A stroll down tree-lined Main Street transports visitors back to the mid-1800s with buildings bearing thick stoned walls, iron shutters, and pastoral gardens with white picket fences.
Murphys’ rich and colorful past came alive in 1848 when John and Daniel Murphy established a trading post and gold mining operation in the area that is now their namesake. True entrepreneurs with the luck of the Irish, they were a part of the very first immigrant party (Stephens-Townsend-Murphy) to successfully bring wagons over the Sierra in 1844, paving the way for westward migration.
John and Daniel’s cries were among the first heard of “GOLD!” in California. It is reported that the brothers took two million dollars in gold ore from the Murphys Diggins in one year’s time, making them millionaires before the age of 25.
During that first year, 50 tents, several lean-tos, and two blockhouses were erected, and by 1850, the camp had a population of 1200. In 1852 there were 3000 people, close to the present-day population.
Murphys was one of California’s richest “diggins.” During one winter, five million dollars worth of gold was taken from a four-acre placer area. Such riches attracted fortune hunters and adventure seekers from around the world – gamblers, opportunists, ladies of easy virtue, and honest men, as well as renowned outlaws – among them Joaquin Murietta and Black Bart.
Building gradually, the wild days became a thing of the past, replaced with families, gardens, ranches, and dairies. Hundreds of permanent structures were built, including an opera house, hotel, churches, and schoolhouse. As gold waned, the townspeople remained to work sawmills and stores, farms and ranches, and added their own chapters to the history of the community.
The townsfolk invite you to revisit the past while exploring the “new” upscale Murphys. Guided walking tours of the town’s abundant historic buildings, including the home of Albert Michelson, the first American Nobel Prize winner, are conducted every Saturday at 10:00 a.m., starting in front of the Old Timers Museum on Main Street.
Click here to read the article Murphys Master of Light by Craig MacDonald – the story of Albert Michelson
Would you like to learn more about the rich history of this amazing little town? Longtime Murphys resident and historian Judith Marvin has written a book with a captivating selection of images that detail the town’s journey through time, along with that of surrounding communities like Dorrington, Bear Valley, Avery, Douglas Flat, and Vallecito. Marvin, who for 11 years directed the Calaveras County Museum, brings a unique and studied perspective of Murphys’ past and present.
Additional information on our area is available through these groups:
Murphys Old Timers Museum
Calaveras County Historical Society