Placer mining camps were set up at Cherokee Diggings in the early 1850s. In 1854, Franklin and Elizabeth Summers arrived here from Missouri by wagon train. Two years later, Franklin (Frank) Summers was murdered leaving Elizabeth a widow at 24 years old. Elizabeth soon opened up the house her husband Frank built just before his death as a boarding house, in an area briefly known as Quartzville. In late 1856, members of the community offered to name the area Elizabethville in her honor. Mrs. Summers declined the honor, but stated she would be pleased if the community was named after her late husband, so the town became known as “Summersville.”
Prominent businessman, Charles H. Carter, owned a general store in Long Gulch about two miles south of Summersville. When the Eureka Mine was discovered in 1858 by Joseph and James Blakely, the entire population of Long Gulch, along with Carter’s store moved to the area of the Eureka Mine, which was located on the northeast side to the town common. Summersville business district was developed and built around the common. In 1888, Summersville residents petitioned to have their own post office however a post office called “Somersville” already existed in Contra Costa County. Fearing confusion, their petition was denied. In December 1888, it was agreed that since the post office was located at the store of Charles Carter, the town would be called Carter or “Carters.”
The lumber industry began to dominate the local economy when prominent rancher Frank Baker sold part of his ranch located along Turnback Creek to the West Side Flume and Lumber Company, which began operations in 1899. The Sierra Railway extended its new terminus into Carters on February 1, 1900, and its station became known as “Tuolumne.” In 1901, a post office was established in the West Side Flume and Lumber Company’s main office. The Carters post office in Summersville burned in 1905, and the post offices were combined at one location. The community was officially named “Tuolumne” in 1909.
The Sierra Railway provided passenger service from Oakdale, Jamestown, and Sonora. Tourists arrived via the railroad, and lumber was shipped to market. The West Side Lumber Company held 60,000 acres of timber, with 75 miles of narrow gauge railroad and 250 miles of spur tracks into the forest. The company built a massive sawmill, drying sheds, storage yards, and a box factory. In addition, the West Side provided electricity to the town, and built company homes for the workers. In 1921, Pickering Lumber Company took over the Standard Lumber Company in Standard and the West Side Lumber Company and the associated logging railroads, which included Sugar Pine Railway and West Side’s logging railroad.
The town today only hints at its past. During the 1940’s, Tuolumne had several churches, a theatre, lodges, its own newspaper, two gas stations, two garages, four hotels, four grocery stores, a butcher shop, bakery, two drug stores, a soda fountain, four restaurants, two bars, three dry goods stores, and many other businesses.
The town has also been the location of several movies and television shows, in the 1930’s, movies “The Storm” and “Rose Marie,” in 1948 “ScuddaHoo! ScuddaHay!’ and in 1951 the entire town was used for “Silver City.” Then in 1952, the “High Noon” film crew used locations around Tuolumne, including St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Television shows “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway to Heaven” were also filmed in the Tuolumne area.
Ralph’s Station Monument: Tuolumne Road/Soulsbyville Road. This was the starting point of the Sugar Pine Railway, which served the lumber industry. Construction began in 1904 and was completed to Lyons Reservoir in 1907. The Ralph family grew apples and pears, which were shipped via the railroad from here.
Soulsbyville Monuments: Two monuments here in Soulsbyville tell the story of the discovery of gold by Ben Souls by. The mine was worked exclusively by miners from Cornwall, England who arrived in 1858. Soulsbyville was the first community in the county to be founded entirely upon the operation of a lode mine.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church: 18473 Gardner Street. Constructed in 1908 in Gothic Revival architectural style, this church appeared in the 1952 Gary Cooper movie “High Noon.”
Tuolumne City Memorial Museum: N/W Carter and Bay. Built in 1921, the Museum features a scale model of the West Side Lumber Company and a West Side logging train. Other exhibits include the Me-Wuk, early pioneer families, including a schoolroom, doctor’s office, kitchen and laundry, a foundry, gold mining, and US armed forces display. Visiting hours are weekends (1 to 4 PM) with free admission.
Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall: S/W Pine and Fir. It was built in 1936, in Art Deco style with funding from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Public Works Project. The premier “Turnback Inn” which stood on this site for 23 years, burned to the ground around 1923.
Tuolumne Park and Gazebo: This site was originally in the Carters Township business district as a “Plaza and Railroad Reservation.” The Gazebo was built in the late 1930’s and the original Sycamore trees, planted ca. 1936, still line the park boundary.
Heisler Locomotive # 2: Built in 1899, it was used on the Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite Valley Railroad and primarily used as a switcher at the West Side’s mill. A passenger depot was once located next to the locomotive; note the rails still in the ground.
Summersville Commons: Tuolumne Road North/First Ave. The original town site and business district of Summersville, later became known as Carters, and finally Tuolumne. With the discovery of the Eureka Mine, near the end of present day First Avenue, the town thrived.
Cart House: Built in 1905, it contains an old fire hose cart, which was pulled by hand. The ringing of a bell in the tower summoned volunteers.
Cherokee Monument: Tuolumne Rd. North/Cherokee Road. Gold was discovered here, the first placer camp in the East Belt Section of the Mother Lode, in 1856, by the Scott brothers, descendants of Cherokee Indians.
Ellis Home: 18461 Bay St. Built in 1898, by the West Side Lumber Company for its Superintendent’s family, it is Tuolumne’s best representative of the transition between Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. It is now a private residence.
Reid Park: S/E corner Carter and Bay. The site of a three-story hospital/sanitarium where the West Side Lumber Company’s doctor, Eugene H. Reid, M.D. practiced. It later became Mrs. Collier’s boarding house and finally the Sierra Inn.
For more information, order CHISPA, Vol. 40, No. 2, October-December, 2000, “Memories of Old Soulsbyville.”