Tuolumne County Museum


Located in the Jail

The Tuolumne County Historical society operates one of the best museums in the southern Mother Lode region.  Located in the old Tuolumne County Jail, the museum’s exhibits are spread throughout the thickly-walled brick cells and the former living quarters of the jailer’s family.  Constructed in 1857 and rebuilt in 1866 after a prisoner set it on fire, the jail was used continuously until 1961.

Visitors today not only get a great museum experience, but also get to tour a historic jail.  If you visit on a cold day, note that the glass in the windows of the cells is not original – when prisoners were housed in the building they had to live with the outside conditions – a far cry from incarcerations today!

Old Jail Cell Window
Old Jail Cell Window

Excellent collection of history

The museum’s excellent collection of old photos and artifacts brings the past to life – mining, logging, railroads, ranching, and rural life.  The exhibits are interpreted by clearly-written signs.  Located in Sonora, the county seat of Tuolumne County, the museum displays not only Sonora’s history, but also that of other communities from the Tuolumne foothills to the top of the Sierra Nevada. 

A detailed map located near the museum’s entrance identifies all of the current and former settlements in Tuolumne County.

Museum Exhibits
Museum Exhibits

Historic guns

The historic gun collection is one of the best I’ve seen.  Part of the display is a selection of ammunition in just about every caliber and gauge.  If you’ve ever wondered how all the sizes compare, this is the place to find out.

For those interested in the history of the High Sierra, an exhibit focuses on the history of nearby Sonora Pass (today’s Highway 108) and the pioneers who developed it as a trans-Sierra crossing.

The museum is located at 158 West Bradford Avenue, two blocks from the city center.  Directional signs on Highway 49 make it easy to find. 

The hours are 10-4 Monday through Friday and 10-3:30 on Saturdays.  Helpful volunteers are available to answer questions and show visitors around.

Museum Exterior 1
Museum Exterior 1

Enjoyable reading

The TCHS has published a number of excellent books of local history.  On my recent visit I picked up copies of Sonora Pass Pioneers and When Steam Was King, both of which increased my knowledge about the development of Sonora Pass and railroads in the Sierra foothills.  They’ve also given me many hours of enjoyable reading.  Special events including frequent presentations by local historians and an annual Lamplight Dinner fundraiser are also offered.

In addition to the exhibits, an extensive research library is available for family historians and anyone interested in digging more deeply into the county’s history.  The research library is open on Tuesdays from 9AM to noon.  A donation is requested to help cover the cost of maintaining the collection and the facility.

Just over an hour’s drive from most locations in Merced County, the museum is an easy day trip and can be combined with a visit to Sonora’s downtown, the Moccasin Hatchery Jamestown, Columbia State Historic Park, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, or any of the caverns in nearby Calaveras County.

For more information about the museum or the research library,

please to: http://tchistory.org/index.html or call (209) 532-1317.