These temporary structures were eventually replaced by wooden buildings, most of which burned in the Great Sonora Fire of 1854. The town was then quickly rebuilt, largely with brick.
Many historic buildings from those times remain. The Gunn House, now a hotel, was once the office of the Sonora Herald newspaper, established in 1854. A few blocks west of Washington Street on Bradford sits what was once the county jail, now a museum, with a few jail cells still intact. A tiny park near the museum has early gold mining equipment—an arastra, a stamping machine, and a Pelton water wheel.
A block west of Washington Street is the Tuolumne County Courthouse, built in 1898 of distinctive yellow pressed brick. It is still used today.
At the north end of the street is the well-known Red Church, built in 1860. Across the street is the Morgan Mansion. The Fire Museum includes a small park with a hand fire cart.
Sonora has many places to eat, from coffee houses to formal restaurants offering Mexican (of course), Chinese, Thai, pasta and Italian, and Barbecue and steak.
Informal places include sandwich shops, including bagel sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, and light fare at various coffee houses, and ice cream. One sandwich & ice cream store has a historic saloon bar and the downstairs bookstore has the look of an underground quartz mine.
There is also shopping, with gift shops and antique stores carrying many unusual items.
A sandwich and ice cream store, the Sonora Creamery, will be reopening after being closed for some time, in a new location. Expected opening date is June 17 (2017), at 728 Mono Way, East Sonora. 209 532-7221.
It was originally known as Sonorian Camp, and miners from Chile, Peru, Argentina, France, and other countries came as well as Mexicans. The Mexicans and South Americans, unlike the Americans, brought their women. Later women from France and elsewhere, hearing of the large population of women, came here too.
Weekends in Sonora were a wild scene, as miners from camps all around came to town for supplies and recreation. There was much gambling, drinking with the most expensive spirits, bull fights, even fights between bulls and Grizzly bears. Many costly items were on sale that miners could pay for with the gold they had recovered with only a few hours of work.
In late 1849 a town government was established with the name of Sonora, with a Town Council who were Americans but sympathetic to the foreigners. The town organization allowed the construction of a hospital, needed because large numbers of the Mexican miners were suffering from scurvy. The population was about 5,000.
In June 1850 the new California legislature's ill-conceived Foreign Miners Tax took effect, levying a $20 per month tax on all foreign miners, far beyond the ability of the average miner to pay. Overnight the population of the town decreased by four fifths. The town became dangerous, with many people attacked in their tents while sleeping or on the roads, by marauders who were thought to be Mexicans.
Sonora's town leaders hired a well-known attorney to challenge the law as unconstitutional, but this was unsuccessful. Eventually, however, the tax was repealed, then later followed by a tax at a much lower rate.
After the placer gold from the streams was mostly played out, Sonora continued as a gold-mining region because of its substantial underground "pocket" mines, in which highly concentrated gold could be found in the quartz. This was before the technology existed to extract gold from low-grade quartz and gold rock. Sonora's pocket mines and its status as the county seat and business center of the Southern Mines allowed it to survive while many other mining camps became ghost towns.