Robinson Plaza and Nevada City’s ‘Bronze Jungles’
ON THAT SHORT STUB of Main Street, on which front the South Yuba Canal and Ott’s Assay buildings, are more commemorative bronze plaques per square yard that anywhere else in Nevada County! Eight, count ’em. This area has been Robinson Plaza since 1999, when the Nevada City City Council chose to honor its longtime City Manager Beryl P. Robinson, Jr. by so naming it. Here, too are excellent examples of Nevada County’s gold mining past. Placing second in the plaque placement parade, a short block south from Robinson Plaza, on Union Street at the NW corner of Broad is Calanan Park. The park’s name honors a longtime Nevada City official and civic leader George Calanan. The little green spot boasts one wooden, six bronze markers and the stone mason’s imprint in the concrete. The park also contains a number of gold mining artifacts. First, to Robinson Plaza.
The first plaque to be erected in the Main Street portion of Nevada City’s bronze jungle marks the site of the “Old Wells Fargo Building, 1853.” On July 5, 1926, Hydraulic Parlor No. 56, Native Sons of the Golden West (NSGW) and Wells Fargo Bank & Union Trust Co. of San Francisco dedicated the marker “to the pioneers of California.” It is mounted in the flag pole area to the right of the buildings.
Here also is a plaque honoring J.J. Ott at the site of his original Assay Office where in 1859, he assayed the ore that gave rise to the great silver rush to the Comstock. It is designated “County Reg. Historical Landmark No.1,” by the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission. Helping dedicate the plaque on May 16, 1970, were two of J.J. Ott’s grandchildren. (See photo.)
The city-owned South Yuba Canal building at 132 Main St. is home to Nevada City’s Chamber of Commerce. Upstairs is an artists’ guild and next door in the Ott’s Assay building, also owned by the city, is a wine tasting room. About 30 years ago, the South Yuba building housed the office of the weekly Nevada County Nugget newspaper. The South Yuba is designated California Registered Historical Landmark No. 832, with the plaque placed May 16, 1970. Below this plaque is one honoring Nevada City as a U.S. Constitution bicentennial (1787-1987) community and unveiled on Sept. 17, 1987 by the NSGW.
Flush with the sidewalk in front of the building is Nevada City Commemorative Marker No. 1, dedicated on Dec. 11, 1992, to the memory of Nevada City native, a former mayor, civic leader, bon vivant, boulevardier and raconteur, Bob Paine.
At Main Street’s end is the “Five-Stamp Mill, 1893,” used to crush gold bearing ore at the Fortuna Mine. Its plaque was placed July 4, 1982 jointly by the Nevada City City Council and E Clampus Vitus, Chapter No. 10, Nevada City.
Next to the stamp mill is the imposing 15-ton, 12 feet in diameter Pelton wheel, a Constitutional Bicentennial gift to Nevada City by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The wheel was used in the generation of electric power at the company’s Drum Powerhouse No. 4 between 1928 and 1987. PG&E’s oldest corporate antecedent was the Brush Creek Water Co., which was absorbed into the South Yuba Canal Co. that in turn became part of PG&E. Dedication took place on Sept. 17, 1987, by Nevada City’s Constitutional Commission and E Clampus Vitus, No. 10 and was part of a doubleheader. The Constitution Bicentennial marker on the South Yuba building is dated the same day.
What is E Clampus Vitus? It is an all-male “lodge” dating from 1845 which began as a hoax in what is now West Virginia. It is a parody on lodge life in general and the Masonic Orders in particular. The Order found its way to California about 1850 and was an instant hit among the far from home prospectors.
An outrageous ceremony of initiation was (and still is) conducted by the Noble Grand Humbug (master of the lodge). It was most democratic and its membership was open to any miner who had a few dollars in gold dust to pay entrance. On the serious side, members were sworn to “protect the widows and orphans” of deceased brothers and records show that they did.
Today, with a decided shortage of widows and orphans, the Wm. Bull Meek-Wm. Morris Stewart Chapter No. 10, Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, Nevada City, has taken to recognizing historic places and event with bronze markers. There are many in both Nevada City and Grass Valley. The most recent was placed Oct. 2, 2004 on the Columbiad cannon in Grass Valley’s Dow Alexander Park.
On Sept. 16, 1999, the last plaque placed in Robinson Plaza is to the plaza’s namesake – Beryl P. Robinson, Jr. Between the Pelton Wheel and the Stamp Mill, mounted on a granite base is a plaque containing a brief biography and a list of his many accomplishments during more than 37 years as Nevada City’s city manager. The plaque, placed by the City Council, is Commemorative Marker No. 6.
NEXT TIME: Calanan Park; its relics and bonzes
Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor who contributes regular history features to The Union. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org mail to or P.O. Box 216, Nevada City CA 95959
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