A small group of Mexican miners were the first prospectors here, arriving sometime during the winter of 1848. Locating their camp on a gulch about one-quarter mile above the present center of town, they commenced mining the ravine by sinking holes down to bedrock and then washing out the dirt with batteas. The first Mass held in the new camp took place on November 30, Saint Andrew’s Day, of 1848, which may have been responsible for the camp being called San Andreas.
By 1849 the Mexican population had increased to nearly one thousand miners, and before the year was out the American miners began appearing, concentrating their operations in the main gulch. Their appearance ignited a small rush to the area and the camp began to see a number of French and Chinese arrivals as well. This sudden influx of miners also attracted a number of storekeepers and gamblers, and soon the town’s main street was lined with fandango halls, saloons, boarding houses, and a variety of stores. The first frame building to be erected was the Bella Union, a combination saloon, courthouse, gambling hall, and meeting place which went up in the spring of 1851. The camp’s first hotel, the Main Street House, was also built this year by a man named Philip Piper. To keep water flowing into the diggings year round, two water ditches were built during 1851 and 1852. The “Silver Ditch” was built by Captain Robert Pope and brought water in from Willow Creek. The Union Ditch provided the miners with water from nearby Murray Creek.
The placer deposits which first attracted the gold seekers were rich, but they were only surface placers and began to give out after a few years. Unbeknownst to the early inhabitants; however, a deep, prehistoric river channel ran under the town of San Andreas. Orson Murray and Captain A. P. Ferguson are reported to be the discoverers of the channel at San Andreas, supposedly taking out seventy-six ounces of gold from a single load of dirt when the channel was first found. The channel sparked a tremendous amount of drift mining after its discovery, resulting in tunnels and excavations being worked along its entire length. The channel entered town from the south, passed though the southern part of town, and then continued west under Gold Hill, where a major discovery took place in 1853.
The renewed mining activity occasioned by the channel discovery spurred a fresh bout of growth in San Andreas, which began to look less like a camp and more like a town. The post office arrived on November 14 of 1854, moved here from Third Crossing. Substantial buildings were erected, new streets were laid out, and business boomed as miners from all over the world came to San Andreas. Some of the early street names reveal how far some traveled in their search for gold: French Street, China Street, and Spanish Avenue.
True to the heritage of a mining camp, San Andreas suffered numerous fires in its early years. In 1854 a blaze destroyed a number of wood and canvas buildings, afterwhich the townsfolk rebuilt. On the morning of February 2 of 1856, the cry of fire was heard once again. Starting in the Old Empire Mine on Main Street, the fire leaped from building to building, burning everything on the south side of the street as far as Crowley’s restaurant. The north side of the street was obliterated down to the main gulch, with the exception of the American restaurant, a fire-proof stone building. On June 8 of 1858, yet another conflagration swept through the town. This fire was the work of an incendiary and originated in a vacant building at the lower end of Court Street, formerly used as a fandango. Mr. Bellows, the private watchman, discovered the fire, but as no water could be produced in time, the building was soon ablaze. The flames spread to both side of Court Street, quickly reaching its junction with Main. Most of the camp was left in ashes. It was after this last great fire that most of the brick and frame Classical Revival buildings were constructed.
The ancient river channels responsible for the town’s existence continued to produce gold for many years, enabling San Andreas to rebuild completely after each fire. The claims hereabouts continued to pay well as late as 1867, with the Plug Ugly reportedly producing $1,100 in a single day, while another nearby mine unearthed nine pounds of gold in one forenoon. Such results keep San Andreas hopping, making it one of the largest and most active towns in Calaveras County during the early 1860’s. The citizens felt that their town should be the final home of the jumping county seat of Calaveras County and decided to make it so.
When Calaveras County was created in 1850, it embraced all of the adjoining territory north of it now known as Amador County. The first seat of this large county was located at Double Springs, today just a wide spot in the road. An election in 1851 moved the seat to Jackson, another election in 1852 removed the seat to Mokelumne Hill. In 1854, Calaveras County lost a chunk of land to the newly created Amador County, with Jackson being made its county seat. Finally, after a controversial election with Mokelumne Hill, San Andreas won the county seat and has retained it ever since.
San Andreas is located on Hwy 49.
Gooney's Saloon was built for Thomas McGlim soon after the fire of 1858 wiped out the town's business section. This small, brick building has been occupied as a saloon throughout its existence, except for a brief period in 1860 when someone lost their mind and used it for a provision store. The building was owned by one Gounder Evinson from the 1860s to the 1890s. Known by his friends as "Gooney," so is the building known today. It is located at 6 N. Main.
Cornell and Bowman's Store is an example of a building where imagination is needed to really see the building. An 1857 brick building is trapped beneath the stucco facade, which was applied in 1922 to "modernize" its appearance. Herman Bode took over after Cornell and Bowman left, operating a plumbing and tin shop until the 1890s. W.O. Swenson was the next occupant, heoperated the Calaveras Metal Works which made pipe for the local mines. It is located at 10 N. Main.
B. Crowley's Empire Bakery and Restaurant is another brick building under a coating of stucco. The building was built in 1858 and first operated as a bakery and restaurant, feeding miners tired of their own cooking. After the baker, the building was used as a drug store, a hardware store, and a general store. The post office was once housed here during the early years, which results in it sometimes being called the "Post Office Building." It can be found at 14 N. Main.
The I.O.O.F. and Masonic Hall was the town's first two-story building and is one of the oldest extant buildings in San Andreas. The brick structure was built in 1856; it managed to survive the fire of 1858 by closing its iron shutters and letting the fire burn by. The meeting hall was located upstairs while a general provision store operated from the main floor. The basement housed a billiard parlor and saloon. The building was originally constructed by the San Andreas Lodge, F. & A. M., who later shared it with the Calaveras Lodge, I.O.O.F., which was organized in 1865. The main floor was used as an armory during the Civil War by the Union Guards. The building was purchased by the County of Calaveras in 1900. It is located at 22 N. Main.
The Calaveras County Courthouse is somewhat hidden, being located behind the Hall of Records at 30 N. Main Street. When San Andreas won the county seat in 1866, the citizens discovered they were lacking a courthouse. "Borrowing" the theater building owned by John W. Sharp, the first court was held there on December 12th of 1866. On April 19th of 1867, William Maloney was awarded a contract to build a two-story brick courthouse, approximately fifty by sixty-six feet, for the sum of $14,300. The building was designed by D.L. Morril, the stone foundation was laid by May 25th of 1867, and the structure was completed on February 8th of 1868. The courthouse was the seat of government for ninety-eight years. The building also housed the County Jail, which occupied the east end of the lower floor, its entrance on the east side. The jail contains five iron-barred cells, a trustee's room, kitchen, and office. It was here that the highwayman known as Black Bart was confined for three days during his trial in 1883. The Calaveras County Historical Museum is also located in the courthouse building.
William Livers Ten Pin Saloon has served the thirsty as a saloon for more than one hundred years of its existence. Known over the years as "The Exchange," "Toon Brothers Saloon," "The Branch," and "The Courthouse Saloon," the saloon's main attraction was its bowling alley. It stands next to the courthouse.
The American Bakery and Restaurant is the oldest existing building in San Andreas today. When Joseph Zwinge's canvas tent hotel burned to the ground for the third time, he decided it was time for a more permanent structre. In 1855 he put up his fire-proof building, built of native stone quarried from nearby Murrays Creek. Taking in two partners, William Zwinge and Antone Schachten, Joseph opened for business. In the rear of the building were several small, partitioned rooms which were rented nightly to travelers and miners. Joseph called the place the American Hotel and Restaurant. The building turned out to be fire-proof indeed, withstanding the blazes of 1856 and 1858. John Huberty acquired the building in December of 1858; in 1887 William F. Jenkins purchased the building, changing the name to the "Jenkins Brothers Hotel." It is located at 46 N. Main.
The Joseph Bennett Building was built in 1858, originally for use as a first-class tonsorial parlor. John Steel purchased the building in 1863 for his cobbler shop. Specializing in bootmaking, Steel operated at this location for fifty-six years. It is located at 48 N. Main.
Henry Wolfstein's Cigar Store was constructed in 1859 for Henry Wolfstein, owner and operator of the camp's premier "Cigar Store and News Agency." During the 1870s, the building was used by Dr. Robertson as a drug store, which was taken over by Dr. Murphy during the 1880s after he took over Robertson's practice. It stands next to the Bennett Building.
Ganz and Prag's Brick Store was built in 1859 by Conrad Prag and Abram GAnz for use as a general merchandise store. They sold out in 1864 to a now unknown party and by 1868 the shop belonged to C.M. Whitlock. Whitlock added the second story in 1897, running the business until his heath in 1904. The store was then operated by J.F. Treat and became part of the Treat Hotel in 1930 when the building was remodeled by William Treat. It is now part of the structure known as the Black Bart Inn.
The Thomas Tassaro Stone Store was originally a one-story stone building, constructed by Thomas Tassaro in the 1850s. Tassaro operated a general merchandise store from 1856 to the early 1870s when he entered into partnership with Geralamo Tiscornia. The building became part of the Treat Hotel in 1932, at which time the second floor was added. It is now also part of the Black Bart Inn.
Antone's Barber Shop was constructed around 1860. Over the years it has been used as a barber shop, bakery, general store, post office and saloon. It is the wooden frame building next to Peyser's Brick Store.
Theodore Peyser's Brick Store was built in 1859 by John Eppley, a respected stone mason in the community. Theodore Peyser ran a dry-goods store here for many years, after which the building was used for Rosenberg and Seldner's Store, C.R. Lloyd's Picture Gallery, and during the 1880s, Beal's Calaveras Citizen. It stands at 15 N. Main.
The Thorn Mansion was called “the grandest house in the mountains” after it was constructed in 1861. The brick Gothic Revival mansion was built for Sheriff Benjamin Kent Thorn and his wife Annie Meeks, allegedly with funds skimmed from the sheriff’s assessment collections. Thorn served as sheriff from 1867 to 1902, with the exception of a few years during the 1870’s. Noted for his capture of several dangerous criminals, Thorn’s most famous case occurred in 1883 when he played a part in the apprehension of Black Bart, the highwayman. It stands just off the highway, at 87 East Saint Charles (Hwy 49).
The Wyllie and Washburn Store was built in 1861 by Alexander Wyllie and J.F. Washburn. The two used the structure as a general provisions store and as the office for the lumberyard of their Eureka Mill. It is located at 40 East Saint Charles.