On any given day, we travel on certain streets that not only lead us to our destination, but stand in silent testimony of someone who was cherished enough to have a street named in their honor back in their day.
Many are the citizens of today who call one of these streets home, while a few of us actually reside where these honored individuals lived long ago. Today, let’s take a look at one of those so honored.
Townsend Street appears on Samuel Bethell’s 1872 map of Grass Valley, indicating that someone by this surname must have been a resident of Grass Valley prior to that date. Further footwork revealed the namesake of Townsend Street was … Cornelius Clarke Townsend.
Cornelius was born Jan. 31, 1827, in Albermarle County, Va., to Nathaniel and Sarah Hamner Austin Townsend. His mother often used the nickname “Sally.” Cornelius later moved to Missouri and in either 1852 or ’53, he set out across the plains on his journey to the land of gold. Upon his arrival in California, he settled in Grass Valley, where, like so many others before him, he took up the occupation of prospecting. In most records hereabouts he was simply referred to as C.C. Townsend, but it was also found that he was affectionately known by his legion of friends as “Uncle C.C.” and was considered to be “the man without an enemy.”
On Sept. 24, 1857, Grass Valley witnessed the happy occasion of his marriage to Matilda Benton Woods. Matilda was a native of Missouri, the daughter of William Duncan and Elizabeth M. Jamieson Woods, who were also Nevada County pioneers. After his marriage, Cornelius sought a more stable occupation and was first elected constable of Grass Valley on Sept. 7, 1859, a position that he successfully retained for the remainder of his life.
Following shortly on the heels of his election, he became a father for the first time on Nov. 15, 1859. Sadly, the Townsend’s first child, Sarah Elizabeth, did not live beyond her day of birth.
A brighter day would eventually come to pass for the Townsends, when on Dec. 2, 1860, the couple was blessed with the birth of their first son, William Henry.
Perhaps this extra mouth to feed and pleasant thoughts of more to follow gave Cornelius incentive to run for, and ultimately be elected, city marshal on May 6, 1861.
He held this position in addition to being constable and would retain it until 1865.
Shortly before Nov. 18, 1863, Constable Townsend was shot while trying to break up a row in a saloon on Mill Street.
While endeavoring to do his duty, he attempted to divert the aim of a revolver in the hands of Capt. Frank Waller, but the shot went through Townsend’s left wrist and still made its mark, ending the life of Richard Hodge.
Waller ended up in the state “pen,” and Townsend was later given $2,000 relief for his injuries.
Meanwhile, on the domestic level, two additional Townsends arrived upon Grass Valley’s scene.
Daughter Virginia Elizabeth, born June 24, 1862, would be lost to the hand of death on April 8, 1864. Son Charles was next in line, born on May 23, 1865.
With the growth of his family, Cornelius next established himself in business by opening a variety store on Mill Street, after which additional pitter patters of little footsteps steadily crept into the Townsend household: son Emmet Anderson arrived on Nov. 9, 1866; daughter Clara Alice on Aug. 8, 1868; and finally the youngest of the seven children born to the Townsends, Daisy May (aka Julia), made her grand debut on April 14, 1876.
Cornelius conducted his business for 14 years, all the while still holding down his job as constable.
In 1891, he was given another position in upholding the law when he was appointed deputy sheriff under George W. Dunster.
The Townsends lived on the corner of West Main and Townsend streets. The couple homesteaded the lot and house on April 12, 1861.
Unfortunately their house no longer exists; it was destroyed by fire on Aug. 16, 1934. The home presently situated on the Townsend lot bears the address of 703 West Main Street.
On the evening of March 1, 1911, C.C. Townsend attended the meeting of the Grass Valley Pioneers’ Association and was seemingly in fine fettle. Little did he or anyone else know this would be the last of these meetings he would ever attend. For after walking to and from the meeting in the pouring rain, Cornelius was, upon his arrival home, taken with a chill that lasted over an hour. Subsequent violent chills would follow and had a weakening effect upon his system.
Shortly before 9 p.m. on March 4, 1911, Cornelius Clarke Townsend breathed his last and in so doing, finally gave up the position he held for 51 and a half years as constable of Grass Valley — at the age of 84.
His wife, Matilda Woods Townsend, who had crossed the plains with her family and arrived in Grass Valley in September of 1850, died at the family home on April 4, 1923. It was her obituary that revealed that Townsend Street was named for her husband.
Cornelius and Matilda Townsend are buried in the family plot in Grass Valley’s Greenwood Memorial Cemetery.
Donna Reynolds is a volunteer at the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research in Nevada City.