San Andreas

Mexican miners started working the area in 1848, and developed a small camp. Devout Catholics, the Mexican miners had their first Mass in the camp on November 30, St. Andrew's Day, which likely led to the name San Andreas (the Spanish name for St. Andrew). By 1849, a thousand Mexicans lived at San Andreas. By the end of the year, American miners arrived and sparked a small rush, bringing French and Chinese prospectors to the area as well. The sudden growth led to the creation of a main street lined with canvas tent fandango halls, saloons, boarding houses, and stores. The first wooden building was erected in 1851 and that year the first hotel was also built. By 1852, two ditches were dug to keep water flowing into the diggings.

San Andreas didn't have much ore near the surface and it played out quickly, but discoveries of an ancient river channel rich with gold underground prompted work on an extensive drift mining network. As a result, a major discovery happened beneath Gold Hill in 1853 and a renewed interest in San Andreas began.

This renewed interest helped San Andreas evolve from a temporary camp to a more permanent town. A post office was moved from nearby Third Crossing (a stage station along the Stockton-Murphys Route) in 1854. On February 2, 1856, San Andreas suffered from a major fire that obliterated the business district save for one stone building: the American Restaurant (which still stands). As the gold was still plentiful underground, San Andreas was rebuilt, this time of more fireproof materials. The town burned again June 8, 1858, and again it rebuilt with permanent, brick structures.

The gold continued to hold out well into the 1860s, and in 1866 the Calaveras County seat moved to San Andreas from Mokelumne Hill. The following year, however, gold production started to slow and San Andreas began its decline. Today San Andreas, still the county seat, is home to around 2600. Its short but charming Main Street, which stands out for being narrow, steep, and one-way, is lined with attractive brick buildings dating to back to the town's boom days.