George W. Coulter started a tent store here in early 1850 to supply the hundreds of miners working the rich placers of Maxwell, Boneyard, and Black Creeks. He also built the first hotel, water for it was pumped from a well by two Newfoundland dogs. Originally called Banderita from the flag flying over Coulter’s store, the settlement became Maxwell Creek when the post office was established in 1853, but the name was changed the following year to honor Coulter. The family of Francisco Bruschi, who erected the first permanent building here, provided the town’s leading merchants for over eighty years. Despite their crude methods, and with only wood for fuel, the nearby quartz mines operated for years and produced millions of dollars worth of gold, Andrew Goss built the first stamp mill for crushing their ore.
The entrance to the museum is within a remnant of the Coulterville Hotel. The earliest legal description of this building is dated 1863. It was a private rock walled residence until the 1890s when Percy Davis leased it and added two wooden stories, turning it into the hotel, only to have them burn down in the third great Coulterville fire in 1899. The adjacent Wells Fargo brick structure was built in 1856, originally housing both the local Wells Fargo office as well as McCarthy’s General Store. Nelson Cody, brother of Buffalo Bill Cody, was an agent here in the 1870’s and served as the area’s postmaster. An additional structure in the rear houses a variety of old wagons, mining and farm equipment. Adjacent to the museum is “Whistling Billy”, an eight-ton Porter Locomotive that was shipped around the Horn and brought to Coulterville by mule team to bring gold ore from the Mary Harrison Mine four miles to the “forty-Stamper” mill. The locomotive stands under the town’s Hanging Tree, from which the likes of Leon Ruiz was hung in 1856 for robbing and killing two Chinese miners.
Coulterville attracts thousands of people each year due to it’s central location in the gold county. There is still gold in the creek that runs through town and gold panning equipment is available on a first come basis. For those seeking the paranormal, we have 17 ghosts residing at the hotel (or so it’s been documented) and ghost detecting kits are available for the more adventuresome guests. The Hotel Jeffery was first built in 1850 for stagecoach passengers and the Magnolia Saloon is the oldest working saloon in California. The hotel has hosted US Presidents, John Muir, Mark Twain and various others. The hotel, which burned down 3 times before 1889, is a designated historical landmark (along with the entire town).
This eight-ton, short-wheel base, wood burning locomotive, built by the H. K. Porter Co. of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, was delivered to the Merced Mining Company of Coulterville in 1897. All of “Billy’s” active life was spent hauling gold-bearing quartz ore over the narrow-gauge tracks from the Mary Harrison mine, south of town, to the Potosi stamp mill, west of town – a distance of about four miles. Abandoned in 1904, it was resurrected in the mid 1930’s, and placed here for all to see and enjoy.