Columbia is a former California Gold Rush boom town that lives on as a state-preserved historic park and a National Historic Landmark that preserves the original, gold-rush-town flavor of the town, once dubbed the "Gem of the Southern Mines." Founded in 1850 by Mexican gold miners, it is in Tuolumne County, California, United States. Although only about 2,000 people now live in this region near Sonora, California, at its height it was California's second-largest city. It was even considered briefly as a site for the state capitol of California. In 1854 the bulk of the town burned down and was re-built with brick and iron structures that survive to this day. Columbia's main street, part of the Columbia State Historic Park, is closed to automobile traffic but is open to horses and carriages, as well as pedestrians.
The town, now technically a census-designated place (CDP), is located along State Route 49 just north of Sonora. The US Postal Service ZIP code for the community is 95310. Wired telephones in Columbia work out of the Sonora central office.
Major points of interest in the area include Columbia Community College, a two-year, community college. Columbia Airport (FAA designator: O22) includes one 4,670-foot (1,420 m) runway and is busy with firefighting aircraft during summer. The annual Columbia Fire Muster here is often the earliest of California's summer musters.
Within weeks of the discovery of gold in the vicinity of Columbia, thousands of miners arrived and the population climbed to 5,000. By 1852, there were 8 hotels, 4 banks, 17 general stores, 2 firehouses, 2 bookstores, 1 newspaper, 3 churches, and over 40 drinking/gambling establishments. In 1854, Columbia's first fire destroyed 6 city blocks. The town was rebuilt using brick and iron materials. In 1857, another fire burned down nearly everything else, except the brick buildings.
In 1851, the local community brass band, a popular institution, greeted the arrival of the first white woman in town.
The Columbia school house was built in 1860, renovated in 1872, and finally closed in 1937. In 1947, it was purchased by the state of California for $1 and incorporated into the state-historic park.
By 1860, the gold mined in Columbia was diminishing rapidly. The only land left to mine was in the city itself. Miners dug under buildings and tore down houses to get at the gold beneath the city. The nearby town of Copperopolis had discovered copper and was experiencing a boom. The bricks from the destroyed buildings of Columbia were sold to Copperopolis for construction purposes.
Between 1850 and the early 1900s, $150 million in gold was removed from the surrounding hills.
Columbia never became a ghost town. In 1945, California created Columbia State Historic Park from the remains of the historical buildings of the city.
Rev. John Steele wrote his accounts of the Indians of Columbia in his memoirs In Camp and Cabin during his time in the gold rush era. The Indians of the village of Columbia were Mi-wuk.
Columbia is located at(38.033881, -120.401172) at an altitude of about 2,100 feet (650 m).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 6.2 square miles (16.0 km²). Only 0.16% of the total area is covered by water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,405 people, 1,063 households, and 659 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 389.7 people per square mile (150.5/km²). There were 1,162 housing units at an average density of 188.3/sq mi (72.7/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 90.10% White, 0.87% African American, 1.41% Native American, 1.29% Asian, 0.12% Pacific Islander, 1.29% from other races, and 4.91% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.90% of the population.
There were 1,063 households out of which 22.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.3% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.0% were non-families. 29.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.65.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 20.2% under the age of 18, 10.0% from 18 to 24, 18.8% from 25 to 44, 28.1% from 45 to 64, and 22.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 89.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.4 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $29,173, and the median income for a family was $35,000. Males had a median income of $40,729 versus $23,750 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $18,731. About 20.2% of families and 19.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 37.7% of those under age 18 and 1.4% of those age 65 or over.