"Becoming California, a series that brings the California Gold Rush alive with the people who lived it."

Those Were the Days, My Friend

by Don Baumgart

Twenty-five years after the tumultuous start of the Great California Gold Rush, the area around Grass Valley and Nevada City was accumulating a long and colorful history. A century later the Nevada County Historical Society would publish a recap that brims over with the language of the era.

May, 1874: "Ninety kegs of powder were used to fire off a blast in the Manzanita diggings the other night, which made the ground tremble in town." (Nevada City).

And there's this one, that sounds very current in its description of faltering local government: "Nevada City has 20-30 gas lights in town and none of them lighted due to troubles between the Board of Trustees and the gas company."

In 1847 ice had to be purchased. "The Nevada City Ice Company has completed its harvest for this year. They put up about 400 tons to be sold in Grass Valley and Nevada City."

A year later this brief note told a longer tale: "Miners and farmers in need of rain as the year began."

And, wherever there's civilization and a newspaper, there will be a police blotter: "Carrie "Spring Chicken" Smith, notorious Truckee prostitute, took a dose of morphine. She was in jail in Virginia City for assault and battery. Later in the month she tried to hang herself with a hanky."

The NCHS retelling continues:

Nevada City on this first day of February, 1874 contains: 3 hotels; one hotel and restaurant; three restaurants; two oyster and chop houses; 10 saloons; seven groceries; two cigar stores; three clothing stores; two tailors; three dry goods stores; one book, stationery, music, and musical instruments store; one paint, oil, crockery and wallpaper store; one boot and shoe store; two hardware stores; two drug stores; and five physicians. The lively gold mining town also boasted two hay and feed stores, a couple of wine and liquor stores, and three bakeries. A saddle and harness maker, assay office, gunsmith shop, three dentists, four barber shops, a post office, daily newspaper, and an undertaker were doing a lucrative business. As were carpenters and blacksmiths.

Nevada City Had two fire companies and 23 fire hydrants to fire the inevitable fires that seemed so fond of consuming the town's wooden buildings.

For amusement, in between fighting fires, Nevada City had a skating rink, a dance hall, and a brass band. Six churches opened their doors each Sunday. Four cemeteries and ten lawyers rounded out the civic picture of life after the Gold Rush.

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Copyright Don Baumgart, 2005


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