The Gold Rush of California attracted many people from around the country as well as around the world. They all were in search of wealth and/or a better way of life. Among this diverse immigrant population that swarmed into California during the mid to late 19th Century were the people from the Kingdom of Italy. This kingdom was only formed in the mid 19th century from numerous independent states. At first, mostly single men came to find gold, or earn money any way they could, and then send it back home to their needy families. Later, wives and children were sent for and joined them in their new life in the west. The word spread of a better life and soon other family members, neighbors, friends and paesani (people of the same village) immigrated also. Usually, the people of the same country or province would settle in the same area in this new land. As it turned out, the Italians from primarily the area of Genoa, in the region of Liguria settled in the gold rich foothills of the Mother Lode. At first they were lured by gold and quick profit, but soon they saw opportunities in businesses and services. They established themselves in cattle ranching, lumbering, construction, stone masonry, market gardening, farming, grocery, olive oil, railroading, mercantile, banking, restaurants, hotel and boarding, and vineyard and wind production. The heaviest concentration of immigrants from Liguria was in the southern part of the Mother Lode, which consisted of Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties. By 1870, 25% of the Italian population of the State lived in these three counties. Again, most came from the same region of Italy known as Liguria, an area around the city of Genoa, many from the province of Chiavari. (SICS 2000; Rhodes 1988; Costello 1981, 1998).

By early 1850, a small community of Italian merchants was established in San Francisco. The 1850 census (taken in 1851) showed that Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties accounted for 188 people of Italian birth, or over 82% of total reported in the census. However, census reports of this year from the Bay Area counties have large gaps and so are not highly accurate. By 1856 Italian population in California was estimated at 1,000 in San Francisco and 6,000 in the interior. By the 1870 census, 83% of the State's Italian born population was found in Tuolumne County. And by 1900 it was only 1.3% of the county's population. (Rhodes 1988)

The Italians in the Mother Lode worked in all aspects of industry and services, especially after the boom years of the Gold Rush, basically the 1850s. In the mountains they worked in the Lumber industry. Some were woodcutters who split wood to make charcoal used the mining forges. Many stayed in mining while others owned and operated retail stores of all types. Many brought their skill in working with stone from their rugged and mountainous homeland of Liguria. These masons helped build structures, as well as mountain roads. Many of the stone terraces along these roads can still be seen today (SICS 2000). A large portion of these immigrants though went into agriculture - market gardening and farming - as a way of life as a result of the demands by local populations for fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, grain and wine. By the 1860s, Italians in Tuolumne County owned and operated a number of market gardens, farms and ranches. Of 134 Italians on the 1873 Voter Register, 33 were reported as gardeners, ranchers or farmers (Rhodes 1989a). The Register also showed that the majority of the Italians in and around Columbia were listed as being in the agriculture business. And it seems there was at least one Italian merchant in most settlements throughout the County. By 1880, there are around 1200 commercial market gardens operating in California by Italians, a good number of these in Tuolumne County alone. (SICS 2000; Rhodes 1988).

In Columbia, John Perrani, John Podesta and Allesandro Vassallo developed gardens while John Cuneo, Ruben Domenico and Domingo Rollero took up grain farming. The market gardens were a family affair, everyone worked in planting, maintaining, and harvesting the varied products (fruits, vegetables, nuts, olives, herbs, olive oil), and hauling them to their customers. In Tuolumne County some of the well-known gardens were the Podesta Gardens in Columbia, the Palemone Gardens in Tuolumne, and the Valponi and Cavalero Gardens in Sonora. Most garden operations also made wine and vinegar from their grapes for their own use. Any excess would have been delivered to customers in barrels or wicker covered jugs along with the produce. In Fall, unsold fruit was dried, cucumbers were pickled, and tomatoes made into conserva, or tomato paste, which was also canned for sale. (Rhodes 1989a and b; SICS 2000)

The Italians established their own cultural communities where they settled. They celebrated their culture with such things as "bocce ball", Columbus Day celebrations, language, music, and by forming mutual benefiegrganizations. Some of these organizations are still in existence today, such as the Gold Country Italian American Club in Grass Valley and the Italian Benevolent Society in Amador County. Some Italian traditions were brought to America and kept by these immigrants. One that stands out in 4 the Mother Lode region is the use of the outdoor stone, or brick, domed oven or "forno" for making bread. (SICS 2000; Rhodes 1989b; Costello 1981, 1998). Families working and socializing together was an important part of the Italian Community. Besides Italian stores, many of the farmers and market gardens became\social centers for family and the community, especially on Sundays and holidays, Christmas being one of the most important. Socializing involved food, wine, music and the., sharing of news from the old country. After dinner, men dipped biscotti, a dry cookie, ID' fruit in port or grappa, and smoked "Toscani", a rope-like cigar. There was also "bocc ball", a traditional Italian ball game played on a court. (Rhodes 1989b)

Although the original early Italian community in this region has grown smaller, their legacy still lives on with such historic place names as Italian Bar, Italian Camp, Volponi Mine, Fortuna Mine, Belle Italia Mine, Cardinell Mine, Garibaldi Mine, Italian Mine, Mazzeppa Mine, and the Solari store. There are also many names of local Italian families that can still be found around the county on street signs, ranches, geographical locations, such as Ferretti, Rolero, Sanguinetti and Rosasco. Other historic names are; Dondero, Ghiorse, Peirano, Volponi, Perano, Oneto, Palemone, Queirolo, Dentone, Gardella, Cavalero, Pendola, Ratto, DeBernardi, Raggio, Mangente, Rodina, Pavia, Lombardo, Tomas, Batacchi and Copelo. (Rhodes 1988, 1989a, 1989b; Dart 1879; Barton 1896)

Below is a list of some early Italian names found in and around Columbia, arranged under what general occupation they had (Rhodes 1988, 1989a; TCGR 1872,1884, 1886, 1888, 1898; CSHP family files).

Agriculture (farming, ranching, market gardens, dairy)

Perranni, Podesta, Vassallo, Cuneo, Domenico, Rollero, Bacigalupi, Bianchi, Filberti, Perasso, Ratto, Rosasco, Ghiorso, Brignardello, Cinelli

Merchants, Accommodations and Restaurants

Cinelli, Solari, Vassallo, Antonini, Casaretto, Ramillo, Mariette, Beronio, Casaretto, DiLucci (Dalukee), Dondero, Borello, Gagliardo, Magendie, Peirano, Ratto,  Rolleri, Cardinelli, Prato, Sanguinetti, Ghiorso, Ingolotti

Miners and Laborers

Arata, Aschint Costa, Cossi, Cervantes, Cavalero, Enrico, Gagliardo, Lagomarsino, Simi, Valcozsena, Giannelli, Guerena, Lenardini, Lucca, Luis, Marengo, Rocca, Sarano, Scanavino, Sivori, Ventre, Anastaia, Rolleri, Cavanardo, Carron, Jose, Massolini, Olieva, Parmegiani, Pezzola, Raffo, Sanguinetti, Bruschi, Bogliol, Gejero, Grosini, Grossini, Maccini, Perta, Perano, Resaco, Valpini, Pezzaglia, Sartori, Vaitoler, Vaccarezza

St. Anne's Catholic Church, Columbia, CA