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Emigrant Gap (No. 403 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District

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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The name Emigrant Gap comes from an opening in the mountains at the head of Bear River. Emigrants from across the United States used this steep and rough gap in the Sierra Nevada to reach the gold fields. Once crossing the gap, the emigrants descended 5,200 feet into Bear Valley, located just west of Donner Pass. It began as a lumber camp and station for the Central Pacific Railroad.

“The development of discovery of gold in California is due in no small measure to the men and women who came by the California Emigrant Trail and who stayed to build our state. No other method of entry can parallel it in danger, privation, fortitude and romance, nor is anything more closely associated in the mind of the average American with the Gold Rush than the covered wagon.

It is believed that from no other place on a main highway can such an inspiring and realistic view be given of the terrain over which the Emigrant Trail progressed and its accessibility makes it most desirable.” Office of Historic Preservation

The Emigrant Gap was officially named in the 1860s, although the trail was used both during and after the Gold Rush. The monument itself is located where covered wagons were thought to have been lowered over the cliff to the floor of Bear Valley by rope and tackle, held by iron spikes driven into the rock.

The California Historical Marker is located at the Emigrant Gap Vista Point off of Interstate Highway 80 Emigrant Gap turnoff (P.M. 55.5).

Placer County

Placer is a Spanish word describing surface mining. Gold that had been “placed” in streams or on the ground through natural erosion was processed by planning, rocking, and similar techniques. Such mining efforts made Placer County residents some of the richest in California.

Time Period Represented


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