Hidden Adventures: The historic gold rush town of Columbia

COLUMBIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Welcome to Columbia, California, where a street musician called "Tater" will play music reflecting California's Mexican heritage and other genres.

Folks from around the world started coming to Columbia in 1848, and as park interpreter Kelly Leage tells us, it all started right after prospector John Walker dipped his pan into a creek.

The gold rush brought 25,000 people to Columbia. They lived here, worked here, raised their children, and died here. The rush lasted only about a dozen years, but when the gold dwindled, the town didn't fade away and become a ghost town.

"Prospectors" like 10-year-old Julliette Carol from Oakland still come; not to find their fortunes, but have some fun.

"So, I'm panning for gold and rocks and this is what I found," she said.

Her grandma, Sherrie Byerly, sees a trip here as a history lesson.

"They get to see how the olden days were."

Columbia is 2 hours northeast of Fresno in the Sierra foothills, one of California's historic gold country towns. It's now a state historic park, alive with museums and operating businesses like Erik Waight's vintage blacksmith shop.

"What we mostly do is make unique gift items for the people who come and visit Columbia," Waight said.

And they still come from around the world, like Jens Osterhow from Germany.

"We are here with my family who are sitting there eating ice cream," Osterhow said. They think this old west mining town is pretty unique.

"You don't have anything like that in Germany."

Allison and her family, visiting from Pennsylvania, found Columbia to be a pleasant stop.

"It's quaint, it's nice, we've enjoyed bringing the girls here to walk around, and we are enjoying ourselves," she said.

What makes Columbia unique is it's still a living, breathing town, where visitors like Vanessa Tafoya and Lara Soto, who drove up from Berkeley, can get a feel for what life was like way back when.

"I feel like since we were younger when we came we were more excited about getting the ice cream and getting candy, but I feel like now when we are like wow, just getting to see everything, how it was, the bowling alleys, the old houses, it's pretty, pretty fun," Tafoya said.

About 2,000 people still live in Columbia, and resident Floyd Oydegard encourages visitors to take a closer look.

"They need to go into every building and look around because every one of these buildings is historical," Oydegard said.

The keys of the antique piano in the saloon are often being pounded by 15-year-old Jack Douglass, whose name is a coincidence. He's not related to the saloon's namesake. He taught himself to play just a few years ago, and learned these old-timey tunes in a thoroughly modern way

"I actually learned the songs from YouTube," he said.

Columbia State Historic Park has a lot to offer, take it from grandma...

"It's a great place to bring your kids and your grandkids."

And after two hours of panning, the history lesson Julliette learned: "It's sorta hard to find actual gold."

But finding the fun here is easy.

Click here to explore other Hidden Adventures
Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.