The Heritage Trail - August 2012
By Anita Yoder
World-class outdoor recreation, steep trails that lure adventurers, a landscape so beautiful it demands artistic capture and an epicenter of events that helped change the American landscape forever: Placer County’s legacy.
While Claude Chana’s discovery of gold in the Auburn Ravine in 1848 helped launch the California Gold Rush, the county’s true wealth and stability sprang not from gold but from new ventures in industries such as the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, granite mining, agriculture and timber production. A few of the 49ers became wealthy, but most did not. But when discovering easy golden riches proved to be both elusive and very difficult, many new Californians stayed instead to become local farmers, craftsmen and merchants, laying the groundwork for the California of today.
Today, fascinating remnants of that history exist in 18 small local museums scattered throughout Placer County and in the Gold Rush-era communities that have continued to preserve and enjoy their heritage. All these local museums will offer free admission one weekend each year during the Heritage Trail - Placer County Museums Tour. Each museum will be open from 10 am to 4 pm the weekend of August 11-12. Most museums have easy access from I-80.
The Heritage Trail is an opportunity to understand how Placer County helped shape and impact California today. Museum volunteers hope to encourage visitors to rediscover the events that occurred during the Gold Rush era and to help them retrace the history through what’s still present in these local museums.
Most of the museums are located in iconic Gold Rush communities, parts of which were often rebuilt more than once due to devastating fires. The historic communities often echo the main streets of the 1860s and include other historic buildings and elements. The Golden Drift Museum in Dutch Flat is dedicated to preserving the history of five such communities, including Gold Run, Alta, Towle, Baxter and Dutch Flat.
Each of the 18 participating museums is different, highlighting “what happened here” through artifacts and displays. Some museums include living history opportunities, which may appeal particularly to families, while others are more focused on displaying actual artifacts. The Lincoln Area Archives Museum, the newest museum on the tour, features the early Lincoln area including native Nisenan Maidu Native American artifacts, early settlers beginning with Theodore Sicard, and agriculture and ranching history.
Transportation is a theme that ties the county and the museums together. When the Central Pacific Railroad constructed the western portion of the first transcontinental line in the 1860s, the agriculture, clay and granite quarry industries expanded. The towns of Roseville, Rocklin, Loomis, Penryn, Newcastle, Auburn and Colfax, all located along the Central Pacific line, became important shipping centers. Several museums highlight the construction of the railroad. The Roseville Historical Society Carnegie Museum celebrates the Southern Pacific Railroad, while the Colfax Area Heritage Museum, the Golden Drift Museum in Dutch Flat and the Donner Summit Historical Society Museum also have Central Pacific Railroad artifacts.
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