Amador County calls itself “the heart of the mother lode” and a twenty-mile long belt of gold ran through the western part of the county from Plymouth, through Drytown, Amador City, and Sutter Creek, then on to Jackson. It was this golden belt that sustained the hard rock mines here for a 100 years.
Amador’s Daffodil hill reflects the color of the mother lode, photographed by Agunther.
But the earliest mining started in the spring of 1848 in the gravel beds along Dry Creek. The oldest town in the county, Drytown, rose around those early diggings. By the middle of November there were 25–30 cabins, stores, and saloons beside Dry Creek. In 1856 quartz mines were found and the settlement grew but two years later an arson fire, set as a result of racial tension, burned the town and it never recovered.
The county was named for Jose Maria Amador, the owner of the Rancho San Ramon, a land grant that encompassed today’s Danville, San Ramon and Dublin, who, with his sons and some Indian workers, mined the area around Amador City in 1848. He returned to his home near Alamilla Springs in today’s Dublin with three mules loaded with gold. He gave tin cups full to his workers and spread the remainder among his relatives.
In 1849 former soldiers of Colonel Stevenson’sregiment prospected in a bowl like valley. The town that sprang up was first called Soldier Gulch but because many thought the valley was a volcano that was the name that stuck. By 1853 Volcano had 11 stores, six hotels and three saloons. When hydraulic mining began in 1855 the town grew to 17 hotels.
Plymouth, once called Pokerville or Poker Camp, is now known as the gateway to Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley, once the principal wine growing area in California. Some wineries date back to 1869. The decline in gold mining, followed by prohibition, took a bite out of wine production here. Today the region is not as well known as the Napa or Sonoma Valleys but is still famous for its Zinfandels.