Nevada County Namesakes: Nile(s) Street
Special to The Union
Niles Street was named for Addison Cook Niles, not for a river in far off Africa as today’s errant signage might suggest.
Addison, born July 22, 1832, in Rensselaerville, N.Y., was the fourth of eight children born to John and Mary “Polly” Cook Niles.
Early in life, his father was a tanner, but went on to pass the bar and practice law in New York and serve as county judge.
After attending Rensselaerville Academy, Addison became a teacher in Cairo, N.Y.
He later attended Williams College in Massachusetts, studied law in Great Barrington, and taught at Great Barrington Academy. After further law studies, he departed for California.
Following his Jan. 30, 1855, arrival in Nevada City, he became a law partner with Aaron Sargent, until being appointed Justice of the Peace in July of that year.
Although his plan to purchase the Nevada Journal in December 1855 failed, he was affiliated with, and often served as temporary editor of this newspaper during Edwin Waite’s absences.
In 1856, Addison resigned as Justice of the Peace and became partners with David Belden.
He later spent some time traveling, and upon his return went into practice first with Thomas B. McFarland and then with John R. McConnell.
He also helped to found the Nevada City Library Association and would later serve as its president.
On Feb. 15, 1859, he was admitted to practice law before the California Supreme Court.
His relationship with Elizabeth, the daughter of David Story and Abigail Newman Caldwell, blossomed, paving the path to their marriage at Selby Flat on April 13, 1859.
This led to his April 15, 1859 purchase of property situated on the west side of the road from Nevada City to Gold Flat, adjacent to Birdseye and Palmer’s Sawmill (the same vicinity that Niles Street would later appear).
He and “Lizzie” had one son, Addison Perkins, born in Nevada City on Dec. 11, 1860.
Addison again went into partnership with Sargent, until Aaron left to fill his seat in Congress. Next with Niles Searls,* until shortly before Addison began his term as county judge on May 28, 1863.
He and Niles Searls were first cousins. They were also brothers-in-law through Searls’ marriage to Addison’s elder sister, Mary Corinthia.
On June 3, 1870, Addison purchased the home of Edward F. Spence (now 545 Main St.), only to turn around and sell it to Searls on Nov. 25, 1871, after being elected to the California Supreme Court.
The Niles family lived in Oakland while he served his term as Supreme Court Justice, 1872-1879.
As is characteristic in each of us, his life was not without faults. After his term ended with the Supreme Court, Addison returned to Nevada City alone, and went into partnership with Niles and Fred Searls.
It was found that excessive drinking was a factor in both his marital difficulties and his political decline. But we should be mindful that such an addiction is still very difficult to overcome today, even with the assistance of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program which unfortunately did not exist back in his day.
Addison C. Niles died in San Francisco on Jan. 17, 1890. At the time of his death, Nevada County was in the midst of a severe snow storm.
The newspapers were filled with reports of buildings collapsing. The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad was also rendered useless by the great depth of snow, which undermined portions of the track and broke the train’s plows.
All modes of transportation were crippled by this “snow blockade,” which adversely affected mail and supply deliveries and prevented the Searls family from attending Addison’s funeral.
His steadfast friend and former law partner, Justice Thomas McFarland, served as a pall bearer and later “spoke feelingly of the virtues of his old friend” during a memorial address of the Supreme Court.
Although it was found that Addison Niles was not returned back east to be interred in the family plot, the location of his gravesite in California was not ascertained.
Elizabeth Niles died in Massachusetts on July 17, 1891, and was interred in Byfield Cemetery, Georgetown, Mass.
Son, Addison Perkins, graduated from the University of California, and studied art at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute in San Francisco.
His rare works of art include scenes of San Francisco. He married artist, Isabelle Morrison, but had no children. He died in New York City on Feb. 11, 1923.
But, Addison C. Niles still left something behind.
Niles, Calif., a district of Fremont, formerly known as Vallejo’s Mills, was named in his honor, by the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869, in appreciation of the legal skills he provided for that company.
The CPRR also honored Aaron Sargent, by naming Locomotive #7, the A. A. Sargent, in appreciation for his authorship of the bill which created the Transcontinental Railroad.
Niles, Calif. proudly lays claim the 1903 movie, “The Great Train Robbery,” which launched the motion picture industry, and featured the world’s first movie star, was produced there.
Essanay Studios, one of the first West Coast motion picture companies, called Niles, Calif. its home.
Many silent movies starring Charlie Chaplin were also filmed in this town.
Niles, can thereby be recognized as the original Hollywood, since the latter did not become involved in the movie industry until 1910.
Whenever you see Chaplin as “The Tramp.” think of where it was filmed, Niles, Calif., and for whom that town was named — Nevada County Pioneer, Addison Cook Niles.
A town he never lived in still honors his name — why don’t we?
(*The Searls family is the namesake of Searls Avenue, which the 1869 map shows was then named Grass Valley Turnpike. This same map displays Niles Street, with its “s” respectfully intact. The errant “Nile” Street appears on the 1932 revised edition of the 1869 map.)
Donna Reynolds is a volunteer at the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research.
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