A Gem of a Town
From touring Leland Stanford's gold mine to tasting local wines Sutter Creek, in the heart of the Mother Lode, offers something for everyone. With a historic past and a practical eye to the future, the pretty little town recently celebrated its 150th birthday.
Although Sutter Creek dates back to the days of ore, it dodged the remodeling craze that changed the faces of other mining camps. In fact, the picturesque village reflects its past so well that it was dubbed "one of the best preserved towns in California's Gold Country" by Sunset Magazine. It's also cited as one of the reasons that travel guru Pauline Frommer named Amador County one of the world's Top 10 Upcoming Destinations for 2006.
A rich history
Sutter Creek took its name from one of the area's earliest European visitors, Captain John A. Sutter. In 1844 he and a crew cut timber a few miles upstream and, after those golden flakes were discovered at his sawmill in Coloma, later returned to try his luck at panning to no avail.
But the sedate little community was more of a supply center than a rowdy mining camp, although it boasted some of the Mother Lode's deepest, most productive, and longest operating quartz mines. It also hosted an array of colorful characters whose names would be recognized by anyone familiar with early California history. Among them were Stanford, whose stake in the Lincoln Mine helped him invest in the Central Pacific Railroad and build a university; Alvinza Hayward, the Gold Country's first mining millionaire; and Hetty Green, known as the Wizard of Wall Street and the country's richest woman at that time. A lady miner who dressed in men's clothes, Madam Pantaloon, pulled out more gold from her claim than many of her male compatriots.
Touring the town
Sutter Creek still relies on the lure and lore of gold and its rich past to attract visitors. Pick up a Walking Tour guide at the Visitor Center in the Monteverde Store (now a museum) on Randolph Street one block east of aptly named Highway 49. Ambling along downtown streets gives you a golden opportunity to look at some period architecture. Brass plaques affixed to handsome iron-shuttered or brick-sided buildings behind veranda-shaded sidewalks relate their history.
Rather than selling picks and shovels to miners, today venerable structures shelter a wealth of one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and studios, antique stores, and specialty shops. Shopping goes from chore to delight when local artists and artisans are showcased and owners of quaintly named shops invite browsers.
Knight Foundry, now a historic landmark on Eureka Street, is the only water-powered foundry and machine shop in the country. Now a historic landmark, it operated for over 100 years and will soon be reopened for classes and tours.
When hunger pangs strike, simply take your pick of the pleasant tea and coffee houses, sandwich shops, and indoor and outdoor restaurants. The old drugstore on Main Street is now a not-to-be-missed ice cream and candy shop.
Linger a while
An overnight or longer stay in one of several charming inns allows time to admire the colorful gardens and tree-shaded towns of tidy New England-style houses, catch a weekend musical performance at the restored theatre, or join locals at one of many old-fashioned community events.
While you're here, take a look at the area's other attractions. Plenty of outdoor fun can be found just minutes away: Black Chasm underground caverns, Chaw 'Se Indian Grinding Rocks State Historic Park, inviting golf courses, rivers and lakes for boating and fishing, and mountain trails for hiking and biking in summer and skiing and snowboarding in winter.