Nevada County lost a key connection to its history early Saturday morning when longtime historian, photographer and journalist Robert “Bob” Wyckoff died at the age of 85.
“I think we have lost one of the great men of Nevada County,” said Paul Matson, a former Nevada City councilman, longtime business owner and friend of Wyckoff. “He was really creative and he had the skills to make something happen ... his photography skills, his writing skills and his recording of our history — that’s just a dynamite combination. And he really used that to make a difference, especially for Nevada City.”
Matson pointed to Wyckoff’s work as a grant writer as playing a key role in establishing the playing fields and swimming pool at Pioneer Park in Nevada City, as well as his work in urging the state parks department to establish Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park and more recently assisting Nevada City’s work with Hirschman’s Pond.
Wyckoff, who was the first staff photographer for The Union newspaper in the early 1960s, worked for several newspapers in the area over the years. For several years in his retirement, Wyckoff wrote a weekly look back on the history of Nevada County, quizzing his readers through his popular “Timelines!” column or various historical pieces for the paper.
In partnership with The Union, Wyckoff produced a three-book series that was capped off with “The Way It Was: Looking Back at Nevada County.” Drawing from the many years his popular column has been featured in The Union, the hard-bound historic retrospective features more than 50 of Wyckoff’s newspaper articles with historic photos spread throughout. The special three-volume set also included the “Nevada County Historic Photo Album” and “Nevada County Memories.”
Matson, who met Wyckoff in 1974 while working at SPD Market, said Wyckoff made sure to put his talent to work in prolific fashion.
“‘The Compleat Pedestrian’s Partially Illustrated Guide to Greater Nevada City’ had at least seven printings!” Matson shared in email, while noting other books “Walking Tours and Twice-Told Tales of Grass Valley,” “Hydraulicking, North Bloomfield and the Makakoff Diggin’s State Park,” “Hydraulicking: A brief History of Hydraulic Mining in Nevada County.”
Wyckoff also edited the book “Never Come, Never Go!” a short history of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad, which includes the stories on the return of Engine #5 and the creation of the Historical Society’s Transportation Museum. Wyckoff also produced a musical that was performed locally on the topic.
His master’s degree thesis, “History and Analysis of Newspapers in Nevada County, California 1850-1900, which he completed at California State University, Sacramento in 1998, chronicled the birth of journalism in Nevada County’s pioneer days. His thesis work, as well as much of his historical research, remains on file at the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research in Nevada City. A large volume of Wyckoff’s columns and stories are also available online through a search of his name at TheUnion.com.
“Bob certainly took all the photos of the projects (Nevada City) would do,” said former Nevada City Manager Beryl Robinson, also a close friend of Wyckoff. “Whether it was the downtown betterment project, or the water treatment plant or upgrades to the sewer system, he was always taking photos as he saw fit, so the city would have chronological, factual pictures of the projects the city was doing. I might say ‘Hey Bob, we’re doing this or that’ and he’d say ‘I”ve already got some pictures of it’ or he would be going to get some.
“His love for history made him a real writer of history here. Bob tried to be very factual in writing our history, without adding adjectives to try and embellish it. He liked to write it just the way it was. And he did that.”
In addition to his work for The Union, Wyckoff also covered the community with the Nevada City Nugget and The Independent. Dave Carter, a veteran western Nevada County journalist, said he was a reporter for The Union in ’70s when he first met Wyckoff, then the editor at The Independent in Nevada City.
“That’s when I first got to know him. He was one of those crusty old newspaper guys, and very competitive with him being on The Independent side in Nevada City, as opposed to being on The Union side in Grass Valley,” said Carter. “When I left The Union in 1979, Bob recruited me to The Independent.
“It was definitely old school newspapers. We’d be there at the art boards, ankle deep in X-Acto knife cuttings, and Bob’s going around putting his mark on everything. He could be tough to work with, but we ended up being good friends.”
One of Wyckoff’s most recent contributions for The Union was his look back on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and how the news was delivered and received at The Union. Wyckoff shared a column on the anniversary and also sat for a video interview.
“He just loved writing and loved being a newspaperman,” Wyckoff’s daughter Janet Bertoncini told The Union.
“I think we have lost one of the great men of Nevada County.”