The town takes its name from the creek; the creek takes its name from John A. Sutter. Unable to stop the tide of gold-seekers flowing over and destroying his lands, Sutter decided to follow the call of gold, trying in vain to recoup what the Gold Rush had taken. He arrived here in 1848 with a band of Kanakas and Indians, and upon finding a likely spot began mining along the creek.
A small settlement began to grow, centered around a cloth tent where the miners met on rainy Sundays when they couldn’t go to Drytown or Jackson. The place eventually took the name of its most prominent citizen, and was called Sutter’s Creek, Sutter, Sutterville, and finally, plain old Sutter Creek. But Sutter wasn’t a miner, and many of the other miners in the area didn’t much approve of his using servants to dig for gold. He left the area a short while later, returning with his men to Sutter’s Fort. He never mined again.
The camp appeared to be on the verge of disappearing by 1850, due to the poor placers and the better diggings to be found elsewhere. This changed dramatically in 1851 when rich quartz deposits were discovered near the camp. With the advent of quartz mining, Sutter Creek became firmly established as an important quartz mining center as well as a foundry center and supply point for the neighboring quartz mines and towns.
By the end of 1851, two quartz mills were crushing ore from the mines, soon there would be ten. Quartz mining was still in its infancy, costly and hazardous, as the methods of timbering the shafts and tunnels were still evolving. As a result, cave-ins were a frequent occurrence and caused many injuries and deaths. But as long as the veins continued to pay, the miners continued to mine.
The post office came to town in 1852, with Dwight Crandall serving as the first postmaster. Other businesses included an Adams Express office, stores, saloons, hotels, bakeries and restaurants, doctors, lawyers, blacksmith, barber and numerous other professions, sordid and mundane. In September of 1854, Sutter Creek incorporated as a town which shows there were at least two hundred inhabitants at that time, as that was the required number for incorporation. From that point on the town never looked back, enjoying immense prosperity for years to come due to its location, in the midst of some of the most active and profitable deep quartz mines in the Gold Country. Mines such as the Central Eureka, the Old Eureka, the Lincoln, the Wildman, the Mahoney, and the Hayward produced millions of dollars in gold. The famous mines attracted and helped create famous people, such as Leland Stanford, Alvinza Hayward, and the “Witch of Wallstreet,” Hetty Green.
Receiving an interest in the Union Mine as payment for a merchant’s debt, Leland Stanford left his grocery business in Sacramento to travel to Sutter Creek when news of the mine’s losses reached him in the late 1850’s. By this time the mine had been renamed the Lincoln, and after working the claim for a while with poor results, Stanford decided to sell the mine for $5,000, provided he could find a buyer. Robert Downs, the mine foreman, persuaded Stanford to give the mine one last chance and as fortune would have it, the chance payed out. Within a year the rich vein was re-discovered, producing $2.2 million in gold between 1860 and 1873. Stanford eventually sold his interests for $400,000 and later became famous with his partners Huntington, Crocker, and Hopkins by building the Central Pacific transcontinental railroad. Oh yes, he also went on to become governor of California, a U.S. Senator, and the founder of Stanford University.
Fires in 1862, 1865, 1870, 1875, 1877, and 1888 took turns destroying portions of Sutter Creek, the last one wiping out most of the downtown business section. The damage was always quickly repaired; however, because gold never sleeps. It’s always working, or creating work, causing things to happen. It caused this town to boom, to build, to prosper and to last. It’s responsible for the many buildings and homes here that have survived from the 1800’s. They were built well, built to last, because they thought the gold would last. And as it turned out, it did, although in a slightly different form. Lumbering, and more recently, tourism, now provide Sutter Creek and much of the Mother Lode with its gold today.
The Bellotti Inn, whose first two stories were formerly known as Nixon's Hotel, The American Exchange Hotel, and The American House, dates from 1867. There has been a hotel on this site since 1853, when Dwight Crandall and his partner Jonathan Jones bought two lots and put up their American House. Besides providing shelter, the building was home to a stage stop, express office, bar, restaurant, and post office. In 1856, Crandall sold the lot north of the hotel to John Keyes and a man named Clute, who put up a brick building in 1858. This brick structure survived the fire of 1865, alas, the hotel did not. On May 5 of 1866, Dr. Fifield bought the hotel's lot for $200. He then commenced building a new, two-story brick hotel, which he named the American Exchange Hotel. Sometime during the 1890's, the Keys and Clute brick building became an annex to the hotel. The third story was added in 1896.
The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church was originally built in 1861. A fire in 1972 collapsed the roof and destroyed much of the church, after which it was rebuilt as an exact replica using the original 19th century plans. The Historic Cemetery which surrounds the church dates back to the early days of Sutter Creek. It is located on Amelia Street.
The Lincoln Mine Site Monument marks the general location of the main shaft of the Lincoln Mine, once owned by Leland Stanford. It is located on Amador Road near Hwy 49.
The Native Sons Hall, also known as "The Sutter," dates from the 1860s. Several buildings stood on this site and have been combined into the present building. The second story probably dates from the late 1880s. It can be found on Main Street.
The F. Coblentz & Brother Store and the Nathan Store, two one-story brick buildings a few doors south of The Sutter, are among the oldest structures in town. David Nathan bought M. Cohen's clothing store in 1858, putting up the brick building sometime prior to 1862. Coblentz built his brick store shortly after the 1865 fire. Both buildings survived the blaze of 1888 which destroyed a major portion of the business section of town.
Brinn's Brick Store, a.k.a. the "Malatesta Building," was built in 1888. The 1860 date atop this brick building refers to the date when Brinn and his partner Newman started in business on this site. Morris Brinn arrived in Sutter Creek in 1860, found the town to his liking, and opened a general merchandise store on this site. The first building here was a wooden affair, later replaced with one of brick. Over the next few years, a bakery, Masonic hall, fruit store, and general provision store operated from this site. Brinn bought out his partner in 1868, taking in his brother Nathan in 1869. The brick building didn't survive the fire of 1888, and the present building was built to replace it that same year.
The United Methodist Church dates back to 1862, at which time the nave portion of the building was completed. The vestry was added around 1892, and to top it all off, the steeple was added in 1976.
Knight's Foundry is likely the only foundry in the United States to be mostly water-powered. Samuel N. Knight, Horn and Kinloch formed a partnership on or about June 17 of 1875, to own and operate the foundry established in 1872 by Campbell, Hall & Co. That firm built their foundry and machine shop on land leased from the Consolidated Amador Mining Company. Over the years this foundry has cast mining and dredging equipment, assorted tools, and other cast iron items used in building and construction. It is located on Eureka Street.
The Sutter Creek Grammar School is no longer filled with kids and teachers intent on schoolin' but it ain't empty neither. The thirty-five by fifty-five foot, two-story brick schoolhouse was probably completed and furnished by the start of the new school year in September of 1870, at a cost to the community of $10,000. It was built to replace the second schoolhouse, constructed in 1857, which was destroyed by fire on May 16 of 1870. The Amador Ledger reported: "The fire was undoubtedly the work of an incendiary and the probably result of a little 'onpleasantness' which has existed in that place for sometime past in regard to school matters." The "onpleasantness" may have been a controversial Sunday school issue which had divided much of the community. Two competent teachers somehow managed to preside over a daily attendance of some two hundred pupils. The schoolhouse is no longer used as such, it now serves as a community center after having been restored by the Sutter Creek Women's Club. It stands on a slight hill east of Main Street.
The Wildman Mine Ruins stand starkly silhouetted against the background sky, atop a grass knoll behind the old grammar school. The crumbling stone walls are all that remain tomark the site of the Wildman mine's easternmost shaft, known as the Emerson. The Wildman mine, in combination with the Mahoney, is credited with a production of $5 million in gold.