Gold Country, Sonora

1943: Sonora, Tuolumne County, California ~
Emerging into view from the crown of Highway 49 and a mile from end to end, the town of Sonora is tucked into the foothills and ravines of the Sierra Nevada—the gateway to California’s gold mining region.

During World War II, most of the men not fighting for our country had left for wartime jobs in the bigger cities. My father was exempt from the draft, being almost forty and with four children, so he was one of the few men still in town. Throughout the war years Sonora shifted into idle. Most of the stores were vacant, and because of gas rationing there were no tourists.

Sonora Main St Calif

When the ice companies closed, due to the advent of electric refrigerators, my father got a job managing a Sprouse Reitz. Given the choice of running a store in Sonoma (a sleepy hamlet forty-some miles north of San Francisco) or in the town of Sonora, he chose the latter, hoping there would be more business opportunity.

When our family moved there in 1943, Sonora had no stoplights, one taxi, two theaters, a three-lane bowling alley, four newspapers, five cemeteries, a six-block-long main street, seven churches, and eight taverns. Cigar stores, barbershops, ice cream parlors, and clothing shops lined both sides of Washington Street, the hub of this small town. The dry hot summers went on for years, a silver quarter was a lot of money, and people did what was expected. Sonora had passed its rough and tumble heyday, settling into a cocoon of open windows and unlocked doors.Sonora house

Our family lived at 104 Green Street in the old LePape house owned by the Segerstrom family, who also owned the historic Sonora Inn and Kelley’s Central Motors and Garage. It was an old white, two-story residence in the center of town that rented for $35 a month, and it’s where I would be born five years hence.

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