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The Dichotomy of Copperopolis

What Exactly is a Dichotomy? says that dichotomy is a noun meaning something that is divided into two mutually exclusive halves. The dichotomy of Copperopolis is whether it's historic or contemporary.

Depending on who you talk to, Copperopolis is either old or it's new. Some think it can be both, but most do not. If that seems like a bit of a conundrum to you, well there-in lies the problem.

Old-timers say the only real Copperopolis exists along and around O'Byrnes Ferry Road.

Founded in 1860 by the owners of the Union Copper Mine, the town grew rapidly during the days of the U.S. Civil War when copper was needed to make bullets.

This is the Copperopolis of O'Byrnes Ferry Road, Matt's Take Out,

Copperopolis Congregational Church, the old Armory Building, Black Bart, and the first stagecoach robbery to ever occur in California.

That new place down the road is just flimflam.

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The Dichotomy of Copperopolis: The Real Deal

Who can resist a town called Copperopolis? Not me, not when it's so much fun just to say the name!

Northern California is well-known throughout the world for its California Gold Rush, and for its Gold Rush Country, which still contains not only remnants and artifacts from said Gold Rush, but also plenty of leftover gold! So why would anyone name a town that's smack dab in the middle of Northern California's Gold Country, Copperopolis?

Wolf and I couldn't resist the temptation to find out!

One weekend, while on our way to Yosemite National Park, we took a little side-trip to what was once the thriving municipality of Copperopolis, California. Here's what we discovered.

Located in the SW corner of Calaveras County, Copperopolis grew up in the 1860s around - as its name would suggest - a copper mine rather than a gold mine. As the American Civil War got underway, the copper brought a lot of revenue in for the owners of the Union, Keystone, and Empire Copper Mines, as copper was a much-needed commodity for the making of bullets.

After the Civil War, processing and shipping the copper became too expensive, the mines closed down, and the town began to die out. But over the next several decades - from World War to World War - Copperopolis' fortunes ebbed and flowed with the demands for copper until 1946, when the last mine was closed forever.

The town of Copperopolis has been designated as California Historic Landmark number 296.

Today Copperopolis has a split-personality dichotomy going on. The real - historic - Copperopolis has that gold-rush-era feel to it with its old brick buildings (four of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the piles of copper tailings, and the old cemeteries that make it an inviting destination.

The Dichotomy of Copperopolis: The New Deal

Before you reach the real - or historic - Copperopolis along Highway 4, you'll stumble on what looks like a mirage in the desert except that you're in the Sierra foothills and the mirage is real.

Not realizing your mistake because there's a fine granite sign that says Copperopolis, you'll turn to the right to discover a Mayberry-esque township built around a town square or plaza. It's bright, it's shiny, and it's obviously brand new, even though the buildings were designed to look historic.

What's this, you wonder? I thought Copperopolis was old, historic, dusty and dirty - in other words, what one would expect from an historic mining town.

Surprise! This is Copperopolis Town Square, a development created by builder Castle and Cooke approximately ten years ago - "a whole new town with a historic past," according to the town's website. .

Here you'll discover Zoey's Pet Boutique (holistic dog food), Copper Propper (tasteful and fashionable home decorator items), Griff's BBQ and Grill (for a drink and a pub-style meal), or the Copper Grill (for some gourmet dining). Not exactly what you expected - cosmopolitan opportunities for shopping and dining in the middle of nowhere!

Enjoying Both Sides of the Dichotomy

Matt's Take Out in Old Copperopolis by Suzi RosenbergMatt's Take Out in Old Copperopolis by Suzi Rosenberg

So stop and enjoy the surprise of Copperopolis Town Square - for more pictures of both sides of the Copperopolis coin, see our Facebook album - but be sure to continue along Highway 4 to the Main Street turn off (O'Byrnes Ferry Road) which leads you to historic Copperopolis - the Copperopolis you came to find.

There's a mix of older buildings dating from the 1860s - McCarty's Copper Inn general store (built in the 1860s by Union Mining Company), McDillard's Feed and Supply, Calaveras Olive Oil and Land Company (which operates out of an 1890s bank building), and the 1864 brick Copperopolis Armory (National Register #97001588). Some of the buildings are restored to near-original condition, and some are in disrepair, but they all have history and personality.

For some historical leavings, keep an eye out for the piles of copper tailings across the street from the Armory - piles of dirt and rock from the copper mines from which the copper was extracted.

You'll find places to eat here, too - albeit a little less fancy than those around Town Square: like Matt's Take Out (which boasts awesome burgers). And discover that when Copperopolis oldtimers talk about OC, they don't mean Orange County, they mean the Old Corner Saloon (which boasts a picture of Black Bart standing at the Old Corner Saloon Bar in the 1800s)!

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For more about Calaveras County, visit:

  • Calaveras County
    When I say Calaveras, what leaps to mind?
  • Calaveras County Attractions
    Historic and picturesque Gold Rush towns, Gold Rush museums and mines, art galleries and charming antique shops, award-winning wineries and micro-breweries, outdoor activities year-round ... let's explore Calaveras!
  • Calaveras Communities
    When you get tired of jumping frogs and Angels Camp, check out the rest of Calaveras' towns and villages.

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