Placer County’s Heritage Trail – Museums (and historical places)

Placer County was formed from portions of Sutter and Yuba counties on April 25, 1851 with Auburn as the county seat. Placer County took its name from the Spanish word for sand or gravel deposits containing gold. Miners washed away the gravel, leaving the heavier gold, in a process known as “placer mining“. Located just north of El Dorado County, its history dates back to before the Gold Rush of 1848/49.

The history of Placer County is an exciting part of California’s cultural experience. To be able to view on site and up close the history of Placer County is an experience you will only be able to do by taking the Heritage Trail and visiting the many varied museums within the county boundaries.

Placer County was home to the peaceful NIsenan Native Americans for hundreds of years before the discovery of gold January 24, 1848 brought hordes of miners from around the world to the “Mother Lode”.

Each of the museums will give you a background on various aspects of Placer County’s history. They are grouped by geographical area: The Valley, The Gold Country, and The High Sierras. Explore the Gold Country’s rich history by visiting one of its unique museums.

The Valley

Carnegie Library and Museum

557 Lincoln Street Roseville, CA 916 773-3003

Roseville’s first permanent library was constructed in 1912 with Lincoln-made brick, terra cotta from Gladding McBean and granite from Rocklin. The library was funded in part by Andrew Carnegie. In 1979 Roseville moved its main library to a new location and the Roseville Historical Society set up the museum which houses a music room with instruments from 1865-1926 and an airplane collection of 80 models ranging from the 1920s to the World War II era. Also on display is a model of the Sacramento Northern Street Car Line.

Lincoln Area Archives Museum

640 5th Street Lincoln, CA 916 645-3800

Going back to when Lincoln was settled in 1849 the museum exhibits many photographs of the early settlers lifestyle, early Lincoln, maps and city records. One of the oldest companies in California, Gladding, McBean & Company, a ceramics company that dominated the industry of “architectural terra cotta”, is still located in Lincoln and it’s history is included in the museum.

Maidu Museum and Historic Site

1970 Johnson Ranch Drive Roseville, CA 916 774-5934

Guided museum tours, changing exhibits, summer campfires, and programs teach the wisdom of an ancient culture. The nature area is dotted with oak trees and offers a loop trail that takes you past ancient petroglyphs (rock art) and hundreds of bedrock mortars (acorn grinding holes), which provide evidence of the native people, the NIsenan or “Southern Maidu”, who were the original residents of the site. Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm; Sat, 10am-1pm; 3rd Saturdays also open 6:30pm to 8:30pm to coincide with Roseville’s Third Saturday’s Art Tour.  Note that there are some closures during the holiday seasons (notably, the week following Christmas ’til Jan. 2nd).

Rocklin History Museum and Old St. Mary’s Chapel

3895 Rocklin Road Rocklin, CA 916 624-3464

Go back in time to relive and explore Rocklin’s history of Rocks, Rails and Ranches. See the tools and images from the time when Rocklin was the “Granite Capitol of the West”. The Central Pacific Rocklin Roundhouse provided engines to power the Transcontinental Railroad over the high Sierra in 1869. Discover the remarkable story of the 27,000 acre Spring Valley Ranch. The museum is located in the building previously known as the Fletcher-Moon House.

Built in 1883 at St. Mary’s of the Assumption Catholic Church, the 125 year old building was abandoned and in abject disrepair. Today it is restored to beyond it original condition in 1883. It is now “Old St. Mary’s Chapel” and is used for wedding ceremonies, receptions, concerts and other gatherings. It is located at 5251 Front Street, Rocklin. (916) 415-1150

Roseville Telephone Co. Museum

106 Vernon Street Roseville, CA  916 786-1621

With exhibits detailing the history of telephone communications and of the Roseville Telephone Company, this museum offers a portrayal of an often-overlooked aspect of our past. Displays include old-style switchboards and telephones; models range to present day.

Sierra College Museum of Natural History

5000 Rocklin Road Rocklin, CA 916 660-7923

Located in Rocklin, Sierra College has a museum of Natural History which houses biology exhibits of North American s, Marine, Eurasian and African Mammals. They also have paleontology and geology exhibits and several nature trails that wind through the local woodland. The most popular trail starts from the northeast corner of parking lot K off of Sierra College Blvd.

The Gold Country

Bernhard Museum Complex

291 Auburn-Folsom Road Auburn, CA 530 889-6500

This complex was built as an inn in 1851 called Travelers Rest. The house, one of the oldest wooden structures in Placer County, was added c. 1868. Now restored, the house is furnished with late Victorian pieces. Also located here is an 1874 winery, one of the first in the state.

Colfax Heritage Museum

99 Railroad Street Colfax, CA 530 346-8599

This Heritage Museum is housed in the old Colfax Depot which has been completely remodeled. The museum will take you back in time with exhibits of days gone by.

Foresthill Divide Museum and Leroy Botts Memorial Park

24601 Harrison Street Foresthill, CA  530 889-6500

Museum displays portray the history of the Foresthill and Iowa Hill Divides and include a model of the Foresthill Logging Company, firefighting equipment, blacksmith shop, jail, depictions of life during the Gold Rush and early modes of transportation.

Gold Country Medical Museum

219 Maple Street        (Open weekends only, June thru August) Auburn, CA 530 906-9822

The first hospital in Placer County was established in 1855 in a building at 219 Maple Street, Auburn by a $1400 grant from the State of California to care for the indigent. This stately Victorian has now been returned to its medical roots as a history museum displaying the course of medical care in knowledge from the Gold Rush era to the mid 20th Century.

Gold Rush Museum

601 Lincoln Way          (Open weekends only) Auburn, CA  530 887-0690 Tours: 530 889-6500

This museum chronicles the rich history of gold mining in the region. Exhibits include gold panning demonstrations with an opportunity for hands-on panning, a walk through a mine shaft, an operational stamp mill model, and displays showing the lifestyle of gold country residents during the Gold Rush.

Golden Drift Museum

32820 Main Street Dutch Flat, CA 530 889-6500 Tours: 530 389-2617

In a village that makes visitors feel transported to an earlier era, this museum tells the story of the area encompassing Dutch Flat, Gold Run, Alta and Towle. The exhibits explore the history of these communities and of the mining and railroad industries in the region. Open summer only.

Griffith Quarry Park and Museum

7504 Rock Springs Roads Penryn, CA  530 889-6500

A major supplier of granite for many of California’s buildings, including the State Capitol in Sacramento, Griffith Quarry’s history dates back to its founding in 1864. The museum houses exhibits reflecting the history of the granite industry in this region. The park boasts three miles of nature trails that offer views of the old quarry sites.

Joss House Museum and Chinese History Center

200 Sacramento Street  Old Town Auburn Auburn, CA Tours by Appointment Only: 530 346-7121

The Joss House is currently undergoing restoration. The original temple altar is preserved in this Chinese house of worship, and on display are artifacts representative of the lives of the Chinese people during the Gold Rush.  Open to the public during the Heritage Trails in August and at other times. Call for a schedule.

Placer County Courthouse Museum

101 Maple Street Auburn, CA  530 889-6500

The courthouse, completed in 1898, is truly representative of the rich natural resources that have brought prosperity to Placer County. It was constructed of marble from Colfax, granite from Rocklin, slate from Slatington, and lime and bricks from Auburn. The museum, home to the Pate Collection of Native American artifacts, is located on the first floor of the Courthouse. The Gold Collection is housed in the lower vault inside the former Treasurer’s Office. An information center is located on the first floor.

The High Sierras

Emigrant Trail Museum

Donner Memorial State Park 12593 Donner Pass Road Truckee, CA 530 582-7892

The museum depicts the history of the area and those who emigrated to California from the east in the mid-1800’s.  Included in the museum are displays and information about one of the earliest pioneer wagon trains, the Donner Party, forced by circumstances to camp at the east end of Donner Lake in the winter of 1846-47, resulting in human suffering and loss of life. Also including local Native Americans and builders of the transcontinental railroad.

Museum of Sierra Ski History and 1960 Winter Olympics

Boatworks Mall 760 North Lake Boulevard, 2nd Floor Tahoe City, CA

The Museum was created to preserve and display our wonderful ski heritage, with exhibits that travel through medieval history showing how in this period skiing was mainly used for hunting and warfare. The exhibits then lead you through modern history beginning you through the history of skiing in the Sierras and then onto the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Olympic Museum

Squaw Valley Aerial Tram at High Camp Olympic Valley, CA

Take a trip back in time and learn about 1960 Winter Olympics that took place at Squaw Valley. The story of the games starting from the very beginning with the Olympic proposal, to photos, videos and memorabilia from the historic Games. The 1960 Olympics transformed winter sports in western America and are notable as the first Winter Games to be fully televised, as well as the first to use a computer to tabulate scores.

Tahoe City Gatekeeper’s and Indian Basket Museum

130 West Lake Boulevard Tahoe City, CA 530 583-1762

The Gatekeeper’s Museum, situated among ancient conifers on the south bank of Lake Tahoe’s only outlet, was built in 1981 with funds raised by the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society. The hand-carved log cabin is built from Lodgepole pines. It stands on the same foundation as the original Gatekeeper’s Cabin which was destroyed by arson in 1978. The museum features the history of Lake Tahoe including Indian artifacts, natural history displays, stories of our pioneers and the Ellen Attardi Library. It also houses the Marion Steinback Indian Basket Collection.  Winter hours (Oct 1st to May 25th):  Fri – Sat, 10am-4pm; Summer hours (May 26th to Sept 30th): Wed – Mon, 10am-5pm.

Tahoe City Watson Cabin Living Museum

560 North Lake Boulevard Tahoe City, CA 530 583-8717

Overlooking Lake Tahoe and the Commons Beach in Tahoe City is an unimposing little log cabin of significant historical interest. It still stands on the original site where it was built of local logs and is an outstanding example of turn-of-the-century log cabin construction in the Lake Tahoe region. Robert Montgomery Watson and his youngest son, Robert Watson started the cabin in 1908. It was completed for the wedding of the son and Stella Tong in l909.  The Watson Cabin is open Memorial Day thru Labor Day, Wed – Mon, 12pm-4pm, and closed the rest of the year.  General Admission (ages 13-64) is $5; Seniors (65 & older) are $4; Children 12 & under are Free.  As a Blue Star Museum, Active Duty Military Personnel and their families are free as well.

Tahoe Maritime Museum

401 West Lake Boulevard Tahoe City, CA, 530 525-9283 or 530 525-9253

The Tahoe Maritime Museum, offers visitors a varied collection of photographs and other memorabilia that date back to the 19th century. Not only does the museum house an extensive history of all types of boating around Lake Tahoe. It is also home to the largest collection of outboard motors on the West Coast. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the museum is the display of wooden hulled ski boats — Chris Craft, Gar Wood and Stephens, to name a few.

Western SkiSport Museum

19749 Boreal Ride Road Soda Springs, CA 530 426-3313

The Western SkiSport Museum is an exhibition of Western North American Ski History. Beginning with the California gold miners racing straight down the mountains at speeds of 80 mph on 14 foot “longboards”, and stories of mail being carried on skis over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Appearing up and down the West Coast, ski clubs started to appear in the late 1920’s. The ski industry began to develop from small club-operated hills to ski areas with the opening of Sugar Bowl in 1939. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday during ski season only.