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Stories from the valley

The Gold Rush-Era Town of Amador City: A Hidden Historic Gem

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

Those traveling Highway 49 between Plymouth and Jackson prior to November 2006 would pass through Amador City and its neighbor, Sutter Creek. These days the two picturesque towns are accessed by following signs at each end of the four-mile-long Highway 49 Bypass. Those taking the northern gateway will reach Amador City first; those using the southern gateway will pass through Sutter Creek before coming to the smaller of the two towns.

Amador City, which swelled to between four and six thousand residents in its heyday, is home to less than 200 people today, but they’re some of the friendliest folks I’ve encountered. Pride of their town and its rich history shone through every conversation I had.

Amador Hotel building in Amador City

As is the case with several Gold Rush towns, Amador City is named after its founder. A wealthy rancher named Jose Maria Amador took to mining along an unnamed creek in 1848-49. His name was given to the creek, two villages established on its banks, and, in 1854, the county itself.

Discovery of gold-bearing quartz moved the major settlement upstream down to South Amadore or present-day Amador City. The town was incorporated in 1915 and at just 0.31 miles its California’s smallest municipality by size and second smallest by population according to the 2010 census.

Upon arriving in Amador City, my husband and I parked on a side street, made use of the public facilities discreetly tucked beside the firehouse, and set out on foot, which is the best way to explore this small town. Using the Historic Tour Guide I found here (Please make here a clickable link to this URL>, we strolled through town admiring the wealth of historic buildings, taking plenty of pictures, and chatting with residents. With over 20 historic structures, there’s much to see.

Museum building in Amador City

The Fleehart Building, constructed in the 1860s or earlier, is believed to be the oldest in Amador City. Having survived the fire of 1878 that destroyed much of the town, it was eventually donated to the city and houses the Amador Whitney Museum. It’s currently closed due to the present situation, but I plan to return once it reopens so I can learn more about this intriguing community.

Standing at the bend in the road opposite the firehouse, the stately Amador Hotel is a commanding presence. Built around 1855, the main entrance section, which also survived the fire, is thought to be the oldest structure. In 1872, the owner, Mr. Harrington, added a large hall. The expansion continued in 1876 when he doubled the square footage.

Mine House Flats in Amador City

A mining town isn’t complete without a mine. Amador City’s most famous was the Keystone. The offices were housed in a striking building on a hill overlooking the town below and the mine’s towering headframe across the highway. Founded in 1851 from many claims, the mine produced about $24 million in gold, making it one of the state’s most lucrative.

Although many travelers whizz past Amador City today without so much as a glimpse, taking time to explore this historic gem is rewarding. I highly recommend adding it to your list of places to visit once the pandemic is behind us.