Empty bottles left alongside a year-round spring located on the trail between Drytown and Mokelumne Hill gave rise to the site’s first name, Bottilleas, most likely an American corruption of the Spanish word for bottle, Botella. That name didn’t last long; however, as by 1849 the small settlement was known as Jacksons Creek, or more simply, Jackson. The camp was probably named in honor of Andrew Jackson, although some claim it was so-called for Colonel Alden Appolas Moore Jackson who may have mined here briefly in 1849, before moving on to the Tuolumne River where he established the mining camp of Jacksonville.
The spring that started it all was located near where the National Hotel currently stands. Bayard Taylor visited the spot in late 1849 and wrote of the miners in his book, El Dorado: “Not the creek only but all the ravines in the mountains around, furnished ground for their winter labors. A little knoll in the valley, above the reach of the floods, was entirely covered with their white tents.” Taylor estimated the population at about sixty.
The camp grew quickly the following year, as besides being a popular mining spot, it was also a convenient stopping place on the road from Sacramento to the Southern Mines. The camp became an important supply and transportation center for the neighboring towns, and by 1850 the population had reached an estimated fifteen hundred and the town claimed over one hundred tents, dwellings, and stores.
Three events occurred in 1851 which helped insure the camp’s livelihood; scheduled stage service arrived, the post office was established on July 10, and Jackson became the Calaveras County seat. The county seat left the following year to Mokelumne Hill, but that didn’t slow things down at all, as by that time quartz mining was beginning to become productive. The growing number of quartz mines scattered about the surrounding hills provided many jobs, which was quite a boon to the town’s economy. Jackson became a county seat once again on May 11 of 1854, not of Calaveras this time, but of the newly created Amador County. It has remained the seat of government since that time.
Lacking the required two thousand citizens needed to incorporate as a city, Jackson did the next best thing and incorporated as a town in late 1853, giving it both taxing and policing powers. The growing community suffered a serious setback when fire destroyed a major portion of the town in 1855. The citizens rebuilt as quickly as they could and within a year business was back on track.
One of the Mother Lode’s most important gold discoveries took place in Jackson in 1856. Andrew Kennedy, an Irish immigrant, located a rich quartz vein on a hill north of town. It would be combined with several other claims in 1860 to form the Kennedy Mine, one of the richest mines ever worked in the Gold Country. The mine eventually reached a vertical depth of 5,912 feet, which made it the deepest mine in North America at the time of its closing in 1942, when all gold-mining activities were suspended as being non-essential to the war effort. Although the evidence pointed to the gold vein continuing even deeper, the mine never reopened due to increased costs and the deterioration of the underground works which occurred while it was shut down. Its total production was over $34 million.
The Kennedy had a rich and famous neighbor on the other side of the hill; it was the Argonaut Mine. Discovered in the mid-1850’s by two black miners, James Hager and William Tudor, the claim on Negro Hill was purchased during the 1860’s by the Pioneer Gold & Silver Mining Company. Worked in a rather desultory manner for a number of years, the mine’s serious development began in 1893 when it was purchased by the Argonaut Mining Company. The mine operated until 1942, reaching a vertical depth of 5,570 feet via a sixty-three degree shaft and produced a total of $25,179,160.43 in gold.
Misfortune plagued the Argonaut over its years of operations. In the spring of 1919, a fire was discovered on the 4,000-foot level of the mine. Believed to be of incendiary origin, the fire was quickly surrounded and thought to have been under control; work was resumed. Almost a year later, fire was discovered on the 3,000-foot level of the neighboring Kennedy Mine, thought to have reached the Kennedy by eating its way through old workings and caved ground from the Argonaut. The management of the Kennedy began flooding the mine with water to extinguish the fire and as the two mines were connected at the time, the lower levels of both were flooded and work halted for almost a year.
The state's worst mining disaster occurred in the Argonaut in 1922. A fire was discovered on the night of August 27 by the shift boss, Clarence Bradshaw, who was at the 4,200-foot level at the time. Noticing the smoke, he called to a couple of skip tenders nearby. Jumping into the skip, they headed for the surface, nearly choking to death at the 3,000-foot level where the smoke seemed to be the worst. The rest of the shift were deep below the surface, in other parts of the mine. Upon reaching the top, Bradshaw and Foreman Sanguinetti tried to go back down to help the forty-seven men trapped in the 4,650 and 4,800-foot levels. They got as far as the 2,800-foot level, where they were forced back by an impassable barrier of smoke and fire.
The flames raged unstoppable. Gas explosions were heard from deep within the mine, where searchlights revealed tons of rock, rubble and burning timbers blocking the shaft and preventing any hopes of reaching the trapped men. A tunnel was started from one of the shafts of the Kennedy mine, a wild scheme to reach the men who were trapped, hopefully below the level of the fire. There was water in the mine for the miners to drink, but no food. How long could they last? On September 18, twenty-two days after the fire broke out, the tunnel finally broke through from the Kennedy to the 4,200-foot level of the Argonaut. The fire was still far above and there was a chance that the miners might still be alive. But their hope was in vain. Behind two bulkheads the trapped men had built against the fire and gas, they found the bodies of forty-six men. They had perished about five hours after the fire started, from poisonous gas.
Jackson’s early population was a mixture of many nationalities. Italian, Serbian, Slavonian, Mexican, Irish, and the descendants of pioneer Americans made up a thriving community that got along together much better than some of their contemporaries. Some of the town’s “firsts” which took place during the early years prove interesting to recount. The first postmaster was Henry Mann, who in 1852 may have been the first person and first postmaster killed by a bear in Jackson when the tame bear he kept tied to the hanging tree got loose. L. A. Collier, the first Calaveras County Clerk, was fatally shot in Jackson, killed over a dispute by Judge William Smith. The first lynchee was an Indian named Coyote Joe, who was hanged on the old oak tree in 1851 for murdering the blacksmith Thompson. The Sentinel was Jackson’s first newspaper. It put out three issues in 1852 before folding. The first legal hanging in Jackson and Amador County took place on December 19 of 1856, when Nathan Cottle was hanged for stabbing to death a young miner named Cole. Cottle was also the first victim of grave-robbing, as after the hanging his corpse was unearthed and stolen away.
The town’s worst calamity occurred on August 23 of 1862, when a pile of hot ashes, carelessly dumped outside a wood-frame building on Main Street, ignited the most terrible fire in Jackson’s history. In less than three hours most of the town was destroyed, the only buildings to escape the conflagration being a few brick structures and some outlying dwellings. As a result, most of Jackson’s remaining historic buildings were constructed after this fire and date from 1862 to 1864. Although many of the buildings on Main Street may look to be of relatively recent construction, they’re “all front,” and just for show. A look down the side streets and at the rear portions of these buildings will often reveal their true age. And remember that while walking through Jackson it’s a good idea to keep your eyes down, as there are a number of historical plaques imbedded in the sidewalks.
Jackson is located on Hwy 49.
The National Hotel has been in continuous operation as a hotel since 1863, making it one of the oldest such establishments in California. The lot upon which it stands has been occupied by some kind of building since 1849, when Ellis Evans and his partner D. C. White put up grocery and general provision store near the spring which gave the town its earliest name. That first building was either burned or taken down in 1852 when Evans, White & Co. put up a wooden building with a two-story front facing Main Street and a three-story back facing the creek. It was called the “Louisiana Hotel and Store.” It burned to the ground in the fire of 1862, after which Evans, White & Co. built a two-story with basement brick hotel they called the “National Hotel.” The building was completed and ready for business on March 27 of 1863, the third story and extensions coming at a later date. The three-story addition to the rear of the main building were constructed in 1896 by its new owner, Richard Webb. It is located at the bend in the road, at 2 Water Street.
The Masonic Building may be the oldest building in town. Built in the spring of 1854, the building survived teh 1862 fire with only minor damage. The Amador Lodge No. 65 F.& A.M. was organized on November 13 of 1854. Their first meeting hall was located on teh second floor of a brick building built by Moses Brumel in 1854. Sometime before the 1862 fire, they moved to this building which was then owned by Frank Rocco, renting the top floor for their meetings. The Masons purchased the top floor from Rocco after the fire and eventually purchased the entire building. It stands near the National Hotel, at 14 Water Street.
The Wells Fargo club and Restaurant is a unique building to say the least. It stretches for about 150 feet along Water Street and took almost fifty years to complete. The building consists of three sections; a one-story section, a two-story section, and another one-story section. The first section is known as the "drug store" section, for that's what it was. Wesley Jackson and B.R. Sweetland operated the Jackson Drug and News Depot here in a wooden building in 1854. By 1855, the building was owned by Dr. William Sharp and J.D. Davidson who decided to raze the wooden building and erect a new one in brick. Construction began in August of 1856 and was probably finished that year. In 1857, Sharp and Davidson moved across the street and Wells Fargo & Co. occupied the building for about a year, resulting in the building's name today.
The second, two-story section dates from 1858, when Anthony & Co. erected a fireproof brick structure along their ninety-four feet of Water Street. Their brick store replaced a tiny, ten-foot-wide by twelve-foot-long wooden building originally owned by Gaetano Courrassi, who sold out to a group of Italians about 1853. Anthony & Co. purchased the building in 1856, acquired more frontage in '58, and built the present structure which is often referred to as the "Italian Store."
The third, one-story brick section of the Wells Fargo Club was constructed sometime between 1898 and 1903.
The I.O.O.F. Building is reported to be the tallest three-story building in the United States. Fred Schober's butcher shop and a blacksmith shop were located here prior to being destroyed in the 1862 fire. After the fire destroyed his Union Hotel across the street, Henry W. Allen acquired the lot and began construction of a new two-story brick hotel. Completed in February of 1863, the Union House Hotel was sold to and dedicated by the I.O.O.F. lodge on October 2 of 1873. The Oddfellows added the somewhat tall third floor in 1904, creating one of the most interesting Jacksonian structures. Wells Fargo & Co. located their office in this building in 1871. The 1855 date atop the building refers to the date of organization of the Jackson Lodge No. 36, I.O.O.F., not the year of the building's construction.
Jackson's Hanging Tree launched ten men into eternity between 1851 and 1855, all of them lynched. Thompson & West's History of Amador County, 1881, has this to say about it: "This tree which has become noted wherever the name of California is known, formerly stood near Louis Tellier's saloon, and was a live-oak, with several branching trunks. It was never very beautiful, but was a source of so much pride to the citizens, on account of its history, that its likeness was engraved on the county seal, so that its appearance is not likely to be forgotten." The tree was sorely wounded in the great fire of 1862 and as a result had to be cut down. A plaque in the sidewalk at 26 main Street marks the site where the tree once stood.
The Levy Brothers Dry Goods Store builidng dates from 1854 and is one of the few downtown structures which survived the great fire. It was located in the building at 38 Main Street.
The Republic House Hotel was built in 1858. The two-story brick hotel was also one of the fortunate downtown building to survive the fire. The third story was added in 1896. It stands at 104 Main Street.
The Miners Saloon Building was built in 1863 by S. Brandt and was originally known as the Miners Saloon & Restaurant. A sausage factory operated here in 1898. It can be found at 126 Main Street.
The Sanguinetti Building was put up as a one-story brick building in 1869 by a man named Sanguinetti. A second story was added over the bakery in 1882, the rest of the second floor is only a facade. It is located at 134-140 Main Street.
The Native Daughters Building was originally two separate buildings prior to 1862. Both buildings were built around 1855, survived the fire, and were later combined. The Native Daughters of the Golden West order was founded in the southern half's basement in 1886. The building stands at 115-111 Main Street.
Brumel's New York Bakery & Saloon was Mr. Brumel's third building. His first was a wood-frame structure built in 1854 from which he sold cigars, tobacco, liquors, confectionery, preserved fruits and other assorted sundries. On April 5 of 1855, his first building caught fire and burned when a fire started in Marque's French bakery located just next door. Brumel's losses were put at $3,000. Rebuilding in frame, his new store was ready for business by October of the same year. The fire of 1862 consumed his building and just about everything else. Brumel's losses were put at $2,500. His third building he made of brick and on Sunday night, August 30 of 1863, he reopened for business. The structure stands at 45 Main Street.
The E. Le Jeune French Restaurant was known for its fine French cuisine during the 1850s and 1860s. It was put up after the fire of 1855 with the help of neighboring businesses. It occupied the building at 35 Main Street.
The Old Brick Building was the town's first two-story brick building. It was built by the summer of 1854 and was badly damaged in the fire of 1855. Rebuilt, the fire of 1862 destroyed part of the building, afterwhich it was once again rebuilt. The building tops were joined in the 1900s. It is located at 33-29 Main Street.
The Constitution Saloon was built in the late 1850s and was nearly destroyed in the 1862 fire. Rebuilt, the structure later served as the Women's Club building. It is located at 47 Summit.
The Amador County Courthouse occupied the site of the first Amador County Courthouse. That structure was completed in December of 1854 and then destroyed in the 1862 fire. Officials were able to save the records from the blaze by carrying them to the Hubbard & Fry law office located across the street. In addition to courtrooms, chambers and offices, the courthouse also housed the county jail in its basement. The courhouse was rebuilt in 1863, as a two-story brick building. In 1893, the Hall of Records was built adjacent to the courhouse and the two structures were eventually joined in the 1920s. The buildings were remodeled in 1939 at a cost of $150,000. They stand at 108 Court Street.
The Hubbard & Fry Law Office helped save the county records during the 1862 fire. From the August 29 issue of Tom Springer's Ledger: "Within 20 minutes all on court house hill was was wrapped in flames...the devouring flames swept like a whirlwind in every direction, and in less than three hours the whole town was either flames or ashes...All of the most valuable books, papers, etc. in the different county office were saved by being carried into Hubbard and Fry's fire proof law office..." The brick building was built in 1860 by James F. Hubbard, not James F. Farley as the plaque on the wall states. It is located at 103 Court Street.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church was built in 1868 to replace the town's second Catholic church which was destroyed in the fire of 1862. Daniel Harter designed and built the striking, thirty by fifty foot frame structure whose walls rise twenty-two feet to the eaves. The church was dedicated on May 18 of 1868, and has served Jackson's congregation ever since. The rectory next door was built in two parts, the first half being constructed in 1887 and the rest sometime after 1919. The structures stand at 121 & 115 Court Street.
The Brown Home currently houses the Amador County Museum. Built atop a hill with a fine view of the town below, this handsome, two-story brick home was erected in 1859 for Armstead Calvin Brown, one of the thousands of 49ers who traveled across the plains to reach the gold mines of California. Brown arrived in the placer mines of Clear Creek, later a part of Shasta County, in the late summer of 1849. Making his was south, he arrived in Jackson either in late '49 or early 1850. He must have liked what he saw, because he sailed home in 1850 to pick up his wife Phillipa and their children. The family reached Jackson towards the end of 1851, Brown once again taking the overland route. The Amador County Museum provided a fascinating look back at the early day life of this Gold Rush mining camp. Some of the original furniture along with many historical items from Jackson's past are on display throughout the rooms of this old building. Mining equipment of various shapes, sizes and used are scattered about the museum grounds and a scale model of a stamp mill may be view as part of the museum tour. It is located at 225 Church Street.
The United Methodist Church dates back to 1869. The first church on this site was built in 1853 and also probably housed the town's first school, which remained there until 1858 when a brick schoolhouse was built down the street. The church survived the 1862 fire, but it didn't survive 1868. It was torn down that year in order to build a new Methodist-Episcopal church which was completed in 1869. The present building includes the original, along with some additions, remodeling, and relocating. It stands at 120 & 130 Church Street.
The St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church is the Mother Church of that denomination in North America. Jackson was home to a large Serbian population in the early 1890s, but at that time there was no Serbian church on the continent. To remedy this situation, His Grace Nikolai of Alaska, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church of the United States, came to Jackson with Father Dabovich and on February 25 of 1894, the Bright ranch parcel was consecrated. The first burial took place in May and the little white church was dedicated on December 16 of the same year. It is located at 724 Main Street.
The monstrous, fifty-eight foot diameter Kennedy Tailing Wheels are a one-of-a-king creation. Although not built during the Gold rush, these huge wooden wheels were a direct result of a Gold Rush event and are probably the most remembered artifacts of any visit to Jackson today.
The wheels were built in 1914 in response to federal anti-debris laws and court cases reaching back to the 1880s; no longer could the mines dump their wastes into the rivers and streams, polluting the water and causing serious flood dangers to the farmers in the valleys below. All mine tailing had to be impounded. As the Kennedy Mine's impound dam was located behind two small hills and about a half-mile away from the mill, the wheels were built to lift the tailings up over the hills to the dam.
The ore from the Kennedy Mine was crushed in their one-hundred-stamp mill on the south slope of Humbug Hill. The tailings, or "waste," were then mixed with water in the slime plant and allowed to flow down a one thousand-foot-long flume to the base of Wheel #1. Anchored to a concrete foundation, the three-story-tall wheel lifted the tailings forty-four feet in redwood buckets and then emptied them into a flume which flowed to the base of Wheel #2. From the top of Wheel #2, an eight-hundred-foot long flume carried the tailings over Jackson Gate Road to Wheel #3. Up another forty-four feet and down another flume to Wheel #4 which lifted the tailings for a final time up and over the top of the hill and into the impounding basin in Indian Gulch.
The wheels worked twenty-four hours a day, from December of 1914 to 1942 with few stoppages, each day lifting 850 tons of waste up and over the hills. When the Kennedy Mine closed in 1942, the corrugated iron buildings which had enclosed the four wheels were torn down for scrap. Suddenly, four looming wooden wheels appeared on Jackson's horizon, much to the delight of later day artists and photographers. The wheels are locaetd in the jackson Kennedy Wheels City Park, norht of town about a mile along Jackson Gate Road. Two wheels have fallen since they were uncovered in 1942, Wheel #3 in 1963 and Wheel #2 in 1970. The remaining two wheels are still standing.
The Kennedy and Argonaut Mines View Point provides a splendid view of the land which was once so rich in gold. Off in the distance, the rusted-steel headframe of the Kennedy mine, the ruins of its one-hundred-stamp mill, and the white, two-story mine house can be seen. These structures all date from the 1900s and are impressive sights to see. Pull of Hwy 49 into the recently renovated view point to take a look.