History

Take a peek into the past and find gold.

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From the rugged mountain peaks of Truckee where the ill-fated Donner Party wintered, to the lucrative deep quartz mines below Grass Valley and beyond, Nevada County offers fascinating historic reminders at every turn. Nevada County’s many historic buildings, museums, state parks and sites offer an intriguing look into the region’s fascinating history. In addition to paying homage to the robust Gold Rush era, these historic destinations also offer vibrant insight into hearty emigrants, Native Americans and Chinese populations who filled the county’s history books.

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Gold

The California Gold Rush….. Eureka! Discovery of gold in 1848 carried California’s name around the globe. Men came from the East, from England, Germany, Chile, China, and all around the world.

Grass Valley and Nevada City offer a range of gold mining history UNEQUALLED ELSEWHERE in the Gold Country. All of the different mining techniques are explained and there are numerous exhibits of mining gear and memorabilia. And if you’d like to try your hand at recreational gold panning, you can still find color in Nevada County rivers! For more on gold panning, go here. “Nevada County offers a window into gold mining’s past” is here.

Museums

Nevada County residents take great pride in their colorful history, so it’s no surprise that the region is punctuated with museums of every ilk. Housed in a vintage orphanage, the Grass Valley Museum’s collection depicts the Gold Rush days through 1930. Also in Grass Valley, the Northstar Mine Powerhouse and Pelton Wheel Museum focuses on mining history, while in Nevada City, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum focuses on railroad history.

Nevada City is home to the circa 1861 Historic Firehouse No. 1 Museum, which features horse-drawn fire wagons, handcarts and “modern” motorized engines through 1938, as well as Native American, Chinese and Donner Party relics. Historical researchers will enjoy spending time at Nevada City’s circa 1872 Searls Historical Library with its treasure trove of historical photos, maps and books.

To learn about the emigrant experience and the Donner Party, look no further than Truckee’s Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Memorial State Park. In Truckee’s historic downtown, the Old Jail Museum is one of the few remaining 19th century jailhouses and currently houses interesting artifacts from this town’s fabled past.

Historic Park Sites

Nevada County is home to several state parks that offer history and recreation opportunities at one scenic location. Twenty-six miles from Nevada City, Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is the site of California’s largest hydraulic mine and features a visitor center with exhibits on life in the old mining town of North Bloomfield. Grass Valley’s Empire Mine State Historic Park is the site of one of the oldest, largest and richest gold mines in California. Today the park features historic mine buildings, as well as guided tours and living history presentations. Donner Memorial State Park is home to the Emigrant Trail Museum, as well as a wonderful self-paced interpretive walking trail.

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