Historical Treasures of Placer County

PUBLISHED SEP 17, 2021 12:39 P.M.
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In addition to its museums, the city of Auburn has 34 listings on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to its museums, the city of Auburn has 34 listings on the National Register of Historic Places.   Devin Powers   Shutterstock.com

Placer County contains 1,500 square miles, about 100 of that being of water, since it includes a portion of the west shore of Tahoe. It’s best explored west to east, with the trip starting in Roseville and the other commuter communities of Sacramento. Then the county shows off its best aspects as one heads straight up into the Sierra.

It’s named after placer mining—that’s one way of getting the gold out of the hills, digging into the riverbed for it and sifting the stones. Millions of dollars of gold were extracted here. But now vacationers and agriculture bring in the money—and there are plenty of places where both tourists and locals can go to learn more about local history.

1. Placer County Museums

The Placer County government site is a clearinghouse of info on the county’s seven historical museums. The DeWitt House was a clinic during WWII and is preserved to show what medical facilities looked like 80 years ago. Dutch Flats’ Golden Drift Museum, named in honor of a long-ago mining camp, contains relics from the Gold Rush era, including Indian tools and Chinese artifacts.

The Griffith Quarry Museum preserves the original Penryn Granite Works office built by Welsh immigrant Griffith Griffith, whose company excavated the granite used to build the Bay Area. The Foresthill Divide Museum studies both the natural history of the area and the technology the 49ers brought—it houses a scale model of a lumber mill.

The historic town of Auburn is home to three museums. In the old train depot, the Gold Rush Museum discusses both the boom and the bust, and includes an indoor stream where you can test out your panning skills. The Placer County Museum features displays that follow the region’s history from the early Nisenan inhabitants through the latter half of the 20th century. And the Bernhard Museum Complex, built in 1851 as the Traveler’s Rest Hotel, is filled with artifacts and furnishings from the era.

A new museum is coming in 2022: the Fruitvale School, a restored 19th-century schoolhouse in the city of Lincoln. Built in 1888, the school served local students for 57 years before it was repurposed as a community hall.

2. Colfax Historical Society

Colfax is named after Schuyler Colfax, one of the Republican firebrands against slavery and the vice president during the first term of the Grant administration. A promoter of the transcontinental railroad, Colfax came to California via stagecoach to ride the portion of the train that had been completed, between Sacramento and Colfax. Now there’s a statue of Colfax downtown. This rustic railroad town has multiple historical buildings, and the Colfax Historical Society, which researches the history of the Colfax area, operates a museum and works with other organizations to understand and appreciate local history.

3. Roseville Historical Society

This ever-booming town of 150,000 has the West Coast’s largest rail yard, though these days the biggest employers are Kaiser and Hewlett-Packard. The Roseville Historical Society can trace its history back to the arrival of the European trappers (and the diseases they brought, which exterminated the Maidu natives). Archives of other episodes in the town’s history are kept in Roseville’s historical museum, a century-old former Carnegie library. The society’s blog discusses recent discoveries unearthed by historians.

4. The Maidu Museum and Historic Site

A nature trail shows the way the first inhabitants of this area lived; petroglyphs and grinding stones are part of the sights.

Maidu Museum and Historic Site

5. Roseville Telephone Museum

The Roseville Telephone Company was a locally owned system that connected the farmers and ranchers a century ago. In later years, the company began a collection of telephones. It now has one of the world’s largest collections of telephones: single-unit “Candlesticks,” the “cradle” phone, and the slender pastel Princess phones that were coveted by mid-century American girls.

Roseville Telephone Museum


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