Quotation from ‘Old Block’s sketch book’ explains why the city was named Grass Valley
Alonzo Delano describes the Sept. 13, 1855, fire that destroyed most of Grass Valley. This quotation is from “Old Block’s Sketch Book,” published in 1856. The reference to “grass widower” is a 19th century term for a man who is temporarily separated from his wife; a “grass widow” is a woman temporarily separated from her husband.
You’ve heard of Grass Valley, or “I s’pose you’ve read of it in the prints”; a mountain town, so named from the fact that it was first settled by grass widowers, and being incorporated since by that name, because it became the heaven or haven (I haven’t got a dictionary at hand) of grass widows.
Although its name is a little verdant, our people, taken as a whole or by sections, are not quite so green as the name would imply. In fact, we are making some noise in the world, although our “fathers don’t beat the drum, nor our mothers cry clams.”
Yet the noise and thumping of a dozen quartz mills is proof positive that we can be heard at a distance, and we are where the air is clear enough. Besides, too, we have our papers of California naturalization, without which no town in the State is worthy of notice. …
Don’t you know what constitutes a legal incorporation in California? Why, its being burnt down and built up again in a month, and coming out more fresh, more fair and beautiful than ever by the purification. As gold is more refined and bright by being submitted to the flames, so our towns are purified and rendered more beautiful than ever as they spring up from their own smoking ruins. …
On the eventful night which laid our town in ruins [Sept. 13, 1855], which left us no cover for our heads but the blue vault of Heaven; when we were driven from our falling roofs to the streets, from the streets to hill, beyond reach of fire, there stood mothers with their children, and men ruined in purse by the catastrophe, gazing calmly upon the greedy flames as they leaped from house to house, licking up their homes, and destroying the result of years of toil, did you hear one word of wailing – one single note of despair? No, not one.
Even females, who scarcely saved their garments, coolly remarked, “It can’t be helped; there’s no use to cry. It’s gone, and must be endured. We shall contrive to get along somehow.” And our men replied, “Yes, we’ve done all we can to stop the flames. The town is gone; we’ll build it up again.” Even at that moment stern resolution stood out, the leading feature of Californians, to meet trial and discomfiture like old and well-tried warriors.
Never in my life have I seen more fortitude or calmness displayed at misfortune than at that very hour; and what has been the result? In little more than a month, a stranger, to visit us, would scarcely know that a fire had occurred which had wiped a town from existence. What a moral spectacle does it present of California energy and enterprise.
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