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Virginiatown (No. 400 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District
Virginiatown landmark – By Syd Whittle

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 total yield of gold from the placer-rich communities Virginiatown, Gold Hill and Oro City, varies with the source and recognition of how much gold was actually accounted for. Historical records indicate a minimum of $16 million of gold, or as high as $50 million in gold was found in the mines during the 1850s.

Virginiatown offered the classic amenities of Gold Country towns of the 1850s: saloons, hotels, liver stables, churches, stores, blacksmith shops and businesses. Two abandoned adobe buildings remain to tell the story of the era when nearly 3,500 miners climbed over each other in the river to work a claim. The Placer County Historical Society reports during the heyday of mining in 1852, “There were so many miners in the ravine you could walk on their backs and never get your feet wet. If you could see the water, you could find gold.”

Because water was so scarce, Captain John Bristow built the first railroad to carry dirt from Virginiatown to the Auburn Ravine to be washed. The train consisted of a mule and a man pulling dump cars for one mile to carry the diggings to the water. The train was abandoned a short time later after digging a ditch for transporting the water from Virginiatown to the Ravine.

One of the remaining adobes belonged to an entrepreneur who used it as his butcher shop. Philip Danforth Armour started his business by purchasing two pigs to slaughter. He also hired miners to make sluice boxes to slow the flow of the water down the ditch. Within a few years he earned $8,000 in profits and left Virginiatown and moved to Milwaukee and started a wholesale grocery business. In 1867, he joined his brother to establish the Chicago-based Armour & Co. and within a short time the company became the world’s largest food processing and chemical manufacturing enterprise.

The Historical Landmark is located at 4725 Virginiatown Road, .2 miles southeast of Fowler and Virginiatown Road and seven miles northwest of Newcastle.

Placer County

Within its borders picturesque farm land and Gold-Rush era towns dot the oak-covered foothills. Craggy peaks, forests, tumbling rivers and clear alpine lakes create the natural beauty of the High Country. Outdoor enthusiasts thrill at Placer County’s abundance of year-round recreational activities, while others marvel at the array of galleries, theater, musical and festival events. Shoppers love the large selection of boutiques, specialty shops and farmers markets.

Time Period Represented


Nearby Places