Frogs are a big thing in Angels Camp. They have been since a young Mark Twain arrived there in 1865 and heard a story about a jumping frog contest.
“Coleman with his jumping frog — bet stranger $50 — stranger had no frog, & C (Coleman) got him one — in the meantime stranger filled C’s (Coleman’s) frog full of shot & he couldn’t jump—the stranger’s frog won,” Twain scribbled in his notebook.
Months later, Twain wrote a longer version of the story and submitted it for publication. The tale, written in the inimitable Twain style, was widely published and made him a literary star.
Not surprisingly, over the years Angels Camp has capitalized on the fact it was the location of this seminal work by a great American writer.
Every year, the town celebrates with its Jumping Frog Jubilee, a recreation of the famous frog jump contest. Additionally, sidewalks, buildings and signs are painted with green frogs — just in case you forgot where you were.
Twain arrived in Angels Camp just months after departing from Virginia City. As he wrote in his book, “Roughing It,” he had tired of being in one place too long and moved on to California for work and new experiences.
After a stint in San Francisco, Twain headed to the Mother Lode country (the area that today roughly parallels Highway 49 in California) and during that time began collecting material for later stories.
While Mark Twain certainly put Angels Camp on the map, the town owes its existence to mining. In 1849, either a George or Henry Angel (historical records vary) opened a trading post in the area.
Within a short time, a small camp formed to serve the nearly 4,000 miners who were working the quartz gravel soil in the region. The town thrived for a time and then began to fade when the surface gold was all removed.
Legend says that in the early 1850s, a man by the unlikely name of Bennager Raspberry (or Rasberry) apparently got the rod stuck in his rifle one day and, out of frustration, fired it into the ground to work it free. The rod split a quartz rock and inside was a rich vein of gold.
No one knows if the story is true, but it is fact that by the early 1850s, Angels Camp was booming as a hardrock mining area. During the next five decades, the region produced more than $20 million in gold, making it one of the more productive in the Mother Lode.
Today’s Angels Camp is a bit of old and new. Main Street (Highway 49) is lined with several false front and frontier commercial buildings as well as newer structures.
The Hotel Angels (corner of Main Street and Bird’s Way) is probably the most historically significant place in town. Built in 1855, it was here that Mark Twain supposedly first heard the jumping frog story.
Other interesting structures still standing include the Angels Camp Mercantile, built in 1860, and the Bazinett Hotel, an art deco building constructed in 1931.
A few blocks from the downtown is the onion-domed St. Vasilije’s Serbian Church, built in 1910, which is the second oldest Serbian house of worship in the U.S.
Angels Camp also boasts a fine local museum at Utica Park, located a half-mile north of the downtown. Situated on the former site of the Utica Mine, the park has shaded picnic tables, a playground and a cast concrete statue of Mark Twain (donated to the town in 1945 by a movie studio filming a Twain biography).
The Angels Camp Museum features a working model of a stamp mill, mining tools, a blacksmith and foundry, a huge water wheel, historic buggies and farming equipment.
The Jumping Frog Jubilee, held since 1928, is scheduled the third weekend in May. The event, which attracts thousands, takes place at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds south of town.
For more information about Angels Camp go to: http://www.angelscamp.gov/.
Rich Moreno covers the places Nevadans want to visit.