A Nevada City Christmas, circa 1902
A century ago, at the height of the Gilded Age, electric lights and telephones were becoming more prevalent, while a modern street car ran between Nevada City and Grass Valley. President Teddy Roosevelt gave the nation a voice of confidence that all was well, and local merchants lined their shelves with holiday specials sure to appear under a family Christmas tree.
J.J. Jackson’s at 244 Commercial St. was advertising mixed nuts at three pounds for 50¢ with large, shelled almonds fetching 20¢ a pound. At C.F. Brayton’s furniture store, also on Commercial, rocking chairs were priced from $1.75 to $12 and couches at $5.50 to $20.
And if you had too much taffy or other holiday sweet treats, you could visit Dr. R.E. Smith at his dentist office, upstairs in the Masonic Building on North Pine. There, for only 50¢, Dr. Smith would perform a ‘painless extraction.’ If you needed more serious dental work, he could give you a gold filling for $2, or a 22k gold crown for $6.
Over at George C. Gaylord’s Broad Street grocery store, Christmas mince meat was advertised as “just as good as homemade.” And their Swiss cheese was “the genuine imported article.”
A week before Christmas 1902, the city council was looking over applicants for a new pound master. The pound then operating in the rear of the 1878 City Hall, located on the same site as the present City Hall. The council, (town trustees, in those days), was also struggling with the matter of constructing a new bridge across Deer Creek on South Pine Street. The one-lane 1862 suspension bridge erected by Andrew Hallidie – later of San Francisco cable car fame – had served the community well for 40 years, but was in need of replacement. Its completion in 1903 was a cause for a major celebration in town, ensuring a two-lane, safe passage over the creek.
On Dec. 20, boasting of Nevada City’s array of outstanding shops, The Union announced, “The business houses have great stocks of bright, new goods that are not a whit behind New York and San Francisco styles.”
No doubt they were including the quality watches, clocks, silk fobs and ladies purses available at H.W. Hartung’s at 308 Broad St. (now the Golden Eagle) and the “Appropriate Holiday Gifts” down the street at Dickerman’s Drug Store (now The Whole Bead Shop). And if an adult shopper got too weary from all the walking, they could drop by the National Hotel bar for a hot Tom & Jerry; or the Owl Bar at North Pine and Commercial, where sherry or port could be purchased for a modest 25¢ a pint.
Shortly before Christmas, Laurel Parlor of the local Native Daughters gathered to exchange presents and decorate their tree. It must have been an enjoyable evening, as the newspaper reported that the party went on until nearly midnight, “when the merrymaking ended and the happy gathering departed.”
Christmas Eve was complete at 524 East Broad St. when mining engineer William F. Englebright returned home from a business trip to Placer County. Earlier in 1902, Englebright had been installed as the first president of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. In 1906 he was elected to Congress, but for Christmas 1902, at least, he would be at home in Nevada City.
It rained all evening on Christmas Eve 1902, but Nevada City churches were busy. Large crowds filled the Congregational (now Baptist Church on Main Street), Methodist, Baptist and Trinity Episcopal churches and the following morning St. Canice Catholic Church celebrated three Christmas morning masses at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Father Clyne described good attendance at all.
Following Christmas festivities, The Union noted that “Merchants as a whole report a most satisfying Christmas trade in Nevada City; in fact, many of them state that more goods were sold this year than for several seasons past.”
As you walk the streets of Nevada City this holiday season, and you enjoy the sights and sounds of Victorian Christmas, it will be easy to close your eyes for a few moments and consider that a century ago the streets were also full of people looking for the perfect gift; looking for friends; and looking forward to Christmas morning with family
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