Grass Valley’s assessor rolls found hidden behind City Hall wall
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What: Searls Historical Library
Where: 161 Nevada City Highway, Nevada City
Hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday or by appointment
For info: Call 530-265-5910 or go to https://nevadacountyhistory.org/searls-historical-library
Teresa Poston went on a treasure hunt in the unlikeliest of places — a seemingly featureless stretch of hallway next to Grass Valley’s City Council chambers.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said after being pointed in the right direction by a former city employee. “I went and looked and sure enough, I saw (this) hole.”
Cut into the wall was an approximately 2-foot by 3-foot “door” that led into what appeared to be an access space for utilities between two walls. And in that vault was a stash of at least 100 assessors rolls for the city of Grass Valley, dating from approximately 1873 through 1955.
On Tuesday morning, thanks to the efforts of a cadre of determined researchers, those records were transported from their decades-long hiding place to the Searls Historical Library, the archive of the Nevada County Historical Society.
“We’re just thrilled to death to get them,” said Library Director Pat Chesnut.
The Searls Historical Library is a treasure trove of historic documents — more than 35,000 of them, including photographs, books, maps and even law records. Among those are the assessor rolls of Nevada County and Nevada City, which library volunteers have been working diligently to index online.
“We’ve been indexing Nevada City for a couple of years now,” Chesnut said, explaining that as the information gets digitized, the records can be searched by name. “We can pinpoint where a home or business was.”
The index for Nevada City currently stands at 50,656 records that can be sorted by name, location, assessment number, book, community and street.
It’s particularly useful for residents trying to find the age of their house, she said, adding, “It becomes a really good research tool.”
Grass Valley’s assessor rolls had been conspicuously missing.
“Years ago, (current council member) Howard Levine told me he knew the assessor records for Grass Valley still existed, because he had used them to research his own home,” Chesnut said. “We had Nevada City and Nevada County — we figured Grass Valley must have their records but nobody seemed to know anything about it.”
Eventually, Chesnut got in touch with Poston, a member of the Grass Valley Historical Commission.
Peggy Levine, who died in 2017, had always wanted to get those ledgers moved to the Searls library, Poston said.
“Howard thought they might be in the basement, so we made it a mission to look everywhere we could think of in the basement,” Poston said. “But there was no sign of them.”
One big problem was that there had been so much staff turnover at the city that no one currently employed there knew anything about the assessor records. For a while the trail went cold, Poston said. But a chance encounter at the Thursday Night Market proved to be the break she needed, eventually leading to a tip that the records might be stashed in the hallway in the lower level of City Hall.
“I felt like I was on a treasure hunt,” Poston said.
After she found the opening in the wall, Community Development Director Tom Last tracked down the key and opened the door.
“There they were,” Poston said. “It was the perfect spot, as far as keeping them in good condition — cool and dry and sealed up.”
Poston suspects the cumbersome books were stashed in the space sometime in the late 1980s, during a major renovation of City Hall. Over time, the knowledge of where they were located faded from memory.
“The bottom line is, we found them and now they’re seeing the light of day,” Poston said. “I know they’re in good hands now.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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