Smartsville (No. 321 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 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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During the California Gold Rush, Smartsville was a small pioneer town where hydraulic—or placer—mining was extensively practiced. The first building established in the city was a hotel built by James Smart, a local hotel proprietor, in 1856. This piece of Gold Rush history remains intact to this day. In 1861, a Catholic church—the Church of Immaculate Conception—was erected. Although burned down in 1870, a new building took its place the following year and is still standing at Main and O’Brien streets today. The church remains one of the cities more prominent features, posing as a “faithful guardian” of Smartsville’s residents. Another church, the Union Church was built in 1863 and several other stores and a cemetery were also established in the city.
Smartsville—called Smartville for a period of time—opened its first post office in 1865. In 1909, the U.S. Post Office Department (now the U.S. Postal Service) ruled that the city change its name to Smartville. When re-evaluated in 1947, the United States Board on Geographic Names agreed with the name change. This created long running conflict and debate among the city’s residents and visitors. A final evaluation in 2008, however, would settle the issue, restoring the city’s original name to Smartsville.
Remains of the once lively gold mines developed in Smartsville, as well as the scars of hydraulic mining operations, can still be seen among the surrounding hills. One mining company, the Excelsior Company, washed about eight million cubic yards of soil and plant material into the Yuba River at Smartsville between the 1850’s and 1878, when hydraulic mining practices ceased. Just north of Smartsville, a great gash in the hillside—remnants of the once popular mining camp of Sucker Flat—still remain today.
There is no commemorative plaque placed for the Smartsville landmark, however, a California Historical Point of Interest plaque was placed at the front of the Church of Immaculate Conception at 8444 Smartville Road (about 0.6 miles north of Highway 20, on the right when traveling west).
Yuba County was one of California’s original 27 counties. It is said to have received its name from a tribe of Maidu Indians—the Yu-ba—who lived along the banks of the Feather River. Much of Yuba County once belonged to Captain John Sutter, who established Sutter’s Fort and Sutter's Mill—where gold was first discovered in 1848. Used extensively by pioneers during the Gold Rush, the California Trail ran through this area. Lieutenant John C. Fremont—guided by famous explorer, Kit Carson—also passed through this area in his 1842-1846 expedition through the Sierra Nevada.