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Understanding the present by mapping the past

For as long as Bert Barker could remember, the old blue map of the Grass Valley Mining District had sat, rolled up, in family closets.

The 1904 document, of paper fused to linen, shows the Barker Tract, the property where his family grew pears and from which Memorial Park eventually was carved.

The map had come into the family with his great-grandmother’s second marriage to a man who operated the old LeDuc Quartz Mine near what is now LeDuc Street in Grass Valley.



But through the generations, there was really no place for it among the family things, and when Bert Barker moved to the town of his ancestors eight years ago, the map became something to figure out what to do with.

But earlier this month, the map took up permanent residence at the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research in Nevada City, donated by Barker, 72, and his wife, Julie Patton Barker.




“I’m glad it’s someplace where people can study it and look at it,” Barker said.

Living history

Nevada County Librarian Mary Ann Trygg and Foley Branch Manager Barbara Messer were even happier. The Foley has a copy of this map, drawn by Nevada County Surveyor Fred M. Miller, but this is the only original to appear among 250 to 300 maps in the collection.

The women spent a recent morning poring over the streets and lots depicted on the map, which Trygg described as in “pretty good condition.” The discovery of a puzzling gap or a familiar name sent them to old assessment rolls and histories on the wooden shelves or in glass-paneled cabinets nearby, spurred by the excitement of making a connection.

In the pattern of development, the names of some of the old placer and quartz mines whose properties were drawn on the map now are familiar as streets or businesses, such as Spring Hill, Idaho, Maryland, French, Liberty and Town Talk.

Family tracts, like the Barkers’, evoke names still heard in western Nevada County: Conaway, Biggs, Hughes, Morgan.

The map also depicts streets wiped out 50 years later by the Golden Center Freeway, such as Lincoln.

“You know, what would be so cool would be to have an overlay to see what’s there now,” Messer mused.

Chance connections

Desmond Knox Gallagher pondered how many exciting connections are yet to be made, sparked by other maps, photographs, books, papers and artifacts stashed in other family closets.

The county library system including the Foley and the Searls Library operated around the corner by the Nevada County Historical Society, and historical museums cooperate in sharing documents, said Gallagher, head of the historical society. They’re all eager to get documents such as the Barkers’ map into the public realm.

“So many people have things they can’t identify, so they toss them out,” Gallagher said, wincing. “We are hoping more people who have memorabilia would donate them or allow copies to be made.”

“If people have materials that we could copy and then give back to the owners, that would be great,” Messer added.

About a year ago, an appraiser suggested to the Barkers they go that route with the map. By chance, Barker met Trygg and Gallagher at a Nevada County Reads event early this year.

“About a month ago, Bert calls and says, ‘I have an artifact for you.’ That’s often how things come to light in this county,” Trygg said.

To contact the Foley Library, call 265-4606, or visit at 211 N. Pine St., Nevada City. It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail tkleist@theunion.com or call 477-4230.


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