Jamestown was founded in 1848 within a few months after gold was discovered in Woods Creek, a mile south of town. This discovery was itself within a few months after the original discovery of gold in Coloma, upstream from Sacramento on the American River at John Sutter’s sawmill, that initiated the California Gold Rush. In the earliest years, the American miners continued to mine near Jamestown, while miners from Mexico moved a few miles up Woods Creek to what has now become known as the city of Sonora.
Jamestown fell on hard times after the Gold Rush, but had a resurgence in the 1880s and 90s because many underground quartz mines were nearby. In 1897, a steam railroad was built, running at first from Oakdale to Jamestown, and later to Sonora and Tuolumne City, that was headquartered in Jamestown and further contributed to the town’s economic prospects.
Jamestown can be reached in several ways. Highway 108 from the California Central Valley passes through Modesto and continues into Tuolumne County, passes Jamestown, and continues over the Sierra Nevada mountains. During Highway 108’s travel from Oakdale, near Modesto, it shares the same road as Highway 120, the route to Yosemite. Highway 120 makes a turn at Yosemite Junction to head toward Yosemite; continue 7 miles further on Highway 108 and you’ll enter Jamestown, with Main Street turning off on the right from Highway 108.
Jamestown is also on the Gold Country highway 49, as it follows the Mother Lode vein south from Angels Camp through Sonora, then briefly turns on Highway 108 to pass Jamestown on its way to Coulterville and Mariposa.
There is no practical way to get to Jamestown by public transportation, although there are tour buses that travel from San Francisco to Yosemite and stop in Sonora and visit nearby places such as Jamestown.
There is an airport for private planes in Columbia, about 6 miles from Jamestown.
Jamestown is a small town and most of the areas of interest to visitors can be walked to. There are four main areas of interest. Downtown Jamestown, on Main Street, looks in many ways as it did a hundred years ago, and has many restaurants and shops. A few blocks east is Railtown 1897, a state historic park (and a branch of the California Railroad Museum in Sacrmamento). An area just west of downtown on Highway 108 has more restaurants (and best reached by car), and there is also an interesting historical site about a mile west of downtown, Woods Crossing, that definitely requires a car to get to.
Downtown Jamestown has many examples of different historical architectural styles, including dry-laid stone buildings, the sort that had iron shutters (one still does) to protect against fire, that were popular in the 1850s. There are also many examples of wooden frame buildings from the latter 19th century, including Queen Anne style buildings. Many of these have wooden boardwalks and balconies on the second floor. There are also examples of buildings from the 1920s, built of poured concrete. An audio walking tour of downtown is available that describes the history of downtown and the different styles of buildings.