Lori Mortensen reports for the Mountain Democrat of Placerville, Calif., on efforts to restore Emmanuel Church on the grounds of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park:
Why is this church so important? “People don’t understand how this church really broke the norms for that time,” [chief ranger Barry] Smith explained. “And that’s what this place represents.”
Just by looking at it, passersby might never imagine the significant marriages and funerals that were held within its arched walls, bringing a diverse community together.
“In 1893, Rufus Morgan Burgess married Josephine Burris,” said Holly Thane, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park interpreter. “They were a black couple that became very prominent in Coloma. Rufus owned and operated the first blacksmith shop and was a prominent fruit farmer in the Coloma valley. He amassed large amounts of property, was a Mason and was a respected member of the community during a time when blacks in other mining towns were not looked highly upon.”
Subsequent family members foresaw the need to use the land so others could learn about the Gold Rush in this important California setting.
On Aug. 1, 1857, famous poet and Coloma school teacher, Charles Edwin Markham, married Annie Cox at the Emanuel Church. In 1922, his poem, “Lincoln, the Man of the People” was read at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial.
In more recent times, famed local artist Thomas Kinkade married Nanette Willey there in May, 1982. Kinkade was so fond of the Emanuel Church, he painted a picture of it, calling it “Blossom Hill Church,” his first painting of a country church collection. Kinkade was one of more than 1,300 couples who were married there since the church was built in 1855.
The effort to save Emmanuel Church has a GoFundMe page.
More details are available through the Gold Discovery Park Association.