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Stories from the valley

The Gold Rush Town of Volcano: A Hidden Historic Gem

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

I live in a Gold Rush-era town and have seen many others, so it takes a lot to impress me. Volcano did that in a big way! Although small, boasting all of 103 residents, Volcano is full of charm, atmosphere, and history aplenty. Located 12 miles northeast of Jackson on Pine Grove Volcano Road off Highway 88, it’s easy to find.

With twenty-five spots marked on the Volcano walking tour map offered by The Country Store, there’s lots to see. Be sure to read the many plaques in order to learn all you can about this delightful town, including some surprises. One I discovered is that the town was the birthplace of Brigadier General Harry Bluett Liversedge, who commanded the 28th Marine Regiment famous for raising the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII.

Originally home to members of the Miwok tribe, the valley was first visited by newcomers during the winter of 1848 when soldiers from Jonathan Stevenson’s New York 7th Regiment set up camp there. Originally known as Soldiers Gulch, gold miners, impressed by the crater-like appearance of the valley, dubbed it Volcano, and the name stuck.

One of Volcano’s most famous sights is Old Abe, a 737-pound, Boston-manufactured brass cannon that played a role in one of California’s few Civil War entanglements. Volcano’s gold supported the Union cause, something a group of rebel sympathizers wasn’t too happy about.

In an effort to prevent a hostile takeover of the precious metal, the Volcano Blues petitioned the arsenal in Benicia for some artillery and were given the Mexican-era cannon. Old Abe was smuggled into town in a hearse. Although stories about what transpired next vary, including whether or not the cannon was fired at that time, it’s clear this noteworthy piece of history saved the day, the gold—and perhaps even the Union.

Thriving businesses located in buildings dating back as far as the 1850s line Volcano’s historic Main Street. St. George Hotel, a three-story white brick building constructed in 1862, greets visitors as they enter town. The Country Store mentioned above, located in the heart of this picturesque community, is believed to be the oldest continuously operating store in California. The I.O.O.F/Masonic Hall has been around since 1854. A group of friendly Odd Fellows from the Davis Lodge that was visiting the hall cheerfully posed for me.

Touring the town worked up an appetite. Knowing that the best reviews come from locals, I asked a couple sitting in front of one of the businesses for their recommendations. They said all four eateries are good. I chose the Volcano Union Inn and was happy with my meal and the service. They offer a seasonal menu of California cuisine-style dishes along with staples of salads, burgers, and sandwiches in an attractive setting.

Volcano makes a great destination. I hope you enjoy your visit to this hidden historic gem as much as I did mine.