Brought to you by Discover Siskiyou
It’s sometimes hard to fathom that Northern California once sat as the center of the entire planet. After James W. Marshall discovered gold in the American River in 1848, the eyes of the world were looked on as people traveled to NorCal from all over the world to get rich quick.
Today, some places in NorCal still celebrate their Gold Rush history, but one town in Siskiyou County probably does it the best.
Yreka, California was a Gold Rush boomtown in the 1850’s, conveniently sitting along the Siskiyou Trail, which was a crucial trade line between California and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. Today, much of downtown Yreka’s charm is its history, one that includes the discovery of gold right next to the mighty Mount Shasta. A visit to the town is not only delightful, it’s a fascinating journey through history.
The Booming History of Yreka
In March of 1851, Abraham Thompson discovered gold near Rocky Gulch while traveling on the Siskiyou Trail. Word spread and within a month, 2,000 miner’s had arrived to test their luck at “Thompson’s Dry Diggings.” By June 1851, a full-blown boomtown was created.
According to some foggy history, the town was eventually named Yreka after the word wáik’a, which is what the local Native Americans called Mt. Shasta. Mark Twain had a different story.
The original Yreka Bakery was founded in 1856, to which the townspeople realized that the name of the business was a palindrome, meaning that it is spelled the same way forward and backwards. In Twain’s autobiography, he claimed the palindrome was the catalyst for the name:
Harte had arrived in California in the [eighteen-]fifties, twenty-three or twenty-four years old, and had wandered up into the surface diggings of the camp at Yreka, a place which had acquired its mysterious name ”when in its first days it much needed a name” through an accident. There was a bakeshop with a canvas sign which had not yet been put up but had been painted and stretched to dry in such a way that the word BAKERY, all but the B, showed through and was reversed. A stranger read it wrong end first, YREKA, and supposed that that was the name of the camp. The campers were satisfied with it and adopted it.
By the mid-1850’s, Yreka had become a bustling boomtown. During that time, famed author Joaquin Miller described it as “…a tide of people up and down and across other streets, as strong as if in New York”. Incorporation of the town was completed in 1857, where it spent the next four decades as the most popular stage line stop in California.
The epicenter of Yreka in the 1800’s was Miner Street, with bars, restaurants and stores dominating the landscape. It was even the location of two large Chinatowns in the late-1800’s, a place where Chinese workers were housed during the expansion of the railroad.
The town was a crucial location during the California Gold Rush, and it maintains that same charm today.
A Modern Day Look Into Our Past
Miner Street was the center of the town in the 1800’s and it remains so today, with many of the same buildings donning street corners. The core of downtown Yreka is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places and sits as a California Historical Landmark. Once you enter Miner Street, you’ll be greeted by a plaque telling the history of the town:
“Founded in March 1851 with the discovery of gold in the nearby “flats”, Yreka quickly became the commercial and transportation hub for the surrounding communities and mining camps. Yreka’s tents and shanties gave way to more substantial commercial and residential buildings seen on West Miner and Third Streets which remain as tangible evidence of the town’s 19th Century regional prominence.“
A walk through Yreka’s historic district will give you plenty to do, including a visit to the Siskiyou County Museum which offers a plethora of educational opportunities for history buffs. There you can see a fascinating collection of articles donated by the descendants of early pioneers, along with an Outdoor Museum that displays original and recreated buildings from all over Siskiyou County. It’s the best place to learn the history of the past 200 years in California’s Far North.
West Miner Street’s Historic District has seven buildings that are recognized as California Historical Landmarks, including the Franco-American Hotel museum. During Yreka’s boomtown heyday, the hotel had a restaurant, saloon and the Wells Fargo & Company Express Office. It housed plenty of famous people during their travels, including President Hayes and Vice President Colfax. Today, the historic building has a jewelry store, candy shop, and the oldest continually operated barbershop in California.
Yreka’s historic district isn’t just for history buffs either. During your walk around town, you can stop for a beer and food at the Etna Brewing Co or grab some delicious eats at the Miner Street Meat Market. You can also get some food at Strings Italian Cafe, or grab a cup of coffee at Zephyr Books and Coffee on Miner Street.
Here is a full list of where to stay in Yreka. Enjoy your historic visit to the historic boomtown that may have been named after a palindrome.