Columbia in 1970

The Anecdotal History of Columbia

The Anecdotal History of Columbia

As a class project, the students of Mrs. Øydegaard's Hands-on History elective at a local elementary school, gathered a plethora of tales representing each decade of 20th century Columbia State Historic Park history. Columbia, known since the early gold rush years, as the "Gem of the Southern Mines," has been a town since 1850 and a state historic park since 1945. Thousands of school children and other visitors come each year to experience a real gold rush town and, as you can learn from the Columbia Memories recorded here, they keep coming back for a myriad of good reasons.

A memory might not make it into the history book, lacking factual backing, but even so, it ought to have a place to be recorded and shared. Many a memory that seemed too fanciful to be true has been validated by some late-coming evidence. On the other hand, and probably more often, stories are related as fact, when they ought to be retold as “just stories,” lacking significant reality and truth (an “art form” the movie-making industry has perfected).

Here we share our Columbia memories, whether laden with fact or fiction, as well as give readers a chance to compare, validate, or provide the missing factual information making this blog an educational exchange as well as a place to tell our cherished tales of Columbia.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Date: ca. 1988 to present (2011)

From Barbara Bowin
For Sabrina

Living in the foothills for 23 years I have had a church home in Columbia, California at the Forty-Niner Presbyterian Church.  I have been active there and enjoyed the friends that live there and the State Park.

It is interesting to see the home where one of my friends lived close to the church.  Wildlife abounds there and the pines grow abundantly.

The Columbia setting is such a unique place with its large white rocks that are formed in the area.  They were pushed up because of the active search for gold in the mining years.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Approx. 1969

From Mrs. Øydegaard

When I was a kid way back in the 1960s and 70s, we never got to get away for any "real" vacations, at least not the kind my cousins had to brag about.  We were lucky if we got to go for a drive to the mountains, and so that is exactly what we cherished most throughout my childhood: a drive to the mountains.  Dad usually felt he had to dream up an ulterior motive for the trip: he would stop and talk to a man from whom he wanted to buy rocks or sheep or something.  No matter what his reason to go was, we were always ready and willing, knowing that many good things were possibilities during such an excursion.

A favorite destination or one seldom excluded from the “stops” for the day, was Columbia.  I remember one particular Sunday afternoon trip to Columbia that was not only memorable for me, but a momentous occasion for the town.

The weather was chilly and though I don’t remember what else we did that day I do remember that Dad was reluctant to spend anymore time in the mountains because he was afraid it would snow and we’d encounter icy roads.  We puckered up for cries and pouts at the thought of leaving the mountains just when we might get to see snow, and of not getting to stop by Columbia for candy. Mom must have “weighed-in” with us on the subject because Dad took the turn in the road that meant we were getting to go to Columbia.

It was nearly impossible to find parking that afternoon and once again Dad almost bailed out of the venture.  After circling the town and just before Dad drove away, Mom persuaded him to park in seemingly the last available opening along the main road which I know today as Broadway (as it goes through town) and Parrotts Ferry (on either end of town).  It was very cold and we bundled up. Dad issued the edict that we would go straight to the candy store and no where else.  That was an edict about which we were not likely to complain.

Once we rounded the corner of the brick building that was our destination it was clear to see that this was no ordinary day in Columbia.  We weren’t sure what it was, but I recognized it right away as scary.  "Hippies" were everywhere and though I had never been around alcohol or drug abuse to recognize the effects, I knew that a number of the people around us were out-of-control.  It seemed like there were several arguments going on at once.  I seem to remember music or musicians (who also looked like hippies to this little country girl) but rather than the scene of festivity, no one seemed to be in a very good mood.

Dad hurried us into the candy store and urged Mom to make hasty selections.  We wanted to do our usual looking around, but Dad would have none of it.  It was “hurry up” or “forget it.”  I remember I got English toffee, my favorite, and something else too.  Mom got divinity.  I think my brothers got rock candy; the kind that looks like pebbles.  Then Dad insisted that we leave the store.  Mom argued that we might be safer inside, but Dad insisted.  He lowered his voice and said something to Mom, but I could hear some of what he told her.  He was afraid that there was going to be a fight in the street and he wanted to get us out of there.

As I remember, my dad carried my littlest brother and my mom held the hand of the brother that was two years younger than me.  I must have been about ten years old because I remember that I was wearing my gold furry coat.  Mom told me to stay right beside her.  Dad led and we hurried out the door of the candy store to make a left around the corner of the building and head for the car.  There were two people getting rough with each other in our path.  We had to swing out around them farther into the street than I felt was safe.  I doubled up my fists in my pockets, though I can’t imagine what I intended to do.  We made it off the main street between the buildings and arrived at the car just as it started to hail.

We couldn’t believe the noise that hail made on our beige Plymouth.  Dad started the car motor but waited until it subsided enough so he could see to drive.  I was so afraid we would wreck in the slippery ice, just as Dad had feared.  In that moment I understood why Dad had not wanted to make the candy store stop.  I understood that Dad had wisdom about things that went beyond satisfying our craving for sweets, though he had set his wisdom aside to appease us.

We didn’t have to go very far before we were below the hail.  It seemed to be just in Columbia.  Dad told Mom that he heard someone stop another person intending to intervene in one of the fights in the street saying, “That’s a father and son fight.”  We were all saddened that we had seen so much violence and disrespect in our favorite little mountain town.  I nibbled away at my English toffee and thanked God that we had made our escape.

Little did I know, until we read it in the newspapers, what we had really escaped.  The event was the annual Fireman’s Muster.  A fight did erupt as Dad feared it would.  In the seconds after we left the candy store and before the hail stopped the melee, someone threw a rock and broke the candy store's big glass windows.  The paper said that some people inside were hurt.  That could have been us.  We could have been cut by glass or worse if Dad hadn’t acted just when he did to get his family out of danger.  I also felt sure that God had sent the hail as his opinion of the whole mess.

Years later I remember so many details of that experience.  I remember the feeling of danger and even evil around us.  As a child, I didn’t understand all of what was going on, but I knew that it was wrong, just wrong.  I remember my hands as fists against the silky lining of my coat pockets.

But over the years I have also remembered things that puzzled me.  I knew we turned the corner to the left to leave that store and yet years later as we continued to visit Columbia and I tried to reconstruct what happened, I discovered if you turned left leaving the candy store, you’d run into a wall or enter the NSGW display.  I felt badly that my memory was so far off from reality.  Or was it?

The matter was finally settled for me when I saw a 1945 photo of the candy store located where it remained until a few years after the day of the “muster riot.”  It used to be in a building that has been a bank for several more recent years.  The candy store used to be located exactly where it needed to be to make my story’s details valid.

It’s nice to know my memory is right, at least sometimes.

Date: 1962 & 1994

From Bill and Carolyn Prindle (in 2010):
Columbia is a very special place for us because we came to Columbia in 1962 on our wedding day. So we started our life together here and now, after 48 years, we are living here. We did not come back till 1994 when we started dressing for the Forth of July and Easter in our period costumes. We enjoy seeing people and talking to them. Then we signed up and became docents and enjoyed talking to people telling them the history of Columbia. Every time we talk to people and tell the history, their eyes light up. We also have made many good friends of some of vendors in town, local people, and docents all of which are also special to us.  So as you can see, Columbia is a special place to us.

Date: 1954

By Tom Barajas
For Kailie

It was the year 1954.  I was sixteen years old, always looking for adventure.  I was in a group know as “The Standard Crew.”  We were a group of good friends always looking for fun.  A good way to stay our of trouble, and meet girls, was to go to the dances in Columbia on Saturday nights.  The dances were at Angelo’s Hall.  I always remember thinking to myself, “Who am I going to meet tonight?”

My friends and I would always have such a good time; we could dance for hours.  We would go almost every Saturday night.  But, there was one Saturday that changed my life.  I remember it exactly.  I was coming down with a cold and did not feel like going to Angelo’s Hall.  My buddies finally talked me into going, but I knew I wasn’t going to have a good time.  We got there late and I already felt like going home.

As soon as I was about to leave I saw this girl I had liked for the past couple weeks.  My friends knew I liked her, so they talked me into asking her to dance.  I was so nervous; I had butterflies in my stomach.  My palms were sweating and my face started to turn red.  What would happen if she said no, or if she just laughed and walked away?  All these thoughts were going through my mind.

It was the last song of the night and I finally got the nerve to ask her to dance.  She said yes, with a big smile, so I was very happy.  I wished I would have asked to her dance sooner.  We were having such a good time.  I didn’t even feel like I was sick anymore.  I had completely forgotten about my cold.  That was the best night I had ever had at Angelo’s Hall.

Many years later that beautiful girl became my wife.  Who would have thought, on that Saturday night I would have met the love of my life.  We have now been married for many years, and whenever I go to Columbia, I remember this special memory.  Columbia holds memories for many people of all ages.

Date: June 2010

By Hope Anderson
For Troy

I took the family to Columbia Firemen’s Muster to watch the contestants pump to see how far the water would spray.  We looked in the shops and talked about history.  We had ice cream and had a barbeque.  It was a great time of family and friends together.

Date: 1970

By James Jorge
For Ben

My earliest memories of Columbia are from my high school years.  I grew up on a small farm in Turlock, California, and spent every waking moment that I can remember outdoors.  There was always something to see or do.  Going to a first through eighth grade parochial school, we did reading, writing, and arithmetic, but not a lot else.  A minimum amount of time was spent on science, but it captured my imagination.  I was fascinated with sciences, and chemistry really captured my interest.  I don’t exactly recall how I acquired this interest but photography seemed to combine the interests I had and I became very interested in photography in the seventh grade.

I purchased a photographic kit with money I had earned working for neighbors on their farms.  It had everything that was needed to develop film and make contact prints of the negatives.  Of course, this led to a greater understanding of photography and better photographic equipment, a passion to photograph anything and everything, and a constant search for subject matter.

My first year of high school I actually got to choose some elective classes and I chose yearbook publications as one of those electives.  This fed a growing love of photography and having access to a fully operational darkroom larger than my closet at home was incredible!  I became close friends with the two other students that were photographers on the yearbook staff and one always spoke of Columbia as a place his parents had taken him as a young child.  He was the first to get his driver's license and at the first weekend opportunity, with the loan of an old Belvedere station wagon from his parents, we packed all our photography gear and headed for this magical place called Columbia State Park.

Seeing Columbia for the first time was unlike anything this farm boy had ever experienced before.  The presence of history was so rich to me that everywhere I turned and everything I saw was fascinating and wonderful and almost overwhelming.  Needless to say, we took photograph after photograph and there was still so much to photograph that Columbia became our destination of choice every weekend for many months.

I have continued to visit since that time and even had the chance to live in Columbia for a short time while working in Sonora in the late 1970’s.  Later in life when I met the girl that would become my wife, we made trips to Columbia with her children and their friends.  After we were married and our family grew, we continued to visit regularly.

Columbia is living history and will always be a special place to me.  A place that was the first adventure with friends, opened my eyes to real history and continues to be a place that we share as a family, a family that has now moved to a new generation.  I started loving Columbia in  my teens, but our children and now our grandchildren have visited Columbia in the first months of their lives, and I hope that when they have children they continue to share Columbia and memories through generations.

Date: ?

By Stephanie Everts Ben-Amotz
For Natalie

Yes, I did go to Columbia as a child.  That’s why I wanted to go again and bring Jonah.  And what I remember was (I was probably 7 or 8) it was very hot and dusty, and a lot more historical than when the 4 of us went a few years ago.  Not so much little things to buy.  And I was excited because it seemed like an authentic old west sort of town, just like I saw in “Gunsmoke” or “Maverick.”  I liked the old jail, and just the streets and the feel of it.

But, in wandering through I found (this is how I remember it) a pit with bars across the top, and the sign said it was for the Chinese who were brought to work there.  I was so shocked and horrified; it is what I remember most of all.   I knew nothing about it until then, any of the history of the Chinese in the California, how they came to be there, or how they were treated.  But it looked so degrading.  I could imagine being down there with all the town people above.  It was sickening.  I was very disturbed by it, and kind of confused.  It was new information.

Date: ?

By Roxanne Trainor
For Chase

My husband, Jim, and I go to go to Columbia with my sister and brother in law, Lynn and Joe Gray.  We take a couple of trips annually.  We bring our R.V.s up and camp at the beautiful 49er campground.  We love to walk into the adorable old Columbia town and visit all the old shops.  We always stop and make candles and the next stop is the blacksmith shop.  We have made a horseshoe with our last name in it for our front door.  We always get the best hot dog from the hot dog stand, then head over to the candy store for dessert.  We thoroughly enjoy ourselves by hitting all the remaining stores.  The old jail is a neat little building to visit, then we always have to go by the chicken coop and see the neat, happy hens and rooster.  After a wonderful day, we may hit the theater for a lovely evening.

A few times we have ridden the stage coach, and were even robbed by the robber.  Also, we can’t forget to stop and do a little gold mining.  We also enjoy going up for the Christmas parade and to see all the wonderful horses dressed up.  About two years ago it snowed during the parade, so my grandchildren and I sat by the pine, had hot apple cider and roasted chestnuts and kettle corn.

We love going to Columbia and what makes it even better is when we get to go with our grandkids and we get to see how much they enjoy it there.

Date: October 3, 1997

For Bradley
By Laurie Shadle

When I was pregnant with Bradley 13 years ago, my husband Tony and our daughters, Stephanie and Emilie, went to Columbia State Park and took old fashioned pictures.  We had a lot of fun, and we still have that picture.

Date: 2007-2010

By various students
For David France

I went to the museum.  I was 11. – Nicholas
I went on the carriage with my family.  I think I was 10. – Shayna
On Halloween night my family went to Columbia Park. –Starr
I made a rainbow candle then tasted it. – Kalyn
I fell of a rock and cracked my head. – Jessica

Date: May 15, 1980

By Mark Belletto
For Brendon

When I was 10, Twain Harte Elementary School went to Columbia on a field trip.  Most of the others were busy climbing rocks, but instead I chose to “pan for gold” after having a ring made for me out of a horseshoe nail by the local blacksmith.  Our last stop was at the famous candy store.  A perfect day with a sweet ending.

Date: 1981

By Kristen Belletto
For Brendon

My earliest memories of Columbia Nat’l Park is when I was about 10 years old.  My mom, brother, and I went to the big rocks to climb, all the different old fashioned stores (especially the rock and crystal store), and the candle store.  I would always buy a crystal rock.  The best part of our day was the horse carriage and then stopping at the ice cream store on the way out.

Date: 1980’s (?)

By James Bramblett
For Kimberley

I went to Columbia when I was about 13 and played games at the school house and went to Diggins too.  I went on the carriage rides and got robbed.  I went to the bowling alley, too.  When I was older I went to college in Columbia, too.

Date: throughout the years to present, 2010

By Elaine Boothe as interviewed by Alayna

The person who I interviewed was my grandma, Elaine Boothe.  She mostly told me about a lot of good memories.  The whole family would go down there (to Columbia) when her parents from Pittsburg would come and visit.  “We would go and just have a good time.  We would ride on the stage coach and eat some really good food like the homemade pretzels.”  She thinks Columbia is a fun way to learn about history and a fun way to have fun with your family.  My grandma told me she has had a lot of good memories of Columbia.

Date: 1980’s

By Don and Betty Meyer
For Elyse

One of our cherished memories of Columbia took place about thirty years ago.  In the early 1980’s, friends from our home town of Fremont, CA, moved to Sonora.  Shortly thereafter, my wife and I would frequently drive up to visit them.  There were many times that we would visit Columbia while staying in Sonora with our friends.

On one of our visits, we decided to take our families to Columbia for the day and have a picnic lunch.  Our friends’ family was a younger family of four with two young children.  Betty and I had our daughter, Michelle, and her husband with us.  After a late morning breakfast, on a beautiful summer day in June, we packed up both families and headed out for an afternoon of exploring the quaint and historic town.

We spent quite some time walking up one side of the street and down the other touring the historic buildings and seeing the old firehouse, bank, and the saloon where we would always stop and to get a sarsaparilla.  I can also remember visiting the black smith shop.  We moseyed through all the shops and took in the sights.  It was also fun to see the stage coach as it roared through town and visit the gold panning area.

After visiting the historic town, we had a picnic lunch under the trees, relaxed in the sunshine and the kids played Frisbee.  I can remember walking down the gravel path to the picnic tables.  It  was lovely day with family and friends.  We always loved our visits to Columbia and we still do.

Date: 1970-2000

By Carol Graham
For Sabrina

I have been to Columbia numerous times over the last 35 years.  I feel it is a very spiritual area.  I took my children when they were very little in the 70’s up to our grandchildren to present time.  We have repeatedly enjoyed the old school house, the cemetery (especially reading grave stones), the museums, shops, restaurants, buggy/horse rides, panning for gold, staying in the old hotel, and various events held in town.  I always feel good energy there!

Date: ca. 1965

By Janet Ambrose
For Kailie

It was the early 1960’s, my children were very young and we were always looking for something to do on our Saturdays.  My husband and I decided to take a drive and visit Columbia State Park.  We had heard about the park from some friends and thought it would be a great day for our family to spend some time together.  Everyone was excited, the children giggled and laughed with excitement.  We packed a picnic lunch and headed to the foothills.

It was a beautiful spring day, I remember the flowers in bloom, especially the daffodils (they have always been my favorite).  The hills were green and seemed to go on and on.

When we arrived at Columbia State Park I vividly remember the old wooden sidewalks and the old brick buildings.  The kids and I went into an old mercantile store and bought sarsaparillas, and some hard candy sticks.  My son loved grape and my daughter loved root beer.  After we walked all around admiring the town, we found an area by some large rocks.  We set out our big glue blanket and had a lovely picnic.  Everything always seems to taste so good when you are outside.  The warmth of the sun on our backs and the smell of the fresh mountain air was so relaxing.  The children played on the rocks.  I had to keep telling my son to be careful.  They dug in the dirt.  My son was so sure he would find a nugget.  He never found any gold, but he had fun trying.

My son is now a grown man, but he still remembers his search for gold on his trip to Columbia.  We had a beautiful day at the park.  We finished our picnic with some homemade chocolate chip cookies and packed up and headed home.  The children slept the whole way, peace and quiet.  A nice end to a family day together at Columbia State Park.