The local Overland Emigrant Trail plaque, which honors the thousands who traveled to California since the discovery of gold in 1849, was replaced with a new, more affordable material about two weeks ago.
The previous plaque, fashioned in bronze as required by California State Parks, was stolen three years ago. A new bronze plaque would have cost an impossible $10,000; the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission agreed to install the current plaque, made of an affordable poly material, said Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission member Dr. James Jacobitz.
The replacement process involved contact with California State Park’s Sacramento office, filling out and sending in forms, and waiting for responses, Jacobitz said.
“It all boiled down to the fact that the lady in charge of the location had no clue two years after the plaque had been stolen (that it) was even gone,” he said. “We said we would like to fund, or at least partially fund, the replacement of it, so I got into a discussion with her about cost and everything and it boiled down to the fact that the state has zero money to replace any of those plaques, and I said, ‘What can we do?’”
The commission reviewed their budget at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting; it was found that funds could be used from the sale of the Landmark Book at Christmas time, which assists with local projects like school book donations and keeping the Foley Library open in Nevada City an extra two days a week.
It was suggested that the plaque could be fashioned in a cheaper material for $2,500, which the board of supervisors supported, Jacobitz said.
“If it had to be done in bronze, it would have never gone up,” Jacobitz said. “We said, ‘Wow, there goes one of our great plaques in the county.’ I said, what if we get the plaques made in a cheaper material? We all approved it, the supervisors found no problem with it, so we said OK, we’re going to do it.
“It’s not approved by the state, but it is a very tasteful plaque and reconstitutes what was there,” he said. “I think it’s all very important that we placed it. It has the same wording and size as the original plaque.”
The former plaque’s disappearance revolved around some controversy, as the parts of the trail located on the personal property of frustrated residents raised suspicion as to who might have taken the plaque, Jacobitz said.
Local history and trail enthusiast Linda Chaplin went through a tedious process to try to get to the bottom of the plaque situation. She contacted the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission, U.S. National Park Service, the state Office of Historic Preservation, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, and a representative from the board of supervisors, and even visited a state historic landmark preservation meeting in Chico.
“I just felt like it was an important part of our history,” she said. “People went to some effort to have it dedicated, and I thought it was disrespectful that it would be taken. When we commemorate historical sites or people, we are sharing that information with the public and letting them know interesting and pertinent history about this place.”
The new plaque’s material, though different from bronze, is still attractive, Chaplin said, and the most important part of its existence, the message, remains intact.
“It’s more important that the information is there for people to read and understand,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be bronze to be impressive. The purpose of educating is there and personally, I’d like to see more of this type of plaque be used than saying, ‘We have to use a bronze plaque and we can’t put it up, so we won’t,’ and that part of history doesn’t get advertised.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.