Friday, September 2, 2016

The Colorful Lore of the California Gold Rush

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Grass Valley’s history is part of the colorful lore of the California Gold Rush. The first notations about the area are from the late 1840’s when a party of men searching for cattle came upon a “grassy valley”.
Grass Valley’s claim to historic fame is embedded in the vast amounts of gold discovered and extracted from its rich underground mines. In more than 100 years of mining, the mines of Grass Valley made it the richest of all California gold mining towns.
In December 1848, President James K. Polk declared in a State of the Union address that large quantities of gold had been discovered in California. As word spread about the gold rush, prospectors flooded the foothills. The small settlement began looking like a village. Then in 1850, a settler by the name of George McKnight discovered gold in the quartz rock along Gold Hill and the real boom began.
By 1851, thousands of people were living in the bustling town now known as Grass Valley and in the nearby town of Nevada, (later renamed Nevada City when Nevada became a state). Grass Valley suffered a disastrous fire in 1855, and Nevada City burned in 1863, but the towns quickly rebuilt and continued to grow.
My grandparents lived in Nevada City up until I was a junior in high school. I remember when I was in my teens my grandfather told us tales of the gold rush and what happened afterwards. One story that sticks in my mind is that when they tore old saloons down to put in a new highway, they found piles of gold dust that had seeped through the cracks in the wooden floors. If they'd only known way back during the days of the gold rush, the search for gold for some would have been more profitable.
The Empire, Northstar, Pennsylvania, Idaho-Maryland and Brunswick mines became known around the world, attracting hardworking miners and would-be millionaires. As the underground mines grew, skilled hard-rock miners from Cornwall and Ireland arrived. They settled into their new hometown of Grass Valley while mine owners and managers lived in nearby Nevada City. Over the next 100 years the mines extracted more than $400 million in gold, making Grass Valley California’s most prosperous mining town. Unfortunately, gold mining declined in the 1950’s and eventually all of the hard-rock mines were closed.
Both Grass Valley and Nevada City are on the national register of historic places and have multiple buildings on the national register.
The National Hotel in Nevada City and the Holbrook in Grass Valley are reminders of the grandeur of California gold rush hotels. The Golden Gate Saloon in the Holbrook is known as the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi!
Information provided by Grass Valley’s Chamber of Commerce

11 comments:

  1. While visiting our son who was stationed at Nellis AFB a few years back, we visited Grass Valley and one of the mines (can't remember which one). I enjoyed reading about its history in more detail in your post. Thanks, Paisley!

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    1. Thanks, Cheri. You probably went through the Empire Mine. It is the most popular and we thought it the best. I loved visiting my grandparents during the summer. You could hear the bang, bang of the stamp mills at night.

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  2. Fascinating post, Paisley. Years ago, when I was a student in California, I was a tour guide at Pickfair (home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks) that was open for an evening to benefit Actors Studio West and the Lee Strasberg Institute. Anyway, I was assigned the Western Barroom, which had this huge, beautiful wooden bar with gold and gold dust embedded in the surface. I have always wanted to learn more about the Gold Rush and visit a town like Grass Valley. Now, Grass Valley is on my To Do list. Thanks again. I really enjoyed this post. :))

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  3. The entire area is fascinating. I loved staying with my grandparents. The best mine is the Empire Mine because you can go down a cement embankment inside the mine a short ways and see how they entered it and could feel the cold. No way could I spend my entire day underground as far as they went. There is a replica of the tunnels they had. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Another area very unfamiliar to me. Grass Valley? Never heard the name.
    Remember the movie Paint Your Wagon? There was a scene in which someone was under the dance floor, and gold dust filter through to be scooped up...at least something like that. I always though the Gold Rush in California must have been one of the most difficult ways to try to become rich. I love your history lessons on California and especially about the gold rush. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Celia. I loved exploring the old gold rush towns with my grandmother. I have pieces from that time period displayed in my house. Obviously, I love history and to be able to touch it is really a joy for me.

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  6. I'm so glad you showed pictures of the actual ore. I've never seen that before. I had a neighbor who had a bracelet of gold nuggets her uncle found in Alaska. She had no idea how valuable it was until I told her. She had let her daughter take it for show and tell at school and had done the same when she was young. She checked into it and about fainted. LOL She came over to thank me and told me the bracelet was going into her special jewelry box.

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    1. How interesting, Caroline. I am sure there are a lot of valuable objects out there that people aren't aware of. Thanks for sharing with us.

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  7. How wonderful that you got to hear the stories your grandfather told. Personal accounts of history are so interesting when handed down through the generations.
    Amazingly I have not heard of Grass Valley. Thank you for this post about it and those gold rush days. I found you post so interesting, Paisley. Nice work.

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  8. Thank you, Sarah. That entire area is still interesting to explore. I've seen a couple of romance movies lately shot around Nevada City. It's fun to see the places I used to frequent on the screen.

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