A Tale of Two Cities in the Gold Country

Steve Kinsman By Steve Kinsman, 22nd Apr 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1e__wdsm/
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>United States>California

We take a trip through two towns in the Mother Lode, Grass Valley and Nevada City, California.

"There's gold in them thar hills."

When James Marshall stumbled upon a large gold nugget lying in the shallows of the American River behind John Sutter's mill in Coloma, California on January 24, 1848, forces were set in motion that would transform California almost overnight. Marshall and Sutter swore to each other to keep the discovery secret, but after not too long word leaked out (one of them must have talked), rumors began to fly about an El Dorado in the West, and the gold rush was on. Men descended upon the foothills of the Sierra Nevada from all over the world, hoping to stake a claim and strike it rich. San Francisco soon became a booming metropolis, as thousands sailed around Cape Horn to the city by the bay, from where they set off for their destination, the area of the state now known as the "Mother Lode" and "Gold Country". Cities and towns sprung up all along the foothills, two of which, Grass Valley and Nevada City, adjacent to each other nestled among the firs and pines, at an elevation between 2500 and 3000 feet, quickly became the biggest and most prosperous. The Native Americans who had inhabited the area for centuries were driven out and some even slaughtered. For a time in the 1850's there was a bounty placed upon the scalps of Indians. The prospectors of the gold rush wanted all the land they could get, and they just came in and took it.

It did not take long for all of the gold that was just lying around for the taking to be snatched up, and in 1850 underground mining began in earnest. In Nevada City there was the Kentucky Mine; in Grass Valley, the Idaho-Maryland Mine and the Empire Mine. Coal miners by the thousands were imported from Cornwall, England to work the Empire Mine, and today many of Grass Valley's residents are descendants of the Cornish miners who came to the area in the 1850's. The Empire Mine was in existence from 1850 through 1957, and during the course of its operation some eighty-one million ounces of gold were extracted from the 367 miles of shafts and tunnels that were gouged out of the earth under the city of Grass Valley.

Today the Empire Mine is a state park, and tours are given daily. A visit to the park's buildings, many preserved from its founding, with its machinery and exhibits on display, will familiarize you with the conditions the miners worked under and the way they led their lives.

A move is currently underway to re-open the Idaho-Maryland Mine, since the precipitous rise in the price of the precious metal driven by the current economic downturn has now made underground mining profitable again, according to apologists for the resuming of mining. Most folks in the area are dead set against re-opening the mine, however, and it is considered to be a long shot at best.

The Twin Cities today

Grass Valley and Nevada City offer the visitor a truly fascinating look at two well-preserved gold rush towns. Along the main streets of each city much of the original architecture has been preserved. There are quaint shops and fine restaurants, and tourists flock here from the Bay Area to get away from the hustle and bustle there, from the flat lands of the Sacramento Valley to experience the beauty and the cool of the mountains, and from folks coming over the Donner Pass from Reno, Nevada. In the neighborhoods of both towns, especially in Nevada City, there are many stately Victorian homes. On Broad Street in Nevada City is The National Hotel, since 1855 the longest continuously operating hotel in California, where you can check out its original bar, from which the miners of the gold rush were served. This entire area is a picture-postcard place.

The "Diggins"

About twenty miles northwest of Nevada City is Malakoff Diggins State Park, an area where the mining companies took to blasting away the sides of whole mountains with highly pressurized hoses, a practice called 'hydraulic mining'. The silt and the sludge produced here would go down the streams and rivers and eventually end up in the Sacramento Valley, where it would flood the farmer's fields and ruin them. Valley farmers would gather and come to the hills to fight pitched battles with the miners, until hydraulic mining was outlawed by the California legislature two years after it began.
To this day no vegetation appears wherever the blasting occurred.

The South Yuba River

Alongside Nevada City flows the beautiful South Fork of the Yuba River. A 39 mile stretch of the river from its headwaters in the high country some 6000 feet above sea level has been designated by the government as 'wild and scenic', which outlaws development in perpetuity. The South Yuba carries the Sierra snow melt steeply downhill all the way to its confluence with the Feather River, then the Sacramento, by then just a few feet above sea level. As a consequence of its steep descent, there are many waterfalls along its course. It is a truly beautiful river, and large boulders, both along its banks and smack in the middle of it, have created hundreds of ideal swimming holes. Locals proudly call it the best river for swimming in the entire country. The river is easily accessible from many points along its route - Washington, Purdon's Crossing, Hoyt's Crossing, 49er Crossing, Bridgeport, Jones Bar, Buzzard's Bar - to name but a few.

A visit is well worth the trip.

If you are ever in Northern California, you would do well indeed to visit the Grass Valley-Nevada City area. There are street fairs, as well as arts and crafts and music festivals held year-round. Grass Valley holds its "Cornish Christmas" on its downtown streets for two weeks in December. Nevada City's street fair, "Hot summer Nights", over three weeks in August, offers a variety of entertainments and crafts. "Music in the Mountains", a smorgasbord of classical music, the "Worldfest", music performed by artists from all over the world, and the "Bluegrass Festival" are held at Grass Valley's fairgrounds each Summer.

On your visit to this beautiful and charming area you will be greeted in a warm and friendly manner by its people, who simply love living in California's foothills.

Photo of Empire Mine courtesy of aboutnevadacounty.com
Photo of Nevada City courtesy of static.flicker.com
Photos of Malakoff Diggins and Yuba River courtesy of freelargephotos.com
Photo of downtown Grass Valley courtesy of theunion.com.


California, Discovery Of Gold, Gold, Gold Mining, Gold Rush, Grass Valley, Mining, Nevada City, Steve Kinsman, Yuba River

Meet the author

author avatar Steve Kinsman
I live in California with my wife Carol, where I have been practicing professional astrology for 35 years. I write articles on astrology, but I enjoy writing on a variety of other subjects as well..

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author avatar Jonathan
25th Apr 2011 (#)

Some day I will drive from New York to L.A. with plenty of time to discover as much as possible. The vacation of my dreams! Great articles about the national parks too! Thanks for sharing

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
26th Apr 2011 (#)

Thank you, Jonathan. I appreciate your comments.

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author avatar Songbird B
27th Apr 2011 (#)

Great article, as always, Steve...This is a lovely share...

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
27th Apr 2011 (#)

Thank you, Songbird B. This is the area where I live.

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author avatar vpaulose
27th Apr 2011 (#)

An interesting discription with beautiful photoes. Thank you Steve.

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
27th Apr 2011 (#)

Thank you, vpaulose. I appreciate your comments.

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