History Comes Alive in Amador County
Amador County, a 2 1/2-hour drive from Oakland, encompasses a handful of small and smaller towns, but boasts an incredible history.
Photo by David Abercrombie
It’s instantly apparent that the proprietors of Hein & Company are obsessed with books. From floor to ceiling, the shop’s shelves are lined with used and rare volumes of every ilk and genre. Slip upstairs to investigate further, and you’ll discover something most decidedly un-elementary, a museum-quality reproduction of Sherlock Holmes’ sitting room.
The game is definitely afoot in Amador County, and this painstakingly assembled version of Victorian-era 221B Baker St. isn’t the only place where history comes alive in its county seat, Jackson. Down the street at the National Hotel, established in 1862, you can stay in rooms furnished with period antiques that once sheltered Gold Rush-era travelers.
Amador County, a 2 1/2-hour drive from Oakland, encompasses a handful of small—and smaller—towns, but boasts an incredible history. It’s home to the Mother Lode’s deepest mine, which includes a deep vein running the length of Highway 49.
Many California “firsts” happened in Amador, two of them in the town of Volcano, population 110. In 1850, the nation’s first rental library was founded here; 11 years later, the “Great Comet of 1861” was witnessed by gold-miner George Madeiros after he had built the first amateur observatory on the outskirts of town. Wander the streets of Volcano and visit the General Store, in continuous use since 1852. Or stop for a drink at the St. George Hotel’s Whiskey Flat Saloon, its décor dominated by historical memorabilia.
A short drive takes you to the 135-acre Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, where Sierra Nevada Indians used grinding stones to pulverize acorns on the massive limestone slab now marked by 1,185 mortar holes and 363 petroglyphs believed to be 2,000 or 3,000 years old. A reconstructed Miwok village and roundhouse provide a visual reminder of the area’s past, as do artifacts and exhibits in the Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum.
The charming town of Sutter Creek, just off Highway 49, offers well-preserved buildings, specialty boutiques, and galleries such as Gallery 10, showcasing the works of local artists. Don’t miss the Monteverde Store Museum, which opened as a country store in 1896 and closed unexpectedly when the last owner abandoned it one day in 1971. Amador County also is home to more than 40 wineries, and you can taste many of the local wines at Sutter Creek Tasting Room. Some have been made from grapes grown at the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in North America, which was planted in 1869.
In nearby Amador City, California’s smallest incorporated city (population about 200), you can view Gold Rush times as seen through the eyes of its women at the Amador Whitney Museum, which is inside the town’s oldest intact structure, the Fleehart Building, a single-story boxy property with rustic porch and rails.
Amador City sprang up near the site of the Keystone Mine, which, in operation for almost 100 years, delivered an estimated $24 million in gold. Take a leisurely stroll through town, and then wrap up your tour with some edible treasures from Andrae’s Bakery & Cheese Shop, an outstanding Gold Country bakery.
Hein & Company Bookstore, 204 N Main St., Jackson, 209-223-9076, www.Facebook.com/pages/Hein-Company-Used-and-Rare-Books/301768627973.
National Hotel, 2 Water St., Jackson, 209-223-0500, www.NationalHotelJackson.com.
Whiskey Flat Saloon, 16104 Main St., Volcano, 209-296-4458, www.StGeorgeVolcano.com.
Amador Whitney Museum, 14170 State Highway 49, 209-2667-0928, www.Amador-City.com/Amador_Museum