The creek, the town, and the county all take their name from the same man, Jose Maria Amador, Indian fighter, rancher, miner. On August 17 of 1835, Amador was granted an immense 16,517 acre tract of land known as the Rancho San Ramon, where he settled down and built one of the few two-story adobes in California. Amador began producing leather, soap, saddles, blankets, shoes, and wagons using Indians from mission San Jose, and was soon one of the wealthiest rancheros in the province.
When word of the gold discovery at Sutter’s Mill reached Rancho San Ramon, Amador decided to visit the place and see what it was all about. Traveling with a Frenchman named Sausevain, they reached Sutter’s Fort at about eight o’clock in the evening and met Sutter, whom Amador states was rather drunk, but nevertheless provided a cordial reception and served a good dinner and liquor of excellent quality.
When they arrived at the mill the following day, the two men walked down to the American River, took out their pans and commenced mining for gold. Their first efforts were somewhat discouraging, averaging only about 75 cents per pan. Disappointed with these results, they headed for Mormon Camp, where the miners were getting about an ounce of gold to each of two shovelsful. They then returned home, but before long they would be back.
Returning to Sutter’s Mill in June of 1848, Amador’s party learned of the dry placers at what would later become Amador Creek. Two of the men, Sausevain and Sunol, left for the dry placers while Amador remained at the American River. He joined them later that month and the three men, with their retinue of some twenty Indian workers, took out from seven to nine pounds of gold a day. Besides mining, Amador was also a successful trader, selling cattle—$150 each—and provisions to the local miners. After being in the mines for about nine months off and on, Amador left for good early in 1849, returning to his rancho with thousands of dollars in gold.
Amador and his party were not the only miners on the creek during those early days. A party of men from Oregon built two cabins and stayed during the winter of 1848/49. James Wheeler and his four partners built a large double cabin in the fall of 1849, as did a company from Virginia who also kept a stock of goods available for sale. A company of miners from New York were camped along Amador Creek by the end of 1849, which Bayard Taylor describes as being “lined with tents and winter cabins.”
In February of 1851, a Baptist minister from Tennessee named S. A. Davidson made the first discovery of gold-bearing quartz in the region, beside a crystal spring where miners often stopped to slake their thirst. Why was the minister able to spot the gold while experienced miners were not? Divine Intervention? We will never know. We do know that among his partners were M. W. Glover and Lemuel Herbert, both Methodist-Episcopal ministers, and Peter Y. Cool, who would become a minister in 1854. It’s not surprising that the claim came to be known as the “Ministers Claim.”
Several other claims were staked along the quartz vein shortly after Davidson’s discovery, which led to the original settlement shifting downstream from Amador Crossing, where the stage road crossed the creek, to the spot it occupies today. As the miners became more familiar with working the quartz mines, the mines began to prosper, which created a demand for more workers. And wherever miners went, stores and saloons and hotels and all the rest were sure to follow. Amador boomed and went on to become one of the richest mining towns in the Gold Country.
The Keystone Consolidated Mine Headframe is one of the first things you'll see upon entering Amador City from the south. The Keystone was the best known and most productive mine in the area, formed from the consolidation of several other local claims. The early years of the mine's history were plagued with production and ownership problems, until the discovery of a bonanza in 1866, when the first month's crushing paid $40,000. This high yield continued for many years making the Keystone one of the state's most productive mines. The mine operated until 1942, reaching a depth of 2,680 feet. Its total production is put at $24.5 million.
The Keystone Office and Assay Room stands above the road, opposite the old headframe, as it has since it was built in 1881. Inside the rooms of this two-story brick building the gold was brought from the mines, assayed, weighed, stored and shipped. During the mine’s operation, the building also housed the offices where the books and corporate affairs were taken care of. Currently known as the Mine House Inn, it offers travelers restored and authentically furnished rooms in which to spend the night.
The Fleehart Building is the oldest building in town, dating from the 1850’s. Built by William Fleehart, miner, merchant, and Wells Fargo agent, the building housed a general merchandise store where Fleehart furnished the miners with supplies and news. The building may have housed the Keystone company store for a short time, and it is the only store building to have survived the great fire of 1878.
The Kling Building rose from the ashes of the 1878 fire, replacing Kling’s wood-frame saloon that was wiped out in the conflagration. Kling used the south half of the building for his new saloon, the north side of the building was occupied by Hewitt and Hammack’s dry goods and grocery. The north half of the building has also housed a justice of the peace, a cobbler’s shop, and an assay office over the years.
The Imperial Hotel was originally meant to be a mercantile store. When the fire of 1878 destroyed a wooden hotel on the site, B. Sanguinetti decided to build a brick store on the lot. At some point during the construction he changed his plans and in 1879 an impressive, two-story brick hotel was finished. The following year a two-story frame addition was added to the rear of the building, which was removed years later. The hotel was first known as the “Italian Hotel,” becoming the Imperial at some later date.
The Amador Hotel is one of the city’s oldest structures, the main entrance section being built sometime between 1855 and 1860. The building was apparently built in stages. In 1872, the current owner, a man named Harrington, added a large hall which was used as a town hall and later as a dining room. Four years later he added again, providing space for a doctor’s office, a drug store, and additional rooms. The entire structure was restored in the early 1990's.
The Original Amador Mine site is located on the east side of School Street. This mine was one of the first quartz mines in Amador County. The headframe and old stamp mill foundations are still visible.
The Chicizola Building is actually two buildings constructed at different times. While the firm dates to the early days of the town, the present west half of the building was completed by November of 1877; the other half by 1912. The building housed the Chichizola family's general store, which was so cluttered that merchandise was hung from the ceiling rafters, as every shelf and counter was filled with goods.
The Mooney Saloon and the Koehler Bakery were located next to each other in these two buildings on Main Street. The fires of 1876 and 1878 destroyed frame buildings on this site, and each time Mooney rebuilt his saloon out of wood. He reopened his saloon for the third time in 1880. Henry Koehler was forty years old when he opened his bakery and restaurant in 1879. The grand opening took place on December 13 and offered free lunches to the citizenry. Described as “...short and stocky, with thinning dark hair and hazel eyes, and with the third finger of his left hand missing from the first joint,” Koehler’s business was a success from the start. In addition to the bakery and restaurant, he also operated a candy store and saloon.
The Peyton Building was built to replace a wood-frame saloon which was destroyed in the fire of 1878. William Peyton erected this brick building in 1879, seemingly for another saloon. Perhaps tiring of the saloon business, Peyton rented the building in March of 1879 to J. R. Dunlap who then used the structure as a drug store and post office. A general store was located in the building at one time.
The Weil Building was built shortly after the fire of 1878 destroyed his wooden warehouse on the same site. Rebuilding of brick, merchant Weil operated a general mercantile store here for a number of years. The building has also housed the Keystone Supply Company.
The last building on the west side of Main Street is an old Brick Building which was probably built before the 1876 fire. It may, in fact, have belonged to Weil, but no records as to its construction or early ownership are known. Old photos reveal that the post office and a Western Union office were located here at one time.
St. Joseph's Catholic Church is located at the end of Pig Turd Alley. The Catholic Church purchased the lot in 1877 from the O'Rourkes for $100 in gold coin and the church was built soon afterwards. It served until 1964, when it was put on the auction block and sold to the highest bidder. It is currently a private residence.
The Old Powder House is located up in the hills northwest of town. Built of native stone, its iron door is still in place, but the roof is gone, a victim of either time and the elements, or the volatility of the black powder it stored. Regardless, it’s an interesting ruin and worth a visit if you can find it.