Columbia is part of a complex of towns including Sonora and Jamestown that were built around gold mines in the mid 1800s. Sonora is by far the largest of the three main towns in the area and has the most tourist traffic. The whole area is prosperous and has lots of new development. The historic district of Columbia has been preserved by the California Parks Department as a "history park". It's an interesting kind of preservation. Automobile traffic has been excluded from several blocks in the center of town. All of the buildings in the historic district are period buildings that have been maintained as such. Private businesses that cater to tourists occupy most of the storefronts. Horse drawn carriage rides and similar are offered to visitors. There are parking lots immediately outside of the historic area for visitors to use for free. When I visited it was fairly empty. I don't see how the many businesses in the district could survive if this were always the case. In spite of, or because of the preservation efforts, the district seems artificial. I'm conflicted about the idea of banning auto traffic in districts like this. The differences between a living historic town like Sonora and a taxidermied historic town like Columbia are stark. There did not seem to be any residences in the historic core. This seems like a major flaw in the preservation scheme. Downtown Columbia would certainly have had a large residential population during it's boom period. The park was created in 1945 and since it's creation, I suspect that modern planning ideas of exclusive zoning have been applied to the district. The lack of vehicle traffic is also a very modern planning idea. The district is preserved and preserved well but seems to have been substantially killed in the process of preservation. It exists now as a kind of stuffed display town. It's an interesting idea but I'm glad it hasn't been applied to other towns in the Motherlode.
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