Copperopolis Historical Plaza

Copperopolis Historical Plaza (HM16CS)

Location: Copperopolis, CA 95228 Calaveras County
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 58.563', W 120° 38.152'

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(There are five markers and one dedication plaque affixed to the flagpole pedestal.)
History of Copperopolis
Copper (for ore) + opolos (for city)
Originally known as Copper Canyon, Copperopolis was established in 1860 when copper was discovered here. Known as "Copper" to the locals, Copperopolis was a thriving copper mining town during the Civil War and the second largest copper producing area in the U.S. and provided most of the copper needs for the Union Army. Copperopolis no longer holds claim to any working mines, but historical artifacts from this era can still be seen with the buildings that have been restored, thanks to the perseverance and ingenuity of the townspeople.

Copper was discovered at a time when the Mother Lode gold mines were becoming inactive and the nation was involved in a civil war. After the ore was mined, it was loaded onto wagons and carted to Stockton. It was then placed on riverboats and taken to San Francisco. Then it was loaded onto sailing ships for the trip around the Horn to New York, Boston and Wales for smelting and processing. The U.S. Bureau of Mines credits the Copperopolis mines for removing 72,598,883 pounds of copper between the years 1861-1946. The mass of dirt and rock behind the buildings on the west side of Main Street are mine tailings. In the early 1900s the Calaveras Copper Co. built a smelter which saved the mine owners thousands of dollars and the copper months of travel. The raw ore was taken by a 4,000-foot-long electric tram from the mines to the smelt and crushed waste rock was brought back in the same cars and dumped over the sides of the trestle on its return trip thu (sic) building up the mounds. The tailings are historic artifacts.

Copperopolis started as a boomtown and grew rapidly for approximately seven years, (1860-1867) with an in-flux of speculators, prospectors, miners, and businessmen. Homes, hotels, saloons, livery stables, rooming houses, racetracks, 3 schools, churches, the Armory of the Union Guard and even a bowling alley were built. At its historic height, the number of residents living in Copperopolis was over 4,000, about the same as the population in 2010. The local newspaper, The Copperopolis Courier carried the news of the day. The people of Copperopolis named the original streets of their thriving town Union, Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln. There was a modest boom in 1888, also in 1909-1930. All copper mining ended by 1945.

The original town center was located across from the Armory and was known as "The Plaza." During the copper boom, Main Street was lined with buildings of all shapes and sizes. Many buildings were constructed from bricks hauled in from Columbia, where many of the buildings were being torn down so the miners could mine the ground below. Copperopolis virtually became a company town during the boom; everyone worked for the mines, either directly or indirectly. The Copper Company even operated their own store, and named it the Union Mine Store. They also built boarding houses, stables, and housing for the workers. The "company store" was used by the Union Mine, Ames Company, Union Mining Company and Calaveras Copper Company. The exact date of construction is not certain. It has been an ice cream store, saloon and general store and even a restaurant and inn, but remained under mine ownership until the final mine closure in the 1940's. The name changed several times over the years along with ownership. Among them were The Copper Inn and McCarthy's Copper Inn. In 2009 the new owners gave it back its original name as The Union Mine Store.

The small building attached to the south was built separately between 1880 and 1895 to house the post office. In 1941 it was moved next to and attached to the store.

Second Marker:
The Discovery of Copper
This little town in the southern Mother Lode had its beginnings in 1860 when Hiram Hughes, looking for silver found high-grade copper on Gopher Mountain at Quail Hill.

Previously to that, Thomas McCarty saw the same strange looking green minerals stuck to his wagon wheels in the mud, so when William Reed, a miner from the copper rich mines in Wisconsin, brought specimens to McCarty's "Log Cabin" store on his way to Stockton, McCarty knew just where Reed made the find. At the Log Cabin that day a mining engineer, Dr. Allen Blatchly just happened to be there and told him what he had was copper. The next day Reed, McCarty and Dr. Blatchly went to the area where McCarty and Reed had discovered copper. Reed and McCarty staked a claim two miles long and became partners. This site was to become the famous Union mine. This two mile area runs parallel to Main Street and mine tailings and structural remnants can still be seen today. Within the two mile claim the Union, Keystone, Consolidated, Empire and Calaveras mines werelocated but it was the copper rich Union mine that gave employment to a great number of miners, timber cutters and (in) the beginning.

Copperopolis mines produced 72,598,883 pounds of copper from 1861 to 1946, Calaveras County became the second largest copper-producing district under northern control during the Civil War. In the 1860's that equated to over $12 million worth of copper, or over $200 million in today's dollar value. The two principal mines during the war were the Union, and the Keystone. By 1864, The Union Mine was valued at $2 million, which today would equal approximately $35 million dollars.
The Honigsberger Store
Built 1866
It took a lot of supplies to run the town, and the Honisberger Store located on the north side of the Historic Plaza was one of them. According to an 1866 newspaper ad, the store sold dry goods, clothing, hats, trunks, beds and bedsteads, blankets bedding, groceries and provisions, carpets, and oilcloths, window shades, chairs, tobacco, hardware, mining implements, cutlery, rope and lamps. The building was purchased by Union Copper Company in 1905 and turned into offices. It was purchased and restored by the Tower Family and is now location of the Copperopolis Museum open to the public one day a year on Homecoming.

Third Marker:
The Armory
Built 1864
The Armory was built by public subscription at a cost of $8,000. It was built with brick hauled by horse and wagon from Columbia. These bricks became available after fire destroyed several structures in Columbia. Blackened bricks can still be seen on the exterior walls of the Armory and the Old Church. It served as the training center for the Copperopolis Union Guard's 3rd Brigade. Why? Copper was extremely important to the Civil War (1861-1865) for shells, bullets, munitions, and wire to carry telegraph messages. It was so important that Copperopolis had the distinct honor of being the only town west of the Mississippi to house Union Guards during the Civil War.

The town was so pro-Union that it was almost renamed "Union". It served as headquarters for the 3rd California Infantry soldiers and the Copperopolis Union Guard, a military company organized of volunteer Union forces during the war. Copperopolis owned much of its prosperity to the Civil War.

The building was sold a few years after its completion for $800 in gold. Next door visitors will find the old Reed Building built as the office of the Copper Consolidated Mining Company. Located directly south of The Historical Plaza, today it is owned by the Tower Family and is occupied by Calaveras Internet Company, also owned by Calaveras Telephone, and Calaveras Olive Oil Company.

The Armory is in its original condition and was placed on the National Register of Historical Places and California Register of Historical Resources in 1997. It now is used for community events and cared for by the Copperopolis Community Center, a group of community volunteers dedicated to the preservation of the buildings as well as the history and historic artifacts in Copperopolis. Now housed in the Armory is the Union Guard Flag, made by the women of Copperopolis and presented to the Union Guard April 15, 1865. In 2010, a special tribute to the 150 year celebration, The Lake Tulloch Quilters made a quilt that depicts the history and will be displayed there.

In 1999 the original Assay Office safe was moved out of the Reed's Building basement to the Armory, after the floor was reinforced to hold its weight. It was restored by Linda Beck, one of the CCC volunteers and will hold the historical "Time Capsule" that will be opened in 50 years at the 200th Homecoming Celebration by descendants of the historic families.

Fourth Marker:
Old Corner Saloon
Built 1862
This building has housed a Saloon since it was built. Twice it survived raging fires which destroyed most of the town. It is the oldest surviving frame construction building in Copperopolis. The name still remains the same today. The bar operated through prohibition as a speakeasy in the basement. The main floor was turned into a soda parlor with buzzer set up to warn those below of approaching law enforcement. The upstairs functioned as a rooming hose and a brothel.

Born in England in 1829 as Charles E. Boles, the legend of Black Bart began on Funk Hill, just outside of Copperopolis on July 26, 1875, when he robbed the Wells Fargo stagecoach strong box containing $160. After 26 successful robberies throughout California and Oregon, it was his return to Funk Hill that would end the legend where it began. After being shot on the hand during the robbery attempt, Black Bart was tracked down and arrested in San Francisco. Although he pleaded guilty to the robbery and was sentenced to six years in San Quentin, Bart always denied that he was either Black Bart or Charles E. Boles. After being released early for good behavior, Back Bart disappeared. Rumors persist that Wells Fargo paid him off so that he would forever leave their stages alone.

Although legend has it that the stone building behind the Armory and Honigsberger store was the jail, it actually was a storehouse. Copperopolis never had a jail and still does not today. The pathway behind the storehouse was the old stage route to Sonora.

Reeds Turnpike in Copperopolis was one of the principal routes for bringing freight into Angels Camp, Murphys and Sonora. Reeds Turnpike which ran from Copperopolis to Telegraph City and to the intersection of Sonora Road in Farmington. Upon the arrival of the Stockton-Copperopolis Railroad in Milton, Empty (sic) wagons returning to Stockton often stopped in Copperopolis and picked up a load of copper ore. Rates of toll established for travel were: Buggies, 50 cents; two-horse wagon, 75 cents; four-horse wagons, $1.00 and unloaded teams half-price. In 2010 Reed's Turnpike connects Copperopolis and Copperopolis Town Square and is toll free.
O'Byrnes Ferry Bridge.
The Covered Bridge, one of the last bridges of its kind in the state, spanned the Stanislaus River at O'Byrnes Ferry, with the river serving as the dividing line between Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties. Built in New York and shipped around the Horn in sections, The Covered Bridge at O'Byrnes Ferry was designed and constructed by Rehindhart Rupli. The site of the bridge was originally called Byrnes Ferry for the ferry at that point on the Stanislaus River that was conducted by Patrick O. Byrnes. The road still carries the same name today.

Fifth Marker:
The Congregational Church
Commonly known as Copperopolis Historic Church
Built 1866
This building, with it authentic Gothic windows was built at a cost of $12,000 and presented to the Congregational Society. The Armory was used to hold fundraisers for the construction, much like it does today. The church is built of clay brick, which some also came from Columbia. From 1910 to 1939 it was owned by the Odd Fellows, and in 1939 the Mineral Lodge offered the building to the township. The Copperopolis Community Center (CCC), the first non-profit organization in Calaveras County, was founded in 1949 for the express purpose of accepting the ownership of this historical building. This church is the oldest Gothic Church in California still being used as a church and was placed on the National Register of Historical Places and the California Register of Historical Resources in 1997. In 1999 the CCC had an engineering structural study done on the building and found out that the roof was not, and apparently never had been attached to the building.

A Catholic church had been built in 1861 and was just northwest of Congregational Church, but burned down. In 1863, Mrs. William A. King donated a lot, and with donations from others in town a new building was built in 1863. The church survived the 1867 fire but later burned down.

In 2010 Copperopolis residents attend church in several locations in town including the Congregation Church.
They are as follows:
St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church - Established 1861
The Crossroads Church - Established 1980
(Meets in the Congregational Church)
Lake Tullock Bible Church - Established 1991
Anglican Church of the Ascension - Established 1997
The Church of the Harvest - Established 2005
Copper Canyon Baptist Church - Established 2006

The Copperopolis Cemetery
Located on the hill overlooking the town is the place of rest for many of the miners, ranchers, and local residents. The cemetery is actually divided into four sections with four foot tall stone walls that separate the Masonic, Odd Fellows, People's Protestant, and the Catholic areas. Many of the historic founding family members have sections for loved ones and the headstones have a history of their own. Today anyone who resides in Copperopolis can be buried there without charge for the plot. The gates were made in the Stones Blacksmith shop and are still in use today. At the cemetery and throughout the rangeland surrounding Copperopolis you will see many rock walls and fences. These walls were built during the last half of the 1800's by a Scottish stone mason named James Sykes (Jimmie Skeys) who employed a number of local men to help. Like many stone structures, these walls have often been credited to being of Chinese origin.

Displayed at the Copperopolis Elementary School is the Cannon that was used for training and ceremonial purposes by the Union Guard. It is a brass cannon cast in 1837. It shot 6 lb cannon balls and was kept at or near the Armory. Also at the school is The Bell cast in 1860, which hung in the original school built in 1865 and burned down in 1907. The school was replaced by a two-story building that was torn down in 1967 and replaced with the current school, still at the original location.
HM NumberHM16CS
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 at 11:29pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)10S E 707646 N 4205794
Decimal Degrees37.97605000, -120.63586667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 58.563', W 120° 38.152'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 58' 33.78" N, 120° 38' 9.12" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)209
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 665 Main St, Copperopolis CA 95228, US
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