French Corral

The Wells Fargo Building

The Wells Fargo Building is one of the sharpest, most striking “Old West” buildings to be found in the Gold Country today. Put up Wells Fargo1during the town’s heyday during the 1850’s, the one-story brick structure was solidly built and fitted with iron doors and shutters, more for protection against badmen than fire in this location, as large amounts of gold were stored and shipped from this office. Kept in an excellent state of repair, it’s not hard to imagine the doors swinging open and miners coming in from the hills to sell their dust.

Town History

The somnolent, rural atmosphere which envelopes this settlement today belies its early beginnings during the days of gold. French Corral was the first of the historic mining camps to spring up along the San Juan Ridge. A French settler built a corral for his mules here in 1849, and when rich placers were later discovered nearby, a town quickly appeared on the site of the Frenchman’s corral.

The gravel deposits of the ancient San Juan River channel follow along the ridge for many miles. These accumulations, washed down over millions of years, contain fossil wood and nearly every kind of rock known to the Sierra region. And gold, lots of gold. The deposits were left high and dry above the present river systems by some past geologic events, causing wild speculations amongst the miners as to how the gold got there. For several years the town simply existed, with what mining there was taking place in a rather desultory manner as the deposits did not appear to be rich. But when hydraulic mining was introduced, its economy and thoroughness changed everything. The town boomed as hundreds of miners rushed to the area, making French Corral one of the premier towns in the district, second only to North San Juan in size and importance.

In addition to being known for its rich gold mines, French Corral is famous for being the terminus of the world’s first long-distance telephone line. The sixty-mile long line was built by the Edison Company in 1878 at a cost of $6,000. It stretched up the Ridge from French Corral through Birchville, Sweetland, North San Juan, Cherokee, North Columbia, Lake City, North Bloomfield, Moore’s Flat, Graniteville, Milton, and Bowman Lake. The line was built for three mining companies, the Eureka Lake and Yuba Canal Company, the North Bloomfield Mining Company, and the Milton Mining and Water Company, in order to more effectively manage their ditches and flumes along the Ridge. The three companies owned and operated a total of over 320 miles of ditches and flumes, constructed at a cost of over $5 million. The phone line enabled them to precisely regulate the flow of water from the reservoirs high in the mountains, through the complicated system of flumes and ditches, to their gigantic hydraulic mining operations along the Ridge.

The results of the hydraulic mining operations which took place here from the 1850’s to 1884, are still visible along the road. Hillsides washed away created mini-canyons which reveal the layers of gravels laid down by the ancient river. Sunlight often catches and glitters off specks in these walls, drawing the attention of those driving by. Gold? - Information courtesy Malakoff.com