Nevada County Historical Society hits 70 |

Nevada County Historical Society hits 70

A pelton wheel stands at the Northstar Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum in Grass Valley.
Submitted photo |

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You can find the Nevada county historical society online at

While The Union celebrates it’s 150th year, the Nevada County Historical Society is having an anniversary of its own.

Founded in 1944 to preserve the history and artifacts of the Mother Lode and the Gold Rush era, the NCHS is now 70 years old.

Today, the Historical Society operates three museums, including Fire House No. 1, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum and the Northstar Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum.

“The first one was the fire house in Nevada City, and it was to preserve and collect items of cultural interest,” said Pat Chestnut, director of the Searls Historical Research Library.

“They have a heavy collection of early Chinese, local Indian and 19th century American medical equipment, clothing, uniforms, all kinds of things.”

The Searls Library contains a collection of more than 21,000 photographs and 1,000 maps, as well as thousands of books, ledgers from Gold Rush businesses and old diaries. The Searls’ collection also includes 700 volumes of records from the Nevada County Assessor’s office and 10 filing cabinets of personnel records from the Idaho Maryland Mine.

“We are in a major work project right now to raise funding to remodel the armory building so Searls can move into it,” Chestnut said.

The library is currently housed on Church Street in a 600-square-foot building, but the NCHS has partitioned roughly 2,400 square feet of space in the Nevada City Armory, which they purchased from the state at auction.

“The Gold Rush was critical to the formation of California, and it was critical to saving the Union in the Civil War,” Chestnut said.

“It was a very important source of money, and it was one of the reasons we became a state so fast.”

“That’s important for people to know,” she added. “If you’re interested at all in where you came from or who was here before you, it’s critical.”

It all started 70 years ago, in downtown Grass Valley, November of 1944.

“They started at a dinner meeting at the Brett Harte Inn,” said 87-year-old Brita Rozynski, who first got involved with the NCHS as a teenager.

“Dr. Robert E. Burns wanted them to think about starting a group to preserve our local history.”

When her Uncle Jack became the president of the NCHS, Rozynski started out by helping to address letters and notices to the society’s members. Later she volunteered at Firehouse No. 1. These days, Chestnut is teaching her to use the computer so she can help digitize reference materials and enter old documents into the society’s database.

“Currently I’m working on a scrapbook that was given to us by the Kinsman family in Grass Valley, and it is newspaper clippings from The Union and the (Nevada City) Nugget that she clipped out and put together of local history,” she said.

After more than half a century with the NCHS, Rozynski keeps coming back. Sometimes the details in her volunteer work will take her back 30 or 60 years — and she finds that fascinating.

“For me it’s just reliving old history,” Rozynski said. “It brings back old memories of some of these people I knew all that long ago. They were old people then, but I’m not old people now.”

Young people today don’t seem interested in what happened to the last generation, she said, but that may change overtime.

“Someday the current generation will want to know what happened back then,” Rozynski added.

“At least we hope so.”

The Nevada County Historical Society holds regular board meetings at 5 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month in the Coldwell Banker office in Grass Valley.

They also feature speakers at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. All interested parties are invited to attend.

To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, send emails to or call 530-477-4230.

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