Downieville, California

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census-designated place
Downieville, California, at Main and Commercial St., looking south.jpg
Downieville is located in California
Location within the state of California
Coordinates: 39°34′03″N 120°48′44″W / 39.56750°N 120.81222°W / 39.56750; -120.81222Coordinates: 39°34′03″N 120°48′44″W / 39.56750°N 120.81222°W / 39.56750; -120.81222
Country  United States
State  California
County Sierra
 • Total 3.187 sq mi (8.252 km2)
 • Land 3.181 sq mi (8.238 km2)
 • Water 0.006 sq mi (0.014 km2)  0.17%
Elevation[2] 2,966 ft (904 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 282
 • Density 88/sq mi (34/km2)
Time zone Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP codes 95936
Area code(s) 530
GNIS feature ID 2583000
U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Downieville, California

Downieville is a census-designated place in and the county seat of Sierra County, California, United States.[2] Downieville sits at an elevation of 2,966 feet (904 m).[2] The 2010 United States census reported Downieville's population was 282.


Downieville was settled in late 1849 during the California Gold Rush and was first known as "The Forks" for its geographical location. It was shortly thereafter renamed after the town's founder, Major William Downie (1820-1893), a Scotsman who led an expedition of nine miners, including seven blacks,[3] up the North Fork of the Yuba River and who was the town's first mayor. Major Downie's travels are documented in his 1893 autobiography, "Hunting for Gold." Downieville reached a peak population of over 5,000 people in 1851 but declined sharply by 1865. Downieville is situated at the confluence of the Downie River and North Fork of the Yuba River. Downieville was vying to become the state capital of California along with fifteen other California communities in 1853 before the capital was moved to Benicia, and then shortly thereafter its current location in Sacramento. In July 1851 Downieville gained a distinction it may not have wanted when a mob lynching occurred on July 5. One particularly infamous crime was when a Mexican woman named Josefa Segovia was lynched by a mob in Downieville. She was accused of killing a white man who had attempted to assault her after breaking into her home. It remains the only lynching of a pregnant female in California history.[4]

The northern mines area was populated by a number of gold rush camps with colorful names, places like Brandy City, Whiskey Diggins, Poverty Hill, and Poker Flat. While many of these camps entirely disappeared after the gold rush, Downieville survived due both to its geographical location and status as the seat of Sierra County government.


Downieville is a popular mountain biking destination, hosting the world famous race, the Downieville Classic, a two-day event consisting an Enduro style or Super-D downhill race as well as an extremely challenging cross country race. The Single Speed World Championship was also held in Downieville in 2003.

Other popular outdoor activities include off-road motorcycling, kayaking, hiking, and gold panning. Fishing for planted rainbow trout and for German browns also is an attraction.

The Downieville Museum is housed in a building converted from a store originally built by Chinese immigrants circa 1852. Today, the museum contains objects that depict life from the Gold Rush era to the present.

There are a variety of lodging options in the area, ranging from campgrounds to motels to on-the-river cabins such as those at Sierra Shangri-la and The Lure.

Downieville is home to the state's oldest weekly newspaper, the Mountain Messenger. Default wired telephone numbers for the town follow the format (530) 289-xxxx. In a typical year, the high school graduates about a half-dozen students. Downieville has its own post office (on Main Street) and its ZIP code is 95936. The elevation is around 2,966 feet (904 m).


According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP covers an area of 3.2 square miles (8.3 km²), 99.83% of it land and 0.17% of it water.


This region experiences warm (but not hot) and dry summers, with no average monthly temperatures above 71.6 °F. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Downieville has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, abbreviated "Csb" on climate maps.[5]


The 2010 United States Census[6] reported that Downieville had a population of 282. The population density was 88.5 people per square mile (34.2/km²). The racial makeup of Downieville was 269 (95%) White, 0 (0%) African American, 4 (1%) Native American, 2 (1%) Asian, 0 (0%) Pacific Islander, 0 (0%) from other races, and 7 (3%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 12 persons (4%).

The Census reported that 282 people (100% of the population) lived in households, 0 (0%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 0 (0%) were institutionalized.

There were 147 households, out of which 25 (17%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 59 (40%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 13 (9%) had a female householder with no husband present, 4 (3%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 6 (4%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 3 (2%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 61 households (42%) were made up of individuals and 32 (22%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.9. There were 76 families (52% of all households); the average family size was 2.6.

The population was spread out with 40 people (14%) under the age of 18, 20 people (7%) aged 18 to 24, 42 people (15%) aged 25 to 44, 104 people (37%) aged 45 to 64, and 76 people (27%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 56.5 years. For every 100 females there were 104.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 106.8 males.

There were 225 housing units at an average density of 70.6 per square mile (27.3/km²), of which 102 (69%) were owner-occupied, and 45 (31%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 4%; the rental vacancy rate was 15%. 198 people (70% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 84 people (30%) lived in rental housing units.



Because Loyalton is Sierra County's most populous municipality and its only incorporated city, generally half of the meetings of the county's board of supervisors are held in Downieville and the other half are held in Loyalton.[7]

State and Federal[edit]

In the state legislature, Loyalton is in the 1st Senate District, represented by Republican Ted Gaines,[8] and the 1st Assembly District, represented by Republican Brian Dahle.[9]

Federally, Loyalton is in California's 1st congressional district, represented by Republican Doug LaMalfa.[10]


  1. ^ U.S. Census
  2. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Downieville, California
  3. ^ Quintard Taylor (1998), In Search of the Racial Frontier, New York/London: W.W. Norton & Company p.85
  4. ^ Wilma P. Mankiller; Gwendolyn Mink; Marysa Navarro; Gloria Steinem, Barbara Smith (October 1999). The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 84–. ISBN 978-0-618-00182-8. 
  5. ^ Climate Summary for Downieville, California
  6. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA - Downieville CDP". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Sierra County Government Directory". Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  8. ^ "Senators". State of California. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Members Assembly". State of California. Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  10. ^ "California's 1st Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 

External links[edit]