A destination for those seeking riches in the mid-1800s, Dutch Flat grew from a stagecoach stop into a commercial and cultural center. But the railroad bypassed the town, and now just about everyone does as they travel Interstate 80 to somewhere else.
A winding road ascends north from I-80 through pines to the town founded in 1851 by two German brothers. About 6,000 whites and 2,000 Chinese lived here in its heyday, a historical marker proclaims, though subsequent research suggests about half those numbers. Mark Twain performed at the opera house and Theodore Judah planned part of the transcontinental railroad at the drugstore.
Millions of dollars in gold was dug out of surrounding hills and blasted out by hydraulic mining. One of California’s first environment lawsuits helped bring an end to the practice that devastated hillsides and damaged farmland in the Valley.
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Today, Dutch Flat is an official “semi-ghost town,” California Historical Landmark #397. Along gently sloping Main Street, a branch of the Emigrant Trail, buildings that remain are slightly out of kilter. Gone are thriving businesses that served stagecoach, railroad, mines and mills.
It’s so quiet that on a recent hot day all I could hear was the breeze and flapping notices posted on the bulletin board of the Dutch Flat Trading Post, a grocery store since 1859. The three-story Dutch Flat Hotel dominates Main Street; the 1858 bakery is owned by descendants of the founders. The former Wells Fargo Express, Odd Fellows Hall, Masonic Hall and stone remnants of the jail speak to a dynamic past.
The Golden Drift Museum captures the past, and as an enthusiastic volunteer observes, “It’s a town that never died, but never grew up.”
While sitting on the porch of the Dutch Flat Hotel, built in 1854, one car drives by, breaking the silence as I think about time passing from the 19th century to the 21st.
Stephanie Taylor is a Sacramento artist. Visit her website at stephanietaylorart.com. firstname.lastname@example.org.