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Nevada City CA - A Gold Rush Town Frozen in Time

Updated on December 10, 2017
Sherry Hewins profile image

I have lived all over the beautiful and diverse state of California. With beaches, mountains, deserts, and redwoods, California has it all!


Nevada City is in California!

Most people assume that Nevada City is located in the state of Nevada. Most people would be wrong. It is a California town, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. It is located about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, CA.

Visually, it is a Gold Rush town frozen in time. Looking down the towns main street, Broad Street, with its historic buildings and gas lamps it is easy to imagine that you have been transported to a bygone era.

The State of Nevada Stole Our Name

Nevada City took its name from the Sierra Nevada mountains that overlook it. The word Nevada means "snow covered." In the early days, the town was just known as "Nevada;" the state of Nevada did not exist at that time.

In 1851 when a county was formed in the area, it took the name of Nevada as well. It was not until ten years later that the territory of Nevada, which later became the state, adopted the name.

Nevada County is roughly the shape of a gun. Local lore says that when the state of Nevada stole its name, the county acquired additional land to enhance the gun shape. The gun points directly at Carson City, Nevada's State Capital!

It soon became obvious that there could not be two Nevadas in such close proximity to one another. In 1864 the town of Nevada officially changed its name to Nevada City to avoid confusion with the state.

During its gold boom days, Nevada City had a peak population of 10,000. The economy was centered around gold mining. Gold mining became a huge industry which remained long after the 49ers had gone home.


The Demise of Gold Mining in Nevada County

In the 1940s and 50s inflation and labor problems made gold mining less profitable and the mines which were the backbone of the local economy began to close. It was largely because of economic problems that the town remained as it was, a collection of old buildings, many empty and decaying. Nevada City was spared urban renewal because there was no money, and a sparse population. There was no reason for refurbishing.

The Rebirth of Nevada City

During the 1960s, the hippies with their "back to the land" movement brought new people to the area. They began to notice what a special place it was, and efforts were made to preserve the historic buildings, along with their old-time charm. In 1985, the entire downtown area was declared a historic landmark.

Nevada County is still a haven for old hippies. You will see many a gray beard and pony tail if you visit Nevada City.

The Nevada Theatre

At the top of Broad Street is the Nevada Theatre. It has been used as a theater since it was built in 1865. Celebrated artists of the Gold Rush era performed there, they include Emma Nevada, Lotta Crabtree and Mark Twain.

In the 1900s the building was adapted for use as a movie theater. Eventually it closed. In 1963, a non-profit group bought the building, and repaired and renovated it.

In its third century of use, the Nevada Theatre provides a venue for films and theatrical productions, both professional and amateur. I have attended many plays in that wonderful old building.


Nevada City Methodist Church

The Nevada City Methodist Church was the first denominational church in Nevada County. Reverend Isaac Owen founded it in 1850. The church was moved once. It burned to the ground and was rebuilt twice. The current building has been in continuous use since 1864.

In the photo, the church is decorated for Victorian Christmas. This is a yearly event in Nevada City. It takes place every Wednesday evening between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and also during the day on the last Sunday before Christmas.


Nevada City Firehouse Number Two

Firehouse Number 2 was built in 1860 in Neoclassical-Greek Revival style. Renovated in 2011, the firehouse has been on the National Register of Historic Places since May 3, 1974. The Nevada County Historical Society now uses it as a museum of local history.


The Kidd-Knox Building

The Kidd-Knox Building is a large, two-story brick building with iron shutters. It was the site of the first store on Broad Street, when Nevada City was only a mining camp. The original building burned, this one was built in 1856.

It was once used as office space for lawyers and judges. The building also served as a theater during its early days.

The Kidd-Knox Building currently houses the Nevada City Chocolate Shoppe, among other businesses. They make the most excellent handmade chocolate candy and ice cream bars. It is worth a stop if you are ever in Nevada City.


New York Hotel Building

The New York Hotel Building currently houses many charming shops. One of them is "The Magic Carpet." It is a store specializing in oriental rugs.The building also a venue for "The Truffle Shop," and several other small businesses.


The Fur Trader

This impressive old building is currently the home of "The Fur Trader."


The Independent Building

I believe that this building was once a newspaper office, but I need to do further research to confirm that. Its current occupant is a jewelry store called "The Utopian Stone."


City Hall - Nevada City CA

The City Hall building is one of the few in town that does not comply with the Gold Rush theme. The building was refurbished in the Art Deco style before the Renaissance of Nevada City. The current City Council would never approve such a building in the Historical District, but the City Hall is grandfathered in.


Nevada City is rich in the history of the California Gold Rush. It is a charming little town in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. It is a friendly little community, and a lovely place to visit.

© 2016 Sherry Hewins


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      4 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for showing us photos and telling us about Nevada City. I now know that Nevada means "snow covered" thanks to you. It looks like a charming place and it is nice that it has historical significance so that it will be preserved.

    • Readmikenow profile image


      7 months ago

      Good story and great pictures. Enjoyed reading this.

    • GoldenRod LM profile image

      John R Wilsdon 

      7 months ago from Superior, Arizona USA

      It is so much fun to read about gold rush towns. Thanks for the tour. I'd like to visit it someday. Lovely photos.

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      9 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      It's a cute little town. Check it out if you are in the neighborhood.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 months ago from California Gold Country

      I love the old buildings, especially the church and the firehouse. I have been in a lot of interesting places all over our state but I think I have missed that one. I never thought of it being shaped like a pistol. My county is shaped like a hiking boot, (with its toe in Yosemite).

      Great pictures!

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      17 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      If you are in the neighborhood, you should stop by sometime Cooper Harrison! You're not far away.

    • profile image

      Cooper Harrison 

      17 months ago from San Francisco, CA

      I didn't know anything about Nevada City - really interesting!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      18 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love cities connected to some of the historic events in history. It gives me a better picture of the events and the stories I am reading.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      20 months ago from Central Florida

      What a beautiful little town! I love the architecture, but your're right - City Hall sticks out like a sore thumb.

      You did a nice job of presenting the history of Nevada City, Sherry. Great photographs!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      20 months ago

      Thanks for the education on this city. It has a lot of interesting highlights. I found the story on the shape of the county fun.


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