Downieville is a census-designated place in and the county seat of Sierra County, California, United States. Downieville sits at an elevation of 3,888 feet (1,185 m). The 2010 United States census reported Downieville 's population was 282.
Downieville was settled in late 1849 during the California Gold Rush and was first known as "The Forks" for its geographical location and shortly thereafter was renamed after Major William Downie (1820-1893), a Scotsman who led the expedition up the North Fork of the Yuba River and who was the town's first mayor. Major Downie's travels are documented in his 1893 autobiography, "Hunting for Gold." Downieville reached a peak population of over 5,000 people in 1851 but declined sharply by 1865. Downieville is situated at the confluence of the Downie River and North Fork of the Yuba River. Downieville was vying to become the state capital of California along with fifteen other California communities in 1853 before the capital was moved to Benicia, and then shortly thereafter its current location in Sacramento. In July 1851 Downieville gained a distinction it may not have wanted when a mob lynched a Mexican woman, known as Juanita, for the murder of a white miner. It remains the only lynching of a female in California history.
The northern mines area was populated by a number of gold rush camps with colorful names, places like Brandy City, Whiskey Diggins, Poverty Hill, and Poker Flat. While many of these camps entirely disappeared after the gold rush, Downieville survived due both to its geographical location and status as the seat of Sierra County government.