Living Gold Rush
Experience the Gold Rush with a visit to Columbia State Historic Park. This State Park is an unusual combination of a museum and a ‘LIVING’ 1850’s Gold Rush Town. Also visit a nearby ranch that began serving Columbia’s dairy needs in 1852. Today, this ranch provides an interesting collection of relics and memorabilia which include gold rush era buildings, ranch and mining tools, an unusual 22 million year old stone fence post and more.
Of interest, in 1852 this ranch provided camping for an overflow of arriving covered wagons. Today, it provides up-to-date camping for today’s modern RVs, making it California’s oldest operating campground.
#1 – A 49er RV: Appropriately, a Covered Wagon or “49er RV” greets visitors at the Ranch entrance. Such wagons were travel trailers without luxuries. With a typical speed of 2 miles per hour, they provided transportation and shelter on a hard and dangerous six month journey to California. 49ers were often referred to as Argonauts in reference to Greek mythology of a dangerous journey.
Their “horse powered” engine was fueled with ‘renewable bio-grass’ found along the trail. However, this fuel also generated considerable air pollution and hazardous poop. Their “throttle” could stick and brakes were undependable. They would fail today’s governmental requirements. To honor these gold rush travel trailers, this ranch is known today as the 49er RV Ranch.
#2 – Stock Barn: This barn stabled ranch horses and housed a Blacksmith Shop. A variety of ranch implements and memorabilia are displayed both in and outside this barn. Some displayed items were from this ranch while others, such as an old gas pump and heavy solid oak ox cart wheels, were donated by ranch guests. Rumors that the cart wheels once belonged to Joaquin Murrieta are untrue.
Some of the windows and flooring were recycled from a demolished local Church Social hall. Inside walls are now lined with mill ends from trees killed by bark beetle infestations during recurring droughts. Mill ends are the byproduct of trees when milled into lumber. Visible beetle tracks provide interesting patterns.
Inside are mementos from Clubs, Groups, and Families who have enjoyed the ambiance of old ranch hospitality this barn provides for Meals, Meetings, Entertainment, and dancing.
Two Dental signs pay tribute to a prior ranch owner, Dr. James and Geraldine McConnell. In 1945, the McConnells influenced their friend, then Governor and future U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, to sign a bill preserving Columbia as a living gold rush town. While visiting Columbia, he declared their home the Governor’s mansion and the town the honorary State Capital. Geraldine is remembered as “Mrs. Columbia” for her many contributions to Columbia’s preservation and welfare for over a half‐century. She died at the age of 99 in 2003.
#3 – Vender Wagon: On the lawn, in front of the Office, is a Vender Wagon similar to one used to deliver ranch milk and produce in town.
#4 – Mine Cart: Past this Wagon, by the entrance to the Ranch Country Store, is a mining cart used to haul ore out of the Carson Hill mine near Angeles Camp. This cart was recovered in an abandoned mine shaft while this former hard rock mine was being strip mined in the 1980’s. Strip mining differs from hard rock mining in that all material is stripped away instead of following a vein underground. In 1854, a 195 pound nugget was discovered here. This cart was donated by a Carson Hill mine engineer while he resided at this ranch. Today, the former Carson Hill mine receives recognition when the popular TV series ‘Myth Busters’ uses the mined area for spectacular explosions.
#5 – Poco: On the Store deck is an artificial ‘stunt double’ for the dog hero in the movie “Poco: Little Dog Lost”. This artificial dog was used in the filming of dangerous scenes in Yosemite over 50 years ago. See the movie poster and read how this ‘stunt double’ came to the ranch as a gift of the Film’s Producer-Director.
#6 – Country Store: Originally this was the residence of the founding ranch owner’s son between about 1900 to 1945 when the son died at the age of 95. The house then became a rental residence until 1996 when it was renovated and enlarged with building materials gleaned from a demolished church social hall. This former home now accommodates the Camp Store, Office, and a Porch for relaxing and visiting.
#7 – Butterbear: Down the stairs, past a rose garden and a century old street light, is the ranch Mascot, Butterbear. This life sized grizzly bear was carved out of a cedar log by resident artist Vern Butterfield in 1981. Butterbear provides one of many photo opportunities at the ranch.
A Milk delivery can, hanging on a lamppost near Butterbear, is a reminder of dairy ranch history. The nearby street light is of personal interest to Ranch owner Bill Meissner. Ask him to share interesting history of this antique street light. It was formally used to light Los Feliz Boulevard, near Southern California’s Griffith Park Observatory and Zoo.
#8 – Stone Fence Post: Across the road is the Ranch’s oldest artifact. This was quarried from sandstone formed more than 22 million years ago. Note seashell and small fish fossils in it. In parts of North Central Kansas, a lack of trees required fence posts to be quarried from this ancient sandstone.
#9 – Fuel Dispenser: Beyond the fence post, by a propane dispenser, is a unique and unusually old fuel dispenser. Its history is unknown.
#10 – Bulletin Board: This is a good place to check out what is of current interest with maps of Columbia and the greater area.
#11 – Corral: Behind the Bulletin Board and Stock Barn, is a former horse corral. Today, RVs circle up here much like 49er wagon trains did coming out west during the gold rush.
Circling up in modern RVs, allows guests to visit and make new friends. New and old friends get together at Campfires or in the Hospitality Gazebo.
#12 – Hospitality Gazebo: Turn around and check out the Hospitality Gazebo. This building was previously the Ranch office and store which was outgrown by 1996. The Gazebo has been transformed into a full-service hospitality room with kitchen.
A collection of antique signs and artifacts are displayed outside. Of interest are two baby rattlers in a safe repository.
#13 – Wash Barn: This former Cow Barn was built over a century ago. It now houses a Diner-Theater, laundry, showers, and toilets.
Note the outside hand split cedar siding and large hand hewed beams in the Gold Room Theater.
#14 – Willie’s Campfire: Past the Gazebo is Willie’s Campfire Amphitheater where sing-a-longs, campfire stories, and volunteer guest bands are enjoyed. A “Sawhorse Bull” is nearby for guests to practice roping along with other games and entertainment.
Willie, a legendary Ranch Ghost, loved campfires. His joyful presence is felt when campers gather to share experiences, songs, and enjoy his favorite campfire grub.
Hosted Campfires include complimentary Ranch grub such as Willie’s favorite roasted spuds, chili dogs, or whistling apples. His legend and stories are retold at ranch campfires. None-hosted campfires are set up upon request.
#15 – Zorro: Look up at the back of the Ranch Store and view a large Z near the roof top. This is a reminder that an extraordinary local Indian may have been inspiration for the fictional story of Zorro. He was known as Stanislaus and was responsible for the naming of the Stanislaus River and National Forest, as well as Stanislaus and Tuolumne Counties.
#16 – Horseshoe Pit: Up some steps and to the right, is another ore cart. It was crushed when the mine shaft, where it was abandoned, was blasted during later strip mining. Beyond is the Ranch Horseshoe Pit with old tools and machinery displayed nearby.
#17 – Willie’s Cabin: Overlooking the Horseshoe Pit is a Cabin dedicated to the memory of Willie and his simple life style. According to Willie’s legend, he was murdered in 1856 after discovering a mine rich with unusually small nuggets. It is believed that his ghost scatters small nuggets in this cabin to see the excited faces of children he missed having.
#18 – Gold Panning & Willie’s Water Wheel: Learn Gold Panning with a ranch hand who has the answer to the oft asked question “Where’s the Gold”. Be prepared to catch “Gold Fever”. Return Ranch visits are the best treatment for Gold Fever.
Willie’s Water Wheel was built in 1985 as a fun project to honor Willie. The water wheel pond is home for Koi fish. Please do not disturb them as they are here for all to enjoy. A fence protects the fish from raccoons and other critters attempting to eat them.
#19 – Boot Hill: Overlooking the millpond is a peaceful place to relax while enjoying ranch ambiance. This hill has become a popular final resting place for pets.
– – Throughout the Ranch are more intriguing surprises.