With a population of 1,517, this popular Gold Rush-era town takes its name from John and Daniel Murphy, brothers who set up a trading post here in 1848. They became wealthy men after only a year. John later became mayor of San Jose and Daniel became a cattle baron with huge spreads in Mexico, California and Nevada.

By 1850 1,200 miners were working the rich deposits in the area. Tents were the norm, and each ethnic group had its own encampment. By 1852, the population had swelled to an estimated 3,000. Mercer's Caverns, discovered by Walter Mercer in 1885, are about a mile north of the town. To the east, Calaveras Big Trees State Park, with its groves of sequoias, is a great place for a picnic.

Murphys is one of the best preserved towns in the Mother Lode even though a fire decimated much of the town in 1859. Well-suited for walking, it features a dozen different galleries, along with nine tasting rooms featuring local foothill wines. Most quickly reached via Highway 4, it is one of the few major Gold Rush-era towns not located on Highway 49. Beautiful tree-lined streets add to the ambiance. The oldest building in Murphys, the Peter Traver building, houses the Old Timers Museum. A pioneer blacksmith shop is behind the building. The Murphys Hotel, built in 1856 by James Sperry and John Perry (and named the Sperry and Perry Hotel), hosted such luminaries as Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Ward Beecher, Thomas Lipton, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Horatio Algier. One entry, "Charles Bolton, Silver Mountain," was in reality the infamous stage robber, Black Bart. Built in 1860, the Murphys Elementary School is the oldest continuously operating elementary schoolhouse in the state.

About 20 miles northeast of Murphys on Highway 4, visitors will find Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Here, 6,000 acres of forest include about 150 giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The park provides opportunities for camping, picnicking, fishing, swimming, hiking and just marveling at these relics from another time.

Mercer Caverns is a mile north of Murphys off Sheep Ranch Road. Walter Mercer discovered these caves in 1885 when he was looking for water on a hot September day. Cold air blasted his legs, and he followed the air to the caves, which he excavated for public access by 1887. The temperature inside is a constant 55 degrees F.

West of Murphys are the old gold towns of Vallecito and Douglas Flat. Douglas Flat, located on the Central Hill Channel, an ancient river deposit rich in gold, features several old buildings.

The historic Murphys Hotel is only one of the many attractions that draws visitors to this Gold Rush town.
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