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Hornitos (No. 333 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District
The general store of Hornitos – www.ghosttownexplorers.org

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.

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 people of Hornitos were among the roughest of all the southern mining towns. Today it is a well preserved ghost town. Visitors can still see bullet holes in the door casings of many buildings. Hornitos was the place where bandits, roughnecks, gamblers and miners ended up after being outcast from nearby Quartzburg. According to local legends, there was blood on every door step in Hornitos and money, gambling and fine wine were all that mattered. The dance hall contained a hidden passageway for notorious bandits on the “most wanted list” of the Gold Rush era, such as Joaquin Murieta, used to escape capture from local authorities.

Hornitos is located 13 miles west of Mt. Bullion and named for the Spanish word, “little ovens.” Old Mexican tombs were the shape of square baking ovens sat atop the ground in mounds. Hornitos incorporated in 1870 as the first city located in Mariposa County. The area was rich in gold deposits, so when Quartzburg mines dried up, people moved to Hornitos and cleaned up the town.

The town looks much the same as it did in the 1870s. Although bars have long been deserted, the Masonic Hall built in 1860 is still being used. Many older adobe and stone buildings are closed up. Visitors can see the remains of the stone jail, a store owned by Cassaretto and Gagliardo and George Reeb’s butcher shop. One wall of Domingo Ghirardelli’s store remains standing, where he first produced his now famous chocolates.

Ghirardelli, an Italian confectioner, was one of Hornitos’ early residents. Unsuccessful at mining, he opened a general store in Hornitos in 1852, selling chocolates to miners with a taste for sweets. He later moved to San Francisco to manufacture his fine chocolates for a larger market and made a tremendous fortune. Ghirardelli Chocolate has been in continuous operation since 1852 and distributes its products throughout the US.

The historic marker is located 11 miles west of Bear Valley on County Road, J16, Hornitos.

Mariposa County

The wonders of the Yosemite Valley’s granite cliffs lie in eastern Mariposa County. The small settlements in the western foothills of the county sprang up during the Gold Rush. The people in these early mining towns made many decisions affecting statewide mining law.

Time Period Represented

1850-1870s