Landmark Commission prompts outdoor adventure with book and interactive maps |

Landmark Commission prompts outdoor adventure with book and interactive maps

Former Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission member Charlie Jakobs (left) visits the North Star House with current commission chair Bernard Zimmerman and newest commissioner Joe Byrne. The Landmarks Commission is a fun resource for outdoor explorers who want to know more about the county's history. Learn more at:
Photo by Laura Petersen |

Charlie Jakobs remembers the green three-ring binder his mother Harriet carried with her decades ago while on backcountry road adventures, carefully recording historic landmarks she found throughout Nevada County.

“This whole thing started with a notebook my mom had,” said Jakobs who remembers a bygone era before smart phones when “everyone used to sit around and talk and tell stories.”

It was his mom’s early handwritten notes that spurred the formation of the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission and a printed catalogue that has grown to 200 historical landmarks today. Jakobs served for 23 years on the commission after his mom loyally served for 20.

Founded in 1969, the commission remains steadfast to the preservation of the region’s rich history — 200 historical landmarks recorded to date. These days, the group is reaching out to a broader audience in new ways with a fourth edition printing of a historic guidebook and continuously updated electronic version e-book, an evolving WordPress website with links to new interactive maps and a series of new guided tours.

“We have so much history in Nevada County,” said Jakobs.

On July 7, historian and publisher David Comstock will lead a tour at the North Star Mining Museum and the richest gold mine in the 1800s, the Allison Ranch Mine.

For outdoor enthusiasts, the work of the commission offers a number of weekend adventures.

“Exploring Nevada County: An Illustrated Guide to Local Landmarks and Historic Sites” by Comstock Bonanza Press can be picked up at SPD markets and The Book Seller in Grass Valley.

Inside, the book’s pages are full of 170 black and white photographs and 16 detailed maps. An interactive map created by Nevada County’s GIS department allows users to click on a map pin and view a more detailed description of the landmark — places like Canyon Creek Bridge, Mooney Flat Hotel and You Bet townsite.

“There’s literally nothing left of You Bet except for things like root cellars,” said Chairman Bernard Zimmerman from District 5, a resident of the area.

With the Gold Rush, came innovation. The first long distance telephone line in the world was strung for 60 miles from French Corral to Milton Reservoir high in the Sierra Nevada so mine communities could communicate with each other. Grass Valley and Nevada City were the first two cities in the state to become electrified with power generated from the Yuba River. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. was born here. And later, Charles Litton, Sr. helped launch the area’s modern tech boom with Litton Engineering, a major influence of Dr. Donald Hare and his research and development company, Grass Valley Group.

“In a sense, Grass Valley was the Silicon Valley of its day,” said Joe Byrne, the newest commissioner from District 4 appointed by Hank Weston in March.

Saving history

The group of 10 appointed commissioners, two from each Nevada County Supervisor district, is busier than ever researching and processing applications for historical sites and making recommendations for notable landmarks.

“We have at least a half dozen applications in the works right now,” Zimmerman said.

Property owners submit an application, detailing the location and giving reasons why the site is historically significant. Deeds and newspaper articles help provide the evidence for each case, along with trips to Searls and Doris Foley historic libraries. Commissioners review the applications and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors who then make a resolution recording the landmark.

Currently, two Jewish cemeteries are in the works, along with the documentation of Nevada City’s Chinatown.

The commission recognizes a mix of landmarks, some with markers and plaques, commemorated by state and federal agencies, Nevada County Historical Society, local parlors of the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, local chapters of E Clampus Vitus and veterans organizations.

Sometimes, the plaques they encounter are riddled with errors, like the ones found at South Yuba River State Park at Bridgeport. When that’s the case, the commission includes both the wrong information and what is believed to be accurate history.

“Mistakes can be historic,” said Jakobs.

But sometimes, no one knows what really happened. Did Rough and Ready secede or not? Is Relief Hill named after the camp made by the Donner Party rescue team, or because of gold nuggets found there by miners?

“There’s a lot of lore out there,” said Byrne.

“The reality is it’s very difficult to determine what is true when you are going back to Gold Rush history,” said Zimmerman.

Lately, Zimmerman has been spending a lot of time on the San Juan Ridge, visiting sites like the historic community of Cherokee, located on the western edge of the Ananda Village. He often runs into people living on a historic site with little to no knowledge about it.

“That is how history gets lost,” said Byrne. Byrne become a resident of Nevada County in 2004, but can trace his family history in Grass Valley to the 1850s. He has a passion for historic ranches.

Capturing oral history from old timers on video and audio is a project the group knows is important, but doesn’t have the equipment or funding to make happen. Many times, people die before they pass on their stories.

“We don’t have grant writers. We’re a bunch of volunteers,” said Zimmerman.

Sometimes tracking down history means traveling dirt roads and encountering ‘no trespassing’ signs and locked gates. About half of the registered landmarks are out of town. Sensitive areas like Native American petroglyphs and trees carved by shepherds a century ago are not released to the public to avoid vandalism.

By making history more readily available through books, an interactive website and guided tours, commissioners hope to connect with the next generation of locals and visitors.

“This community has had a lot of firsts and we’re going to have more,” said Zimmerman.

Learn more about the Nevada County Historic Landmarks Commission and find links to interactive maps at their website:

Learn more about guided treks with Nevada County Historic Landmarks Commission at

Books of local historical significance can be found at:

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at or 913-3067.

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