Chinese Camp (No. 423 California Historical Landmark)
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 1800’s 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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Chinese immigrants arrived by the thousands during the prime gold mining years of the 1850s. They helped build the railroads, worked in mining camps and later labored on farms and ranches.
Chinese Camp was home to 5,000 Chinese miners in addition to as many Americans and Europeans. Many of the Chinese immigrants were servants to Englishmen. The mines were rich with gold; a value of $2.5 million was removed from the area. The Chinese were pushed out of Sonora, located a few miles to the north, and settled in what would be called Chinese Camp in 1849. The original names were Camp Washington and Washingtonville.
The first post office and store opened in 1854. As the town grew, Chinese Camp became a transportation hub for stage coach lines and express offices. The town was composed of a store, hotels, two joss houses (Chinese temple of worship), blacksmith shop, church, school, bank, the Wells Fargo Express office, Masonic Lodge and cemetery. Adams Express began in Chinese Camp before Wells Fargo was established as a viable business.
The gold lay just below the surface of the ground but the work was hard because there was no water nearby. All the gold had to be hauled to a creek to be washed. The Chinese worked the mines and were successful where other miners had given up. When they had an argument, they settled it with a “Tong.” Instead of using guns, the men used pitch forks, rakes and other mining tools as weapons. A few Chinese were killed and many wounded during their fights.
None of the descendants of the original Chinese miners live in this rural town today where the remaining buildings whisper their stories of a glorious past.
The historical landmark is located at the Northwest corner of State Highway 120 (P.M. 15.9) and Main Street in Chinese Camp. This site is part of the Mark Twain Bret Harte Trail.
A treasure of natural wonders and lively gold rush history, Tuolumne County offers visitors vivid scenery. A portion of Yosemite National Park lies within the county, along with giant redwood groves and impressive geological features. Both Bret Harte and Mark Twain wrote stories set in this area during the Gold Rush.
Time Period Represented