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Calaveritas (No. 255 California Historical Landmark)

The remains of the Luigi Costa Store that has been preserved by the descendants of the Costa family. – Syd White/hmdb.com

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

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Calaveritas which means “little skull” in Spanish, was settled in 1849 by Mexicans miners. There were originally two separate camps, Lower Calaveritas and Upper Calaveritas, which were located on Calaveritas Creek about a mile apart from each other. It didn’t take long for the camps to become known as rowdy and dangerous places. The camps were also known as the hangouts for desperados and badmen like the notorious Joaquin Murrieta.

In the fall of 1850, American miner, William Workman, had camped overnight with his ox team and did some successful prospecting. Soon after, Upper Calaveritas was established and many miners were working in the creeks and hillsides looking for deposits. Unfortunately Lower Calaveritas was not as prosperous and became a ghost camp not long after it had been created.

By 1853, Calaveritas was a flourishing mining camp with restaurants, two butcher shops, several general stores, saloons, a livery stable, gambling halls and fandango houses. The notorious bandit, Joaquin Murrieta frequented the latter two. The Luigi Costa Store is the only surviving building of the Gold Rush era in Calaveritas and is a designated historical site. It was built in 1852 and served as a butcher shop, general merchandise store, a distillery and other various ventures for a total of fifty years. This building has been preserved by descendants of the Costas over the years.

Calaveritas reached its peak population by 1857 with the number of inhabitants around 800; most of them were either Chinese or Mexican. Unfortunately the following year on the third of August, a malicious gambler named Shelton set fire to a vacant building next to the gambling hall. He had lost his gold dust in a card game and set a disastrous fire. Calaveritas never fully recovered from the fire which left many of the inhabitants homeless. Fifty one buildings were destroyed, only a few were able to evade the flames.

Most of the placer mines had been picked through and were no longer producing so a majority of the buildings were never rebuilt. Many of the miners moved on to other, richer diggings and Calaveritas was virtually abandoned. Today, all that is left is what remains of the Luigi Costa Store.

The Calaveritas historical landmark is located on Calaveras Road at Costa Road, 4.5 mi SE of San Andreas.

Calaveras County

Along with Mark Twain’s famous "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" story that spun into an annual fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, Calaveras County is rich with Gold Rush history and folklore. Remnants of the railroads and Hispanic culture add to the charm of the county located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a preserve of Giant Sequoia trees, and the uncommon gold telluride mineral Calaverite was discovered in the county in 1861, and is named for it.

Time Period Represented

1850s