January 24: Gold Discovery Day

The 161st anniversary of James Marshall’s momentous discovery of gold in the tailrace of Sutter’s Mill will be celebrated on Saturday, January 24, 2009, from 10 am to 4 pm at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Highway 49, in Coloma.

The day features a gold discovery re-enactment along the American River, at the very site where James Marshall found gold in 1848. The event will have mill carpenter demonstrations at the saw mill, gold panning, cooking, blacksmithing and Gold Rush period music and entertainment. Gold Rush authors will introduce their writings and sign publications at the museum store. In addition to the Gold Discovery festivities, the museum and visitor center will open at 10 AM.

What’s it all about? It’s an event that changed the world. It started as a piece of ambitious business: in 1847, John Sutter asked James Marshall to build a sawmill along the banks of the American River. Sutter needed lumber for his expanding agricultural enterprises in California’s Sacramento Valley and Marshall, a carpenter, was looking for a job. Marshall and Sutter chose Coloma as the site for the sawmill. It provided a rushing river for power and a forest of pines for lumber. As the sawmill neared completion in January 1848, it became clear that the tailrace, where the water leaves the mill, needed to be deepened. Marshall’s solution was to use the force of the water itself to scour out a deeper channel.

Then came the extraordinary moment. On the morning of January 24, 1848, James Marshall was standing in a shallow pool of water in the tailrace when he noticed a glimmering rock the size of his fingernail. “Hey boys,” he called out to the workmen around him, “by God, I believe I’ve found a gold mine.” It was a moment that was to change the course of history. It was the start of the California Gold Rush — with all its excitement, pains, and hopes.

Enjoy this special commemorative day, visit the park that features a Miwok Bark House and a Chinese Store, and see park volunteers and docents in period dress bring the gold discovery to life. Parking on this special day is $7 per car. For more information call (530) 622-3470 or (530) 295-2162.

And do come back — visitors are welcome to visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, and enjoy the river, all year round. The Park is open from 8 am to 5 pm, and the Museum is open from 10am to 3pm seven days a week, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. The Park is located on Hwy 49, between Placerville and Auburn, about 1 hour east of Sacramento. The event is sponsored by the Gold Discovery Park Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the interpretation and conservation of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

by Sara SK