Mill Street provides the essence of Grass Valley's historical district. Located just off Main Street, about five blocks of Mill Street provide you with a delightful walk of some of Grass Valley's most historical buildings.
These include the old Union Newspaper Building, the Owl Saloon, the Del Oro Theatre, Lola Montez House, and the Grass Valley Public Library. There are also many nice restaurants, general merchandise stores, wine bars and shops in this area. Parking can not only be found on the street but also in the alleys behind Mill Street.
The Holbrooke Hotel was built in 1862. It was originally called the Exchange Hotel because of its proximity to the Gold Exchange in town. In 1879 the hotel was purchased by Ellen and Daniel Holbrooke and thus the name. Over the years two presidents and famous persons such as Mark Twain and Bret Harte have stayed in the hotel.
In 1974 the hotel was declared a California State Landmark. A significant remodeling of the hotel guest rooms took place in 1982 and a year later the adjacent Powell House was purchased and eleven additional rooms were added.
My visit was a quick look inside. The bar is fantastic. A beautiful wooden structure that apparently is the original. Some interesting talk going on in the bar. I took a few pictures of the interior and unfortunately during this trip no pictures of the exterior.
The Grass Valley Daily Morning Union was one of the first newspapers in the California foothills. It began publication in 1864 to support the causes of the Union army in the Civil War. The striking Union building in the photo was the home of the Union until 1978. The paper's office was moved to an office outside of downtown on Sutton Way to allow more space for publication.
Tucked between two state highways is an extremely well done display of mining artifacts from the Empire and Northstar Gold Mines of Grass Valley. These mines operated for nearly 80 years until they stopped operation in 1959. These two mines alone produced over $ 140 million in gold during their operation.
Due to some forward thinking and philanthropic efforts of some citizens a great number of artifacts were transferred from the mines to the grounds of this museum along Wolf Creek. When I arrived at the museum parking lot at about 3:30 pm on a Wednesday afternoon the museum was not open. However most of the museum's exhibits are stored outside. Walking the several acre site there were nearly 100 pieces of gold mining equipment either in front of or in back of the museum. Some of the equipment was clearly labeled including the largest Pelton Water Wheel ever made.
There are a large number of drills and other equipment in front of and behind the museum. In addition, there are a series of several train cars that hauled the gold ore to the surface from the depths of the mine. A bridge leading over Wolf Creek was actually at one time an aqueduct that conveyed water to one of the wheels.
The museum indicates that it is open 11 am to 5 pm Thursdays through Sundays. While no admittance fee is required donations are strongly advised.
The tower of the Del Oro Theater stands out for blocks around Grass Valley. The art moderne design theatre design is a testimony to how many movie theaters were built in the 1930's and 1940's and unfortunately very view are left.
The Del Oro Theater started construction during 1940 but did not open until May of 1942. Despite changes in how movies are viewed over the years this theater has remained in tact. It now consists of three screens and shows movies that have been around for a while.
I was not able to get inside but I understand that the latest remodel of the theater took place in the early 2000's. A very cool place to walk by.
Lola Montez was an intelligent, beautiful entertainer and businesswoman who lived in Grass Valley in the mid 1850's having also lived in many areas of the world. Her liaison with Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, gave her several titles of royalty which was of great interest to the families living in Grass Valley at the time. Her keen business sense is credited in getting several wealthy investors to keep investing money in the Grass Valley gold mines and infrastructure that kept the town going in lean economic times.
Her house at 248 Mill Street is a recreation of the cottage she lived in for approximately three years. It is also the only house that Lola Montez ever owned. The original house was torn down in 1975 when efforts to remodel it failed. The new house built in the early 1990's now houses the Grass Valley and Nevada County Chamber of Commerce.
The Grass Valley Public Library was built in 1915 after the City received a Carnegie grant. The City chose to build the library at 207 Mill Street since it was the childhood home of philosopher Josiah Royce. The building was renamed in his honor in 2005.
The library is built in classic revival style. Dark red bricks and white pilasters make this an impressive building to view when walking downtown Grass Valley.
My wife loves shopping in Grass Valley. There are a lot of locally owned, unique stores here for clothes, shoes, accessories etc. have quality items and a lot of variety. Don't expect to see the big chain stores such as The Gap. One of the pleasures in town is their absence.
Descriptions of stores is on this site: www.downtowngrassvalley.com/pages/shop.html
The local chamber of commerce is a good place to stop to get a free walking tour map of town. Grass Valley isn't very big, so it is easy to walk the whole downtown; the map will point out pretty much every building of interest. There are 47 places listed!
The office is in the renovated historic Lola Montez House. It is a replica of a cabin that was build here in 1851 and purchased by Lola Montez, who was a performer and international celebrity of the time. Lola has a fascinating history, having been the mistress of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria and traveler throughout Europe, the US and Australia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lola_Montez)
Mill Street, along with Main Street, is one of the major business streets in town. The long stretch of historic buildings are all interesting and have long histories. One in this photo housed the Grass Valley Hardware store for 100 years, before closing in 1989. Now they are business mostly for the tourist trade. One is Yuba Blue, a favorite of my wife for clothes, jewelry and other things.
Grass Valley has three local wineries with tasting rooms downtown. All are within walking distance, so it is easy and convenient to try all three or stop in at one or more while you are exploring the area or shopping. I've been to two of them, and the service was friendly and helpful. The wine we tried was good, so we bought some to take home.
While mining history may be the main attraction at this State Historic Park, many visitors come to see the beautiful gardens and cottage home developed for the mine owner's family. William Bourn Jr., who inherited the Empire Mine from his father in 1877 capitalized on the profits of the mine to enjoyed a rich and active social life, as well creating lovely gardens, residences, and a social clubhouse.
Today the landscaped gardens are one of the best in California, where you can imagine yourself in the luxury of the gilded age. Those interested in flowers can learn about the many varieties of roses that date back to the 1850s, when they were brought over from England. Sometimes they are on sale; we now have one climber in our backyard garden.
The cottage, a fine home really, may make you think you are at an English estate, with fine brickwork and woodwork.
Grass Valley and the surrounding area was built on mining, and to get the best idea of what this rich industry was about, go to Empire mines. This mine operated until the 1956, extracting millions of $$ over the decades since the 1850s. The mine is now operating as a California State Historical Park, and includes a variety of activities and opportunities.
In the machine shop and blacksmith you can learn much from the docents. The way they developed an intricate system of engines and belts to run the many machines necessary to run the mine is fascinating. In the blacksmith shop workers forge tools and implements just like in the old days, and various articles are available for a reasonable donation. Museum displays explain regional mining history from its origin with Cornish miners from England until the mine's closing in the mid-1900s, and the "secret room" is filled with a scale model of the mine’s below the surface operations. Few people knew the room existed while the mine was in operation. Today, visitors to the park can see it in the Visitor Center. The model represents five square miles of underground workings.
If you want to experience the history behind California's gold mining days, this is the place to visit.
Grass Valley, as one of the most prominent Gold Rush-era and mining towns in California has, like its neighbour Nevada City, a large old downtown full of itneresting and historic buildings. It's not quite as historic, old-fashioned, or charming as Nevaa City, but it's still very nice, attractive, and very lively. There are many buildings to see, places to eat and stores.
Empire Mine, just outside of town, was the highest-producing hard-rock gold mine in California history. In operation from 1850 to 1956, with a brief interruption, and was a major factor in the rise of Grass Valley to replace neighbouring Nevada City for a while as the premier gold-mining town in the state.
Now a state historic park, the mine has tours of its grounds which include the buildings, mining equipment, and gardens. Underground tours are apparently in planning but the mine is not yet ready for them.