small fire house did much to insure the survival of the picturesque main street buildings of historic Columbia we see today.
If you’re up for it, you can even pan for gold at a working gold mine! We didn’t do it, but I can imagine that it would be really fun for kids!