Ever wanted to know the story of how the California Gold Rush began in the late 1800’s? Then Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma, California, is the place to be! The very site of the first discovery of gold lies within the borders of the park, and it’s a very neat place to visit. Located roughly halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, Coloma is a little town with a lot of old charm. During my time in California, we visited there with one of the best tour guides around- my friend’s uncle- the one whose house we were staying at. :) Of course, we also had a couple official park tour guides show us around and tell us different stories of the area from time passed.
In January, 1848, James Marshall was working with a man named John Sutter, helping build a sawmill. During construction, he noticed some golden flecks in the river, and realized it was gold. And long story short, it wasn’t long before word got out, and people from all over the world were rushing to California to try their luck at finding some gold of their own. California became flooded with people, and small towns like Coloma and others nearby became booming centers for business and commerce.
The town of Coloma’s website explains what happened the morning the precious metal was discovered.
“The first piece of gold was noticed by James Marshall early on the morning of January 24, 1848. His own words describe the event:
“I went down as usual, and after shutting off the water from the race I stepped into it, near the lower end, and there, upon the rock, about six inches beneath the surface of the water, I discovered the gold. I then collected four or five pieces and went up to Mr. Scott (who was working at the carpenter’s bench making the mill wheel) and the pieces in my hand and said, ‘I have found it.’
‘What is it?’ inquired Scott.
‘Gold,’ I answered.
‘Oh! No,’ returned Scott, ‘that can’t be!’
I replied positively, ‘I know it to be nothing else.’”
Marshall and his workers tested the metal in several ways, including a lye bath. Four days after the discovery, Marshall rode to Sutter’s Fort and showed the gold to the Captain. After consulting an encyclopedia and conducting various tests on the metal, Sutter decided Marshall was right. It was pure gold.
The following day Sutter himself came up to the mill site, and he asked for the promise of secrecy from all the workers. The Captain knew that if the word got out his laborers at the Fort would desert him. But as we all know, the secret was not kept for long, and within a year, the California Gold Rush of 1849 would change the history of California and the nation.”
The park has all the normal things any park would have; places to picnic, have a drink, walking trails, and lots of places to soak up the sunshine. But what makes this park special is its unique features. There’s a workshop where people can try their hand at panning for their own gold, a post office with an old town feel that actually is functioning (I sent my parents a quick postcard there), a little model house of what one of the mill worker’s houses would have looked like back in the day, a gift shop, and a little museum. And let’s not forget that this park has a river; it would need that for the gold aspect! :P There is gold still there though, and on any nice day you can find people on its banks panning for gold, like time has stood still. There’s a big rock wall on its banks that says “Sutter’s Mill” in rocks, and a statue of James Marshall that points to the spot he discovered the gold. Overall is it a very nice park with a lot of fun things to do and you’ll leave knowing a lot more about the Gold Rush than when you drove in. The town it’s in- Coloma, is very charming too, and retains the feeling that it played a big part in history, but has settled and slowed down since then. If you are ever in the area, or are planning a trip to the Golden State, definitely think about taking a trip to Coloma and the Gold Discovery Park, you’ll really enjoy it.