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Nevada City’s Downtown: History and Charm

If you had to pick a ‘landmark’ spot in Nevada County, a good choice would be Nevada City’s downtown district. Steeped in Gold Rush history, and wearing the façade of historic buildings that can tell many tales of rambunctious miners, the downtown today is a thriving commercial and residential zone. In 1985, the downtown district was recognized as a national historic landmark. Victorian era homes in the downtown neighborhood are in high demand and capture premium prices.

“The downtown area has always had a sense of community and charm,” says Mimi Simmons, owner of the ERA Cornerstone Realty Group in Nevada County and a fifth generation resident. “People enjoy having the opportunity to walk into town, especially in the evening when the gas lights come on and they take on a magical glow. As you walk along, you can hear music from some of the restaurants.”

Broad Street is the downtown district’s main thoroughfare where you can still see the original iron doors on brick buildings and amble past the Nevada Theatre where, according to Simmons, Mark Twain and Lola Montez performed. Ms. Montez was the legendary mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, among others. Irish-born, she re-invented herself as a Spanish dancer, and during her career, entertained Gold Rush miners in the States. “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets,” is a classic expression claimed to be inspired by her.



Nowadays, Broad Street, Pine and Main streets continue the lively tradition of the Gold Rush era, with restaurants, clubs, hotels and retail shops drawing locals and tourists year round. “The retail buildings enjoy a lot of foot traffic. People love to come into town and shop. You can do all your Christmas shopping in Nevada City,” says Simmons. One of the most memorable events is the annual Victorian Christmas in which local merchants and volunteers get into costume and recreate the atmosphere of Christmases past.

Mindful of Nevada City’s place in history, the local planning commission protects property values, says Simmons. “They won’t let you paint a purple house.”




The downtown district’s residences demand some of the highest property values in the county, Simmons notes, and few land parcels are available. Housing inventory is still low in Nevada City “but it is starting to go up as our market corrects itself,” she says. “

Victorian homes in the downtown district range in price depending on condition,” says Simmons, “from $700,000 to $850,000 for an average, 2,500-square foot, 100-year-old Victorian and these are generally on a small lot.” However, the larger sized Victorians, some of which have become bed and breakfast inns, are listed for $1.2 million and up.

Victorian homes offer rare features such as float glass windows, a method of making glass that was patented in the mid-1800s. Beautiful detail work can be found in the facades of Queen Ann Victorians and Motherlode Victorians. “They have a lot of character, and some challenges such as sloping floors and very small kitchens,” says Simmons. During the Victorian era it was common to stores clothes and other items in trunks and armoires so original closets and storage space are minimal compared to modern expectations of large walk-in closets. Bathrooms were often outside and apart from the main home. However, buyers looking at Victorians these days will find they have been remodeled and upgraded to reflect all the modern conveniences.

Residents of the downtown district Victorians can enjoy a healthy walk to partake of the many fun events the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce stages every years. In addition to the Victorian Christmas celebration, there is The Nevada City Classic, a bicycle race held in the downtown area on Father’s Day and featuring top U.S. cyclists.

A popular event for tourists and locals is the Summer Nights celebration, held Wednesday nights in July. The main downtown streets are closed to traffic and the district becomes a buoyant street festival of food, arts and crafts and music.

On any given day, however, Nevada City’s downtown is, without question, one of the most fun places to be. Walking the sloped historic streets, stopping for a bite to eat or a libation, and enjoying the unique retail shops is a pleasant, enriching experience. As Nevada City continues to get more recognition, downtown properties and Victorians will grow in demand and value.

Nevada City – Land Area 2.1 sq. miles

Zip code: 95959

Elevation: 2525 ft.

Location: Northern California, Nevada County; between Tahoe and Grass Valley.

Population: 3,001

Public Schools:

Nevada Union High School: 9-12

Gold Run School: K-2

Nevada City Elementary: K-2

Deer Creek School: 3-5

Seven Hills School: 6-8

Colleges / Universities nearest to Nevada City:

America River College (About 47 Miles)

California State University-Sacramento (About 56 Miles)

Sierra College (Nevada County Campus, -About 8 Miles, Rocklin Campus- About 29 Miles)

Yuba College (About 37 Miles)


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