There used to be gold in “them thar hills” that helped build thriving little communities. All along the gold country’s Highway 49 little towns have had to find ways to reinvent themselves or face extinction like the ghost town of Bodie as gold mines of the 19th and 20th century faded away in the rear view mirror. Amador City’s current mayor, Tim Knox, has a vision that this little gold rush town might become a gay wedding destination as a means to help stabilize and improve the community.
Gay wedding destination may help Amador City thrive
The Highway 49 bypass which skirts around Amador City and Sutter Creek has been a blessing and potential curse. The bypass took excess traffic off the main thorough fare in town to create a much more pedestrian friendly atmosphere. On the downside, the loss of visibility that Highway 49 traffic provided threatens to make towns like Amador City an after-thought to tourists and valley residents on a day trip. Amador City is the quintessential small gold rush era town that must constantly weigh the necessity of change for survival against the loss of their valued small town ambiance.
Cycling and hiking destinations
A same sex marriage destination is just one of the ideas that Mayor Knox is kicking around to keep Amador City vibrant and relevant. On a warm Sunday afternoon walking in and around the foothills surrounding Amador City Tim also mentioned the idea of a bike rental shop so people can come up and explore the back roads and history. The back roads are quiet and a natural fit for cyclists wishing to spin some miles without the high speed vehicles on the new and improved Highway 49. For history buffs like me and urban hikers these rural roads offer great foot paths through the rich heritage of the area.
Knox finds a home in Amador City
Tim Knox moved up to Amador City from Folsom in 2001. With a background in computers and government he was quickly recruited to run for Amador City council. He became Amador City Council Member Knox in 2002. Tim said he was open about being gay from day one and it has never been an issue. He is proud of the fact that Amador City collectively voted against Prop 8 in 2008. The town has a history of being a little blue dot in a large red county of Amador.
Amador City touched by AIDS
A trail of tolerance and acceptance was blazed several years before Tim Knox settled in Amador City. Jerrold Whitney bought the Kling Building, one of the oldest in town, in 1983. Mr. Whitney who was a gregarious merchant and antique dealer who lived their with his partner Bay Area artist Clayton Pinkerton. When Mr. Whitney was dying of AIDS many towns residents were there to help in any fashion they could. Mr. Pinkerton survived his partner but succumbed to illness in 1993. Together they left their home to Amador City to become a museum.
The history never stops
Even though Tim is a relative newcomer to the area his depth of historical knowledge and Rolodex memory of merchants and property owners equals that of a 4th generation resident. While I have an ear for history, more than once on our walking tour through Amador City I had to stop and ask Tim to rewind his narrative so I could get all the current and historical characters straight in my brain. Let no one underestimate the love and affection Tim Knox has for Amador City.
Small town politics
As with any small town, local politics can get complicated and people can become complacent. After several years on the city council Tim wanted to dismantle the paternalistic atmosphere around the city council to make it less intimidating and more accessible for the residents. He ran and was elected Mayor in 2013 and is probably the first openly gay mayor of one of the smallest and oldest cities in Sierra foothills.
Downtown is second home
City issues from the mundane to the technical heed not the color, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation of any mayor. Tim is the go-to-guy for helping resolve issue from parking and business signage to working on the critically important replacement of the bridge over Amador creek. It helps that Tim is a regular fixture around town and who, by his own admission of having no cooking skills, routinely seeks sustenance from the Amador City cafes and restaurants.
How do you plan a wedding away from home?
However, the hurdles of promoting Amador City as a gay wedding destination are numerous and challenging. I could tell the prospect of positioning Amador city as a destination for same sex marriage was percolation in Tim’s mind as we walked through town talking to different merchants and residents. There is nothing easy about planning a wedding. Cities that make it easy for couples to tie the knot will be rewarded with more nuptials being performed and more collateral business for local shops, restaurants and inns.
Connecting wedding services to couples
Potential planning hurdles include venues that are set up to handle small weddings, easily obtaining a marriage license in Amador County, and the coordination of other services like catering and photography. Communities that can enlist the necessary wedding services to cater to weddings in the foothills will be the winners. Amador City offers unique surroundings, history and friendly people that would certainly attract couples looking for that special, no hassle wedding venue. If Las Vegas can do it, certainly a picturesque town like Amador City should be able to provide an even nicer experience.
Amador City street parties
Amador City is already demonstrating versatility and creativity by launching their summer Dancin In The Street parties. For three months this summer the city is hosting weekly street dancing parties with entertainment provided by regional bands. Amador City is capitalizing on the fact that Highway 49 no longer runs through the town so closing off some streets for local fun and entertainment is now a possibility.
Dreams come true
Can Mayor Knox add another dimension to Amador City as a gay wedding friendly destination? It sounds as if the residents, businesses and the organizational structure are on his side. It might start small and grow into one of those positive designations that define the city. 160 years after Jose Maria Amador found gold in a little creek in the Sierra foothills, Amador City is still a place where people can find and live their dreams. That’s about as positive as you can get.
Associated blog post on PolyRel: Sacrament of Gay Marriage comes to Trinity Cathedral
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