Back to the land: Historian’s latest book celebrates ‘Ranches and Agriculture in Nevada County’ |

Back to the land: Historian’s latest book celebrates ‘Ranches and Agriculture in Nevada County’

When doing research at the Doris Foley Library, Maria Brower discovered topics for her books during her daily reading of old newspapers.
Photo for The Union by John Hart |

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Gold Rush Towns of Nevada County (Images of America)

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Nevada County has been a gold mine for historians since the 1840s.

This history fascinates Maria Brower, a local author and historian who has lived in Nevada County for almost 40 years and has written five books on various historical topics, the latest being “Ranches and Agriculture in Nevada County.”

“I particularly like the Gold Rush period of history,” said Brower. “When I was growing up in the ’50s and the ’60s … all the movies were Westerns … there was a lot about the Gold Rush. I’ve always loved that period. I always thought ‘I was born 100 years too late.’”

In 1999, Brower began working for the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research, eventually becoming the manager. She has also been a member of the Nevada County Historical Society since 1998, and is now the editor of the quarterly bulletin. If no one submits an article, Brower writes the bulletin herself; she’s written about 12 full issues. She is also the founder of the Nevada County Genealogical Society, which educates people about genealogy and connects them with their roots.

“I always thought ‘I was born 100 years too late.’”— Maria Brower

When doing research at the Doris Foley Library, Brower discovered topics for her books during her daily reading of old newspapers. She would often stumble upon something interesting and pursue it further.

“I really consider myself a genealogist and a researcher rather than a writer,” said Brower. “I just write because I do so much research I have to do something with it.”

This in-depth research is the most difficult element in historical writing, Brower said. In fact, it took her 10 years to research and write her book on the National Hotel, “It Happened at the National.”

In her writings, Brower likes to focus on the overlooked parts of history, which is why her most recent book covers the subject of ranches and agriculture in Nevada County. She said there have been no books published on the subject, even though agriculture has been and continues to be the county’s largest product, behind mining and lumber. In fact, ranching and farming began earlier than mining, as settlers traveled in wagon trains to California in pursuit of rich land.

And, during the gold rush, some miners decided mining was not a stable livelihood and turned to agriculture.

Through a PBS documentary called “Working Lands” made by the Nevada County Resource Conservation District, Brower obtained the names of 12 generational ranch families, whom she began interviewing in January. These families are the foundation of the book, as they provided her with pictures and family history.

“This has been so meaningful, doing this book, because of interviewing these families; they are just the nicest people,” Brower said.

Now that “Ranches and Agriculture in Nevada County” is finished, Brower says she will continue to write historical books. In fact, she was so interested in the topic and accumulated so much information through her research that she is planning on compiling it into another book on the subject. After that, she hopes to write a book on the historical impact of Italian immigrants in Nevada County, another subject which she said has received little coverage and is personal to her, being half Italian.

“Ranches and Agriculture in Nevada County” was released on Nov. 27 and can be purchased at local book stores, such as the Book Seller in downtown Grass Valley, the Arcadia Publishing website at or on

Mia Belluomini is a student at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and intern at The Union. Contact her at

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