A man by the name of Mandeville Shaw planted an orchard here on the eastern slope of Table Mountain in November of 1849. Gold was discovered in the area at about the same time and by early 1850 a sizable camp had been established, which was christened Shaws Flat in honor of the popular merchant and fruit grower.
Shaws Flat became one of the most important gold camps on the limestone belt south of Columbia. J. D. Borthwick, an English fortune-seeker and artist who traveled the Gold Country from 1851 to 1854, prospecting and sketching illustrations, wrote of Shaws Flat in his book, 3 Years in California: "The diggings were rich. The gold was very coarse, and frequently found in large lumps; but how it got there was not easy to conjecture, for the flat was on a level with Table Mountain, and hollows intervened between it and any higher ground. Mining here was quite a clean and easy operation. Any old gentleman might have gone in and taken a turn at it for an hour or two before dinner just to give him an appetite, without even wetting the soles of his boots: indeed, he might have fancied he was only digging in his garden, for the gold was found in the very roots of the grass, and in most parts there was only a depth of three or four feet from the surface to the bed-rock, which was of singular character, being composed of masses of sandstone full of circular cavities and presenting all manner of fantastic forms, caused apparently by the long continued action of water in rapid motion." Rich strikes were common at Shaws Flat; a nugget weighing twenty-six ounces was found in August of 1852. In a day and a half, one company took out more than $600, nearly $200 of which was from one pan of dirt. The Pepper Grinder claim took out ninety-two ounces during one week of 1855. Ten and a half pounds of gold dust were taken out of the Collins claim in just three and a half days.
By the middle of 1851, over $100,000 had been spent on construction of buildings in Shaws Flat and the population numbered in the thousands. Among the businesses at this time were several boarding houses, general merchandise stores, saloons, butcher shops, a bakery, a printing office and a blacksmith. James D. Fair is said to have mined here, unsuccessfully, in his early years. He later went on to become famous as one of the Silver Kings of the Comstock Lode.
An interesting tale is told of a bartender at one of the numerous saloons in Shaws Flat who came up with an ingenious method of supplementing his salary. The price of a drink was generally a pinch of gold dust—with the barkeep doing the pinching from the miner’s poke—and occasionally, some of the pinch would "accidentally" fall onto the bar. Being a neat man, the bartender in question would sweep the dust off the bar and onto his side of the floor. Every hour or so, he would exit out the back door and tramp around in a patch of sticky adobe mud made by a little spring. Returning to his station, he would then walk on any gold which happened to be on the floor. After his shift, he would walk carefully home, scrape the mud from his boots, and pan his trappings. It’s said he averaged $30 a night during the week and up to $100 on the weekends.
A Stone Monument gives a brief history of this once famous gold mining camp, telling of its discovery and of James Fair, one of the town's most famous citizens. It stands by the side of the Shaws Flat Road.
The Mississippi House, was once a rambling, two-building complex built by Albert Bullerdieck in 1850. It marked the center of town, and over the years had served in a number of fashions; post office, stage station, hotel, trading post, bar and restaurant. Fruit trees planted on the property provided the miners with fresh fruit, oftentimes unavailable at many other locales in the Gold Country. It stood opposite the Stone Monument on the Shaws Flat Road at the time this photo was taken back in the 1990s. Unfortunately, today is is just a small jumble of stones.
The Town Bell was once used to summon folks to church, school, meetings, and to sound an alarm in case of fire or emergency. The miners and townsfolk pitched ini and bought the heavy, cast steel bell during the 1850s. When they tried to pull the bell up to the top of the church, they managed instead to pull the steeple off the building. It was finally decided to mount the bell on a pedestal, set firmly on the ground, where it successfully took care of bell business. It is located in front of the elementary school on the hill, somewhat obscured from view.
The Old Schoolhouse doesn’t have any time left apparently. Since the time this photo was taken in the mid-1990s and now, it has disappeared. That's the problem with a lot of the old, historic buildings left in the Gold Country. There just isn't enough funding to keep them preserved and many are left to the elements and worse. It was located behind the present-day school buildings.
The Engler Lime and Brick Kilns were built in 1852 and have provided bricks for numerous buildings throughout the Mother Lode. Here, local limestone was quarried and then slacked in the kilns, producing a mixture used for grout before cement was available. The red lateritic soil of the area was excellent for brick making, and many of the buildings in Sonora and Columbia were made from bricks fired in this stonebrick, now topless, dome structure. The kilns are located on the east side of the Shaws Flat Road, north of Hwy 49.