Calanan Park and Nevada City’s ‘Bronze Jungles’
Second of two parts
BEGINNING in the decade of the 1960s, Nevada City became increasingly aware of its responsibility to protect and preserve its most valuable historic resource – the town itself. Farsighted city councils and staff members aided by interested residents banded together to pass ordinances protecting the architectural integrity of the 19th century while providing for the necessary 20th and 21st century health and safety innovations. These assurances guarantee that future generations will be able to enjoy Nevada City’s unique place in California Gold Rush history. The resulting transformation has reshaped the downtown core area into a shopping and sightseeing mecca for visitors and tourists worldwide. Nevada City is regarded as the finest example of a preserved – not restored, or rebuilt – Gold Rush community anywhere in California. It has been featured in travel articles in both the national and international press. A positive side effect is the seemingly endless placement of markers pointing out this or that fact about the town, its history or its buildings. Many of the downtown structures have been marked by E Clampus Vitus No. 10, as part of that group’s ongoing history preservation project.
CALANAN PARK – This little spot of “green” was given to the city by the United States Department of the Interior in 1971. It had been used as a park for many years prior to its official acquisition and, like Robinson Plaza was named for a city official, George Calanan, the city clerk who for many years assumed the role of city manager even though there was no such office. He was also a member of the board of directors of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad and was appointed receiver when the road entered bankruptcy. “Mr. Nevada City,” as he was called, died in Nov. 1951 at age 79.
Today, the park is filled with all manner of relics from a hydraulic mining nozzle, to an ore car, a gate valve, an experimental drill core … all except the ore car, are dutifully plaqued; there is little room for many more artifacts. Paved pathways meander through the area and low rock and brick walls provided seats for park denizens. There are even sections of steel bridge railing separating pedestrians from planted areas. Landscaping is quite mature and consists in part of laurel, holly, a type of cypress, annual and perennial plantings in addition to the town’s somewhat ailing white fir Christmas tree. However, in the wings ready to assume the town tree mantle is a tall, double-headed coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) standing north behind the fir.
Let’s take a look at the bronze plaques in the park. The first was placed “In memory of the pioneers of Nevada City. Dedicated August 21, 1963 by the Nevada City Woman’s (sic) Club.” This small tablet is on top of the wall facing Broad Street, near the hydraulic gold mining monitor which artifact was dedicated as “Historic,” on Nov. 11, 1965, by Hydraulic Parlor No. 56, Native Sons of the Golden West.
The plaque briefly outlines the hydraulic process which was the most destructive of all the methods used to mine gold. The name “Monitor,” was originally a trade name for a particular brand of nozzle, but became generic with use. The force of water leaving the nozzle was great enough to disintegrate a 3-foot thick brick wall at a distance of 50 feet!
North, behind the monitor is a 21-inch gate valve with an interesting past, one that pairs it with the monitor. Again, the green painted, steel railing is from the demolished Gault Bridge, built in 1903, that crossed Deer Creek on South Pine Street. The replacement bridge, built in 1996, is a faithful representation of the Gault.
A stainless steel drinking fountain with plaque and monument was donated by the Nevada City Lions Club. It is a memorial to three of the club’s deceased members, “who gave 114 years of service to our city,” and stands beyond the gate valve.
The most unusual artifact in Calanan Park is found facing Union Street, originally called Union Alley. It is truly a unique piece of gold mining history, an experimental shaft drill core from the Idaho-Maryland Mine. This work was done in 1935-36.
South of the drill core, mounted on a granite slab, is a plaque to Nevada City itself, to its National Register of Historic Places status. Placed by the Native Sons of the Golden West No. 56, Sept. 23, 1985.
Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor and author of local history. His features appear in The Union on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. You may e.mail him at email@example.com or snail mail to P.O. Box 216 Nevada City CA 95959
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