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Historical Society’s collection needs a new home

Stock certificates from defunct gold mines and portraits of stern-looking patriarchs hang high on the walls in the bathroom of the Searls Library in Nevada City.

A sign on the door reads: “Framed artifact storage facility. Seats 1.”

The sign is emblematic of both the cramped quarters of the Nevada County Historical Society’s collection and the members’ humor in dealing with it.



Now, though, they are looking for a roomier home and for some help writing grants for the money they will need.

They would like a building with at least 2,500 to 3,000 square feet of space and a cement floor to support the weight of the collection, said historian Ed Tyson, 88. He is a librarian with a lifelong interest in history who retired from San Jose State University and has worked with the collection since 1976.




The collection includes handwritten court records dating to 1856, including the 1869 lawsuit of one R.D. Skidmore against a certain W.G. Montgomery, who had failed to pay a debt of $500.

It also includes 11 four-drawer file cabinets with personnel records from the old Idaho-Maryland gold mine; 100 years of Nevada County records, including voter registration books; 10,000 photographs; 2,600 books; the handwritten guest register of the Holbrooke Hotel; aerial maps of the entire county taken by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 1939; and thousands of miscellaneous original manuscripts, diaries, business journals and legal documents.

Some of the collection shares space in the nearby Doris Foley Historical Research Library, which is owned by Nevada City.

In executive secretary Pat Chestnut’s barn, the society also keeps nearly 5,000 maps surveyed by three generations of the McGuire family. “It took five pickup trucks to get it here,” Chestnut said.

“We would like to put the entire Searls collection in one place and have an office for phones,” Chestnut said. “It would be nice to have a meeting room, parking, access for the handicapped.”

People come from England, Ireland, Europe, Canada, the Azores and Australia to search the records, mostly for genealogical clues. The huge photographic collection and the maps also draw visitors, Tyson said.

The society was formed in 1944 and acquired the Seals building on Church Street, in front of the courthouse, in 1972. It was part of a deal with the Searls family, three generations of which practiced law in the two-room wooden building erected in 1872.

The society would probably have to sell the building to match a grant of about $500,000 to fund a new home, Chestnut said.

Volunteer grant writers, benefactors and anyone with an appropriate and available building are asked to call the society at 265-5910.

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To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail trinak@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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