Bernie Zimmerman: What’s in a name, Part 2 |

Bernie Zimmerman: What’s in a name, Part 2

By Bernie Zimmerman | Special to The Union

About a mile north of Nevada City, near the intersection of Highway 49 and Cement Hill Road, lies a blue jewel — Hirschman’s Pond. For the last hundred years, it has served as a popular recreation area, and is now the centerpiece of the Hirschman’s Pond Trail. But who was the Hirschman who gave it its name?

The Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission, which I chair, has been exploring the possibility of registering the site as a county historical landmark, to commemorate the county’s thriving Gold Rush-era Jewish community. That required me to research the history of the pond, which I had always thought was named after the Hirschman brothers, Henry and Morris, who owned a cigar and tobacco business in Nevada City in the 1850s. Many others thought the same, including prominent historians such as Dave Comstock, in his “Lives of Nevada County Pioneers,” and Bob Wycoff in an article he wrote for The Union dated Sept. 11, 2004. When the pond trail was dedicated by the Bear Yuba Land Trust, The Union on March 29, 2012, reported that “The trail and pond of the same name come from the old Hirschman Diggins, a hydraulic gold mining operation started by brothers Henry and Moses Hirschman.”

So I was somewhat surprised to learn that we were all wrong. The Hirschman who owned Hirschman’s Diggins, from which the pond sprang, was Leb Hirschman. Leb was born in 1823 in Obbach, in what is now Germany but was then Bavaria. Little else is known of his early years, but he arrived in Nevada County on July 15, 1852. In 1856, he was naturalized an American citizen.

There is no record of him doing anything but mining. He mined around Oustamah Hill, which is about a mile northwest of Nevada City, near the Nisenan village of Oustamah. The first newspaper mention of him that I found was in December 1862, when his cabin there was broken into and some clothes and household articles were stolen. He must have been successful because in 1866 he and partners purchased a hydraulic mine, the American Hill Diggins, located near Oustamah Hill. They then invested a reported $25,000 in building a tunnel to facilitate their mining. In the 1870s, Leb Hirschman was operating one of the two leading hydraulic mines around Nevada City and buying and selling mining interests and claims.

He was also a public minded citizen, serving on trial juries and twice on grand juries. On Aug. 18, 1893, he died in Chicago while out on a walk. Why he was in Chicago is not clear. He may have been visiting the Columbian Exposition. His will was probated in Nevada City. The probate order dated Sept. 18, 1893, recites that he was a resident of Nevada City at the time of his death in Chicago and that his estate was valued at about $4,000. His will left a number of bequests to relatives in Obbach and to relatives living in the United States. Leb never married.

Following the 1884 Sawyer decision, which enjoined hydraulic mines from dumping their debris into the Yuba River, hydraulic mining ground to a halt. In 1888, new owners of the mine were exploring mining a quartz ledge, which Hirschman had left largely untouched. All mining at Hirschman’s Diggins seems to have ceased around 1900. In 1911, the famous Lone Pine, which had defiantly resisted Hirschman’s hydraulic monitors, fell. As to the pond, it is not clear how it was created. In 1895, the Providence Mining Company built a reservoir in Hirschman’s Diggins and a pipeline from the reservoir to its mine. One theory is that the pond is what is left of that reservoir. Another theory is that a spring filled the cavity created by the hydraulic mining, creating the pond.

Early in the 20th century, the pond was stocked with fish and became a popular fishing spot. In this century, the property was acquired by Nevada City, and with the assistance of the Bear Yuba Land Trust, became the centerpiece of the Hirschman’s Pond Trail, featured on many hiking sites.

As for Henry (1830-1914) and Moses (1832-1900) Hirschman, they were born in Freudenthal, then in Wurttenburg, now Germany. They arrived in New York City on June 29, 1849. Henry came to Nevada City sometime before Nov. 11, 1853, the date of his first advertisement in the Nevada Journal for his cigar and tobacco stand. The next year his brother Moses joined him and the business expanded to include a store at the corner of Main and Commercial streets. Eventually the business name became Henry & Moses Hirschman. In 1856, the stores were destroyed in the great fire. One store was reopened in 1857 but again suffered fire damage in 1858. The brothers soon filed for bankruptcy and the Nevada City store was liquidated. The brothers then moved to Virginia City for a few years, then to Helena, Montana, then to Utah, always miners or merchants. Moses died in 1900 in Salt Lake City. Henry lived out his final years at the home of his daughter Tillie in Chicago, dying there in 1914. I do not believe Leb was related to Moses and Henry, and it’s pretty clear that Moses and Henry were in Montana and Utah while Leb was operating the Hirschman mine. There is no record of either Moses or Henry returning to Nevada City after they left around 1859.

So the name Hirschman is right. The names Moses and Henry are wrong. Just enjoy the pond.

Bernie Zimmerman lives in Nevada County.

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