North San Juan

Town History - Gold Discovery, Early Citizenry, Legends

Historic Sites - Local Ruins, Relics, Buildings & Scenery
      • The Masonic Hall
      • The United Methodist Church

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Town History

      Gold was not discovered here until January of 1853 when a German miner by the name of Christian Kientz found color in the hill north of town. Kientz named the hill San Juan, due to its resemblance to one he had seen while serving in the Mexican War under General Winfield Scott, atop which stood an old prison named San Juan de Ulloa.
      The rich placers in the area were responsible for the initial growth of San Juan, but these deposits were nothing compared to those of the ancient river channel which ran through the ridge. When the middle Yuba Canal was completed in the spring of 1854, it provided a more reliable source of water to the district and enabled hydraulic mining operations to commence working on a large scale.
      The hydraulic operations employed a lot of men, resulting in the town’s quick growth, and it soon became one of the major mining centers along the San Juan Ridge. The post office was established on May 21 of 1857, at which time the “North” was added to the town’s name to distinguish it from San Juan in Monterey County.
      On August 5 of 1859, a three hundred-mile long flume was completed to North San Juan from the lakes around present Bowman Lake. This incredible feat marked the beginning of a decade of great prosperity for the town and its several thousand inhabitants. As water was the vital element in hydraulic mining, the town soon became the headquarters for numerous water companies that supplied the mines, some of whom’s water crossed Main Street in elevated flumes.
      Three major fires swept through North San Juan during its mining days, each one wiping out most of the town. The resilient townsfolk refused to give in to the flames and always rebuilt, as long as the gravels continued to pay. At one time many houses were scattered about the hill above town, but when it was discovered they stood atop rich gravels, the mining companies wasted no time in buying them up and washing them away.
      North San Juan’s decline from boomtown to quietown began with the end of hydraulic mining in 1884. Without the jobs provided by the mines, the town couldn’t support its large population. Miners and their families were forced to leave, to find employment wherever they could. As the population dwindled, buildings were abandoned and left to fall into disrepair. Fortunately, many of the town’s early structures were built of brick and equipped with the mandatory iron doors and shutters, and a few still remain in good repair today.

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