Located steps from the South Yuba Canal Office is a small vacant area named Robinson Plaza. The area was named after Beryl Robinson Jr. in 1999, who was the longest serving City Manager in California history. A plaque praises his accomplishments as a City Councilmen then later as City Manager in restoring Nevada City to its 19th century glory.
The plaza is remarkable in that it contains witbin shouting distance a total of eight California historical markers. These include the Pelton Water Wheel, the Five Stamp Mill, the site of the original Ott Assay office, the South Yuba Canal Building, Old Wells Fargo Building, Shaft Drill Core, Nevada City Queen of the Northern Mines, and Nevada Hose Company # 1, and the Robinson Plaza marker. Five of the historical markers are located in the plaza.
The plaza contains some nice benches and cast iron fencing. In the morning when I first arrived there was a young girl sitting with her dog playing her guitar in the secluded part of the plaza. Walking by at lunch I noticed several workers eating lunches there and enjoying the cool crisp winter day. Having worked in city government what I was struck by in walking around Robinson Plaza was the idea of how one man, in this case Beryl Robinson, who has given his whole life to making Nevada City a better place to live. It made me feel very good about the City and life for a few moments.
The plaza is home to the Nevada City Farmers Market during the summer and fall of the year. When I was last at the plaza there was a demonstration supporting students at the University of California.
Nevada City Winery
Walking up Spring Street one comes to a series of interesting buildings. First a very odern looking retail building, then a metal garage and finally an old foundry.
While the Nevada City Winery has roots that go back to 1880 the current winery is more recent. Founded in 1980 in a small garage on the outskirts of town, in 1982 the Winery moved to its present location, the historic Miners Foundry Garage, on Spring St in downtown Nevada City. Remarkably, the Winery is located less than two blocks from where the original Nevada City Winery stood over a century ago.
The inside of the Nevada City Winery is very inviting. There is a tasting room and an additional room for parties that overlooks Nevada City. The tasting room is open daily – 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Friday and Saturday – 12 p.m. - 6 p.m. Tours are on Saturday at 1:30 p.m only.
According to the winery's web site the winery has been ,"recognized with numerous awards, including Best Zinfandel, Best Cabernet Franc, Best Syrah and Best Cabernet Sauvignon for the Sierra Foothill Region, awarded by the California State Fair."
South Yuba Canal Building
Sitting at the end of Main Street overlooking State Highway 49 sits the two story South Yuba Canal Building. The building represents one of the oldest buildings in the City being constructed in 1855. Six years later in 1861 the building was the offices of the South Yuba Canal Company, which eventually became the state’s largest water system. This company went on to construct and maintain a series of water systems which supplied the hundreds of hydraulic mines in the area. The South Yuba Canal Company eventually became the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, P. G. & E., which today supplies gas and electric services to Northern California.
Nevada County Courthouse
This surprisingly tall modernistic courthouse jumps out at you as you walk up Commercial or Broad Street and look north.
A county courthouse has been located on this site since 1856. The first courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1863 and rebuilt a year later. The current courthouse represents construction and remodeling from 1900 and 1937. An annex to the courthouse was completed in 1964.
Pine Street Bridge and Tranquility Trail
The Pine Street Bridge represents the third span over Deer Creek built in the City. The current bridge built in 1996 replaced the old single arch bridge that was in existence from 1908-1996. Prior to that a suspension bridge built by Andrew Hallidie, who also built the San Francisco Cable Car System, hung over the creek from 1862-1903.
Walking the bridge above Deer Creek shouldn't be missed. There is a very narrow pedestrian lane on the west side of the bridge. On the south side of the bridge is a short pedestrian trail called Tranquility Trail.
Firehouse # 2
Firehouse # 2 which constructed in 1860. It served as one of two fire companies in Nevada City for many years. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Today the engine bays of the building are still in use and contain the City's reserve fire engine. In October of 2011 some major repairs began on the firehouse including work on the roof and the belfry. The building is also still used by the Nevada City Firefighters Association who uses the building for fundraising efforts.
Searls Historical Library
Sitting just down the street from the Nevada County Courthouse stands the tiny Searls Historical Library Building.
The library was built in 1872 as the law office for attorney Niles Searles. Unlike some of the more flimsy wood buildings in the City at the time this structure was built with thick brooks and plaster to avoid being a casualty to frequent fires in the town.
The building was donated to the Nevada County Historical Society in 1974. Since then it has served as the archive for records of the society. It contains over 1,000 maps and 3,000 books on early California and the Gold Rush.
It is open to the public in the afternoons daily. When I went to see the inside of the building it is broken into two rooms. The first which contains several cases of books is made out to look like a law office. The back office is more of a research facility and contains room for residents interested in doing research on Nevada County or early California.
There is no charge to enter the library.
Located just down the street from the Chamber of Commerce, Firehouse #1 painted bright white jumped out at me as I walked up the street.
The firehouse was constructed in 1861 at the first fire department in town and was in operation until 1938. Looking at the building close up and seeing how small the doors are it is easy to imagine horse driven wagons or carts racing to a scene on a fire.
In 1947 Firehouse # 1 was donated to the Nevada County Historical Society. Today the building houses a museum. Unfortunately the museum is only open on Saturdays between 1 and 3 pm during the winter of 2011-12.
Miners Foundry Cultural Center
This interesting building is also sometimes referred to as the Pelton Wheel Manufacturing Site. Buildings on this site trace back t0 1855 when a foundry and blacksmith shop served to repair heavy manufacturing equipment from San Francisco and Sacramento.
In 1879 Lester Pelton at this site manufactured what was called the Pelton Water Wheel which was a revolutionary advancement in water power use that made it much easier to conduct hydraulic mining.
Thirty years later a new owner expands the foundry and fabricates steel, makes pipe fittings, rails, ore cars, and supplies for General Electric as well as gateballs for Hoover Dam, steel pieces for the spire of the TransAmerica Building in San Francisco as well as many other uses.
In 1990 the foundry is donated by its owner at the time, the Nevada City Winery, to the Nevada County Cultural Preservation Trust as a site to use for community events and meetings. The site can also be leased out for resident events.
There is a walking tour that can be taken at the foundry. As I walked around the site I thought what an incredible building to have in such a small city for community events and another example of the hard work of residents to put older buildings to productive uses.
A strikingly pretty brick building from the street the Nevada Theatre has an interesting history. A large fire in 1863 destroyed the Bailey House Hotel and several other buildings in town. After the fire a group called the Nevada Theatre Association bought the hotel. Their desire was to build a theatre that would be resistance from future fires. The building that they built opened in 1865 and remained as a theatre until 1909. In that year it was remodeled as a movie house and was owned by several companies and was called the Cedar Theatre when it closed in 1958. Five years later the Nevada County Liberal Arts Commission was formed and it raised the necessary money to remodel the building as a theatre once again. The building is maintained by the Nevada Theatre Commission and serves as the stage for three performing groups in the area.
The building was not open to be viewed when I was in Nevada City. However from the advertisement on the door and in the Chamber of Commerce there are plays scheduled for fifteen of the days of December this year.
The National Hotel claims to be the oldest continuously operating hotel this side of the Rocky Mountains. Established in 1852 its historic charm exudes as you walk down Broad Street.
To my surprise I walked in and was allowed to roam freely. First to the historic bar and saloon. According to what I read the fancy wooden bar once was part of the Spreckles Mansion in San Francisco It was stunningly ornate and polished when I walked by. Then I entered the dining room which is called Hoover's Steak and Lobster House. Only one group was having lunch and the dining room definitely looked like it was from a bygone era (see photo). Interior gas lamps which I did not think were able to be used again.
The hotel rooms are on the second floor up an old creeky staircase. The lobby consisted of several antiques including a piano. The piano I was told came around the Cape over a hundred years ago. There was a Christmas tree and some other decorations. The front desk person let me roam freely upstairs but when I asked her a question I was ignored so she could carry on with a delivery driver about the weather etc. Interesting to look at but it did not give off the kind of feeling that this would be some place I would like to spend the night.
First Stop: Chamber of Commerce
Chambers of Commerce can either be a good source of local information or just a building with brochures shouting out to you to spend your money here. I found the staffers at the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce to be both helpful and knowledgeable about their City.
Their office is now located in the first floor of the old South Yuba Canal Company Building on 132 Main Street. There you can pick up a good walking tour of Nevada City as well as suggestions based on your interests as to what else to see in the surrounding area.
Miners Foundry Cultural Center.
This old building timber and stone served began as a machine shop in 1855 to serve the needs of California gold miners. Metalwork and machines built here were used throughout the region. Today the building has some historical displays with artifacts and photos, and is used as a hall for cultural events and private events throughout the year. There is popular art show here before Christmas every year.
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- Arts and Culture
Firehouse Number 1
Firehouse No. 1 was built in 1861. It served the Nevada Hose Company No.1 from 1861 to 1938. Initially it housed horse drawn fire wagons and handcarts. Eventually motorized fire engines rolled through its doors.
The firehouse is home to a small museum. However, it is only up open from May to October. Come to Nevada City off-season, and you will only be able to observe the exterior of this historic structure.
- Historical Travel
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Info - Chamber of Commerce/South Yuba Canal Bldg
The Nevada City Chamber of Commerce is a good place to go to find information about the city, walking tours, historical places of interest, and the like. It also sells souvenirs and books on the architecture and history of the city as well as the Gold Rush and the whole region.
Moreover, it is located downtown in the historic South Yuba Canal Company building, originally built in 1855 and made the location of the company by 1861. The company started by building canals, reservoirs, and flumes for mining before going into hyrdoelectricity, eventually merging with other gas and electric companies to form PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric Co), the utility company for Northern California.
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