It is unclear when the structure first became a landmark in Copperopolis.
Whether it was built in the 1860s or 1880s, according to various historians, one thing is clear: The Old Corner Saloon is here for the long haul.
In “The Tools are on the Bar: The History of Copperopolis,” Rhoda and Charles Stone place the construction of the building in 1861.
However, local historian Judith Marvin believes that the building was likely constructed during the late 1880s, when the copper mines experienced a period of revival. She pointed out that the building wasn’t present in an 1867 photograph of Main Street.
Whether the current structure was erected during the 1860s or 1880s, both sides agree that a saloon existed on the site beginning in the early 1860s.
According to the Stones, it was originally built as a 40-foot-by-60-foot boarding house capable of housing 75 miners who worked in the adjacent copper mines, and also included an adjoining bathhouse. They believed that the current building was likely made up of two separate buildings that were joined together at some point.
According to Marvin, the current building, originally known as the Ed Moore Saloon, was built as a one-story structure in 1889. A second story for lodging was added by 1891, as well as an extension on the south side of the building that housed a butcher shop.
The business was owned by Ed Moore, G. Macmillan Ross and the Bank of Amador in succession over the next 20 years, before being sold to the Calaveras Copper Co. in 1910, which ran Copperopolis like a company town in the early 20th century.
Over the years, the upstairs has been used as a brothel, a hotel and rental apartments.
During Prohibition, the Old Corner Saloon continued to operate as a speakeasy.
Former Calaveras County Deputy Sheriff Howard Collins recalled the days of Prohibition in Copperopolis in the October, 1986 issue of “Las Calaveras.”
“The Old Corner Saloon had a ground-level bar – I guess it’s the same one they use now – where you could buy soft drinks. But downstairs, in the basement, they had a room which the locals called the sump. That’s where they sold the hard stuff,” Collins said.
Through the second half of the 1900s and into the 21st century, the Old Corner Saloon remained an important part of Copperopolis social life.
When riding motorcycles grew in popularity following World War II, bikers began frequenting the bar as an important stop on their tours of the foothills.
Now, over 150 years since the first saloon opened on the property, the historic bar continues to serve the surrounding community.
While the sun pounded the pavement outside of the establishment on a recent Sunday, it was nice and cool inside the Old Corner Saloon. Several patrons sat at the end of the bar sipping drinks and enjoying a respite from the summer heat. Autographed dollar bills left by various visitors covered the walls behind the bar, and a large collection of hats hung from the ceiling.
Historic pictures and old mining and ranching equipment were proudly displayed, and brands from local ranchers marked the walls and the hardwood floor.
A picture of Black Bart standing in front of the bar counter hung over a doorway. Arguably the most famous bandit in California history, Bart committed his first and last robberies just outside of town on the Sonora-Milton Road.
The Old Corner Saloon has had a long line of owners, the most recent of which are Donny and Danielle Stuhr, who purchased the historic bar about three years ago.
“We’re actually from Santa Clara, and we had a bar down there that I had had for quite a long time, and we came up here and fell in love with this place, and decided we were done with the rat race, and here we are,” Danielle said.
Donny Stuhr grew up spending his summers at a family cabin in Camp Connell.
“I’ve been coming here for years; that’s how we knew about this place,” he said.
The couple was enthusiastic about the bar’s colorful history.
“In 1862 this opened as a bar, and it stayed open during Prohibition, and never shut its doors, and it’s actually the oldest bar in California, because the other two places that try to say that, they’ve shut their doors, and/or they opened as a market first, and this place opened as a bar first,” Danielle said.
“It was just a soda shop during the Prohibition days, but there was a speakeasy in the basement. We still have the little button to let them know that the cops are here, and there’s little compartments in the walls … about 18 to 20 inches of open space that’s just plywooded off … and there’s another extra door that goes to nowhere now, but I’m sure that it went down to the basement, because there’s a set of stairs right in the general area,” she said.
Staying open all those years hasn’t always been easy.
“About eight to 10 years ago, the previous owner had to put a foundation on it. So he actually had it all jacked up, lifted up, put the foundation on it, and was able to stay open,” Dannielle said.
“He had it five feet up in the air and it was still open,” Donny said.
“They even had some crazy bands. I’m surprised the floor didn’t cave in. This is the original floor of the bar, but the wood on the walls has been changed,” Danielle said.
A portion of the bar counter and the cooler case behind it are also original, she said.
“I know that Black Bart used to come in and hang out here, and there were a couple of gunfights, because there are a couple of old, old, old bullet holes – one in our door, and there’s another out the back door – so there was some fighting going on, I think … That’s how they settled things in those days.”
The Old Corner Saloon has long been a favorite stop for bikers on their way through the foothills.
“Every kind of motorcycle group comes through. They make this one of their stops,” Donny said.
“We’re completely biker friendly. They’re all great guys and girls. They’re fantastic,” Danielle said. “We’ve got a couple of bikes out there right now. The front of the bar is only motorcycle parking, so that says a lot.”
People from all walks of life stop in at the saloon.
“Friday night we’ll have a bunch of 21- or 22-year-old cowboys in here, and then come Saturday morning, we’ve got guys that are 90,” Danielle said.
“A lot of Yosemite visitors, a lot of people who are going to the lake for the weekend,” stop in to the bar, Donny said. “It’s a very diverse crowd.”
Visitors are often curious about the saloon’s history.
“We have a couple of customers that we joke with, and say, ‘OK, here’s the tour guide,’ and they’ll give the whole tour of everything, all of the pictures, and get everyone involved in it,” Danielle said.
“If these walls could talk, we would hear a lot of crazy stories,” she said.
The Stuhrs have plans for more events at the bar, including a car show on Aug. 31.
On the way out the door, a couple of bikers pulled up in front.
“Is Danielle around,” one of them asked.
“Sure is,” someone answered.
The pair walked through the front door and out of the heat, just as locals and visitors alike have done for longer than even the oldest of the town’s residents can remember.