Big Oak Flat and Groveland have a number of historic buildings that provide a glimpse into their past. Visitors can still see many of these structures along the main road, Highway 120, that passes through these communities.
First settled after the discovery of gold in 1849, Big Oak Flat had over 200 buildings by the 1860s. The transitory nature of gold mining and extensive forests nearby meant most early buildings were constructed of wood. That made them especially vulnerable to fire. A disastrous conflagration in October 1863 devastated nearly the entire town. Most surviving buildings, including the IOOF and Gamble (Wells Fargo) buildings, were made of stone. Though some businesses and homes were rebuilt, Big Oak Flat never fully recovered.
Groveland, also settled about 1849, grew more slowly to become the larger town “on the hill” after the fire that destroyed Big Oak Flat. It too experienced ruinous fires, among them the fires of 1920 and 1933 which destroyed large sections of the town.
A number of old structures remain throughout Groveland, including four adobe buildings from the earliest years, as well the c.1852 Granite Store later converted into the well-known “Iron Door Saloon.” Several public facilities such as the jail also survive. In addition, still standing are several turn-of-the-century frame homes, some converted into shops or tourist accommodations.
In the 1910s and 1920s the Hetch Hetchy project contributed to renewed construction in Groveland. In those years some historic buildings were lost in blazes, but major additions were also made. Among them were the new Groveland School, the Charlotte Hotel, and a substantial annex to the Groveland Hotel.
i.O.O.F. Hall (1852) Big Oak Flat
(Photo, Library of Congress)