When we last left off we were hanging out in Gold Country, on Tuesday morning of our trip we packed up our campsite at the Grinding Rock State Historic Park and headed out to find breakfast. We decided to check out a place called Kneading Dough Bakery in Volcano, about a five-minute drive from our campsite. My daughter was disappointed that this town did not actually have a volcano, but rather, was named by early miners because it was set in a bowl-shaped valley where early morning fog would settle. A post office was established in 1851, a year later there were over 300 homes and by 1853 there were eleven stores, six hotels, three bakeries, and of course, three saloons. Thousands seeking to strike it rich swarmed to the area. According to the Tour Amador website over $100 million dollars were extracted from mines in this area!
Current day volcano, like so many mining towns, has been downsized considerably. There are approximately 130 full time residents these days compared to over 5,000 at its peak. There is now one hotel, the St. George, we tried to get inside and book a room but could not find anyone around and no answers to their listed phone number. There is also a small park, a theater company, a pub, and the bakery that we stopped in at for breakfast. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t cooking over a camp stove, but breakfast was delicious! Situated across from the park we planned our day over a delicious meal.
Volcano has a few interesting stories that I came across, it is a town of many firsts:
- 1854 First theater group in California
- 1854 First debating society in California
- 1854 First circulating library in California
- 1855 First private school in California
- 1855 First private law school in California
- 1856 First legal hanging in Amador County
- 1860 First astronomical observatory in California
- 1978 First solar still in California
We enjoyed discussing these over breakfast and then meandered up and down the small town inspecting the Gold Rush area buildings and reading all of the historic plaques describing their history.
A lot of the gold discovered during the Civil War was funding the Union army. Some feared that there were plans to seize gold for the Confederacy and so a cannon, aptly named “Old Abe” was acquired by the Volcano Blues, it was brought into town, and was ready to protect the town. I found a great website, Cali 49, that describes the cannon’s purpose, but with a lucky twist, “The Blues feared that southern sympathizers were plotting to seize the gold for the Confederacy, to aid them in the war. The mere sight of the cannon supposedly broke the ranks of the marching secessionists, saving the day and the gold. It was later discovered that the cannoneer had over-loaded the cannon with black powder. Had it been fired it would have blown them all to smithereens.”.
Leaving Volcano, on Pine Grove Volcano Road is a must visit attraction tucked away, the Black Chasm Cave Tours. To say our daughter was excited was an understatement. A lot of these “tourist traps” as I see them, aren’t high on my to do list when visiting historic locations, but I must say this one was worth the ticket. The cave is a National Landmark and has a wide variety of formations including stalagmites, stalactites, flow-stones, and helictite crystals (which is what really puts it on the map!). If you aren’t so inclined to journey into a black chasm there are plenty of above ground attractions including gemstone mining in water flumes, a great visitors center, nature trail, and picnic area. The walking tour of the cave is about an hour and provides a wonderful relief on a hot day as temperatures drop rapidly during your descent. Platforms are suspended mid-air and staircases wind through as you view Lake Reflection down below and amazing rock formations above and around. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable on the cave and local history. Though the Miwok tribes probably knew of the cave, gold miners are credited with the discovery in 1854, how you “discover” something that is already known was a long topic of conversation in our car that afternoon. My daughter learned a lot of “fun facts” on the tour, blind spiders, no bats, oh my and so I can easily recommend the tour for younger visitors (though the stairs were a little tricky to navigate) but her interest was held the entire tour!
Since we struck out at the St. George Hotel in Volcano we decided to head to one of my favorite hotels, The National, in Jackson. It is a quick 20-minute trip from Volcano to Jackson and we were hopeful to get a reservation and extend our journey another night. I should say here that we had been talking about this hotel since staying there last year when my husband and I came up for a show in Sutter Creek at Fiest Wines featuring the incredibly talented Willie Watson (seriously, check him out!). When we got home from that trip I told my daughter that we had stayed in a haunted hotel. As I have mentioned, our daughter is 4 ½, she however loves all things Halloween, creepy, ghost related. Always has. So she was thrilled to be staying at The National. We are in no way paranormal investigators (or even believers really) but it is a lot of fun and adds a spooky element to any trip. We have had few “experiences” that leave us with more questions than answers usually (some day we will get to a Queen Mary post I promise where that will be divulged!) but it certainly provides lots of laughs and some goosebumps.
When searching for the hotel online, the autocomplete fills in “haunted” for you, and the hotel has embraced it. There have been a few serious paranormal investigators visiting the site. Videos on YouTube show “evidence” of ghosts and in the lobby there is a black leather-bound book titled, “Book of Shadows” where guests are encouraged to add their otherworldly experiences to the ghost log. There is also a “Ghost Kit” that can be check out from the desk. It has seen better days, but the one working piece of equipment while we were there, an EMF reader, provided us with a few hours of hilarious entertainment as we “hunted” on the grounds.
The ghost hunting was fun but the history of the building is what we were there for on this trip. The original building, constructed in 1849 was built by two Pennsylvania natives, Ellis Evans and D.C. White was the Louisiana Hotel and Store and it was destroyed by fire in 1862. Evans and White rebuilt and expanded and renamed the new location The National Hotel. The current owner has done an incredible job on renovations, while maintaining the historic look and feel of its Victorian design but updating with modern amenities to suite a modern traveler. The hotel is the backdrop for a well-preserved glimpse back in time. Historic buildings line Main Street and more renovations are under way, helping to preserve this area’s history.
Surviving a night ghost free we decided on one last stop before the journey home, Ione. Also located in Amador County, Ione was not a mining town but rather a stop along the way. It was a supply center, rail stop and a regional hub for agriculture. It was incorporated in 1953 and is now the largest town in Amador County. Like Jackson and Sutter Creek, its downtown has been preserved, though we noticed more for sale signs and empty spaces than in the other towns, but Ione has something that makes this history lovers heart skip a beat; the Preston School of Industry, or Preston Castle. Established by California state Legislature, the Preston School of Industry was a progressive move to provide a location that could rehabilitate juvenile offenders rather than continue to send them on to Folsom and San Quentin prisons with the adults. Construction began in 1890 and on July 1, 1894 the school was officially opened. The school remained open for 66 years until 1960. Slowly the building fell into disrepair as it remained vacant. Thankfully, the Preston Castle Foundation was formed and they have been working to restore this amazing piece of architecture and history. Tours are now given with year-round events ranging from wine tastings to paranormal conventions. The building is approximately 50,000 square feet and includes four floors and a three-story annex. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Foundation has big plans for its future including rental spaces, hotel, museum space and more. Unfortunately, there were no tours available during the time we were there but I plan on making it back for a closer look someday!
It was my hope to delve a bit deeper into these locations before posting, but as mentioned earlier, life sometimes gets in the way. Please feel free to message me any questions in the “contact” section. Thank you for reading.