The appeal of Tuolumne County to visitors and residents alike is largely rooted in our past. The evidence is all around us. Gold mining, of course, is one of the notable industries of the past. Just look at the limestone boulders in Columbia exposed by hydraulic mining, and the seemingly insignificant but incredibly rich creeks like Sonora Creek that runs right through the center of town but is now largely paved over.
An even more pervasive and enduring industry is that of ranching. The glorious scenery provided by the oak savannah between Oakdale and Jamestown is maintained in that condition by ranchers who are actually in the business of growing grass for cattle and horses as they have been doing for over 150 years.
The same is true for much of the open land in the county as well as eye-catching artifacts such as the stone corral near the junction of highways 108 and 120. The lumber and limestone/marble industries have also left their imprints on our county. Our forest land, now so much enjoyed by recreational visitors was first developed by settlers and miners seeking water and building materials and later water for electrical power.
But it’s not just what we see that reminds us of who we are. The small town feel that still prevails in certain locations and businesses is due to the influence of people you meet whose families have lived in Tuolumne County for many generations.
Many of our county and city officials are some of those people, which explains why you will always be treated with courtesy and helpfulness regardless of the unpleasant nature of your business with such officials. The name of the very newspaper that we read, the Union Democrat harkens back to 1854, when the publishing business was rough and tumble. In fact, the editor of a precursor to the Union Democrat, Lewis Gunn (Gunn House on south Washington Street) gave up publishing after he was shot right in his office for expressing some strong personal views. In those days it was risky for an editor to be too enthusiastic in supporting any controversial subject, especially the southern or northern political causes, hence a name that includes recognition of both: The Union Democrat.
But long before that were the Native Americans. Their presence is known today by the Black Oak Casino and Resort, owned and operated by the Tuolumne Band of the Me-Wuk Indians. This particular band is a vibrant part of our community, both economically and socially through employment opportunities and support to charitable projects.
If Tuolumne County is to keep its unique character, then we residents and those who visit, need to know what makes us special, and we all need to protect and maintain those values. This includes the character of the people who serve us that often go way beyond what is required, and the drivers that allow you to make a left turn off of Washington Street, and especially those icons such as the Dome, Red Church, and public places like Columbia, Pinecrest and Railtown.
You can help by joining the Tuolumne County Historical Society. Drop into the County Museum at 158 Bradford St. for a membership application and enjoy one of the most interesting museums you are ever likely to see. Don’t care for museums? Drop in on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday and talk to one of the genealogists on duty. Call 209-532-1317 for special tours and research request.
Robert Rogers lives in Sonora.