Town Talk sign origin of name
Most cities and towns can boast streets with names such as Main, Central, Park and Washington, and several with streets named California and Nevada. Nevada County may be the only county in the United States that has a road named Town Talk.
Situated 21/2 miles northeast of Grass Valley, the area known as Town Talk is below today’s Banner Mountain bridge and adjacent to Gold Flat. The Gold Flat area is on the north slope of Banner Ridge, and both areas gave birth to many mines and saw substantial mining activity.
Decades before the Golden Center Freeway was conceived of and prior to the Town Talk tunnel (completed on Dec. 20, 1875) for the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad, mills and small businesses flourished on the summit.
Town Talk was rich in what Nevada County is most famous for – gold. The area was settled in the 1850s by men who mined every hill, river, stream and ravine around the twin cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City.
There have been many stories over the years explaining how the name came to the area. A 1918 issue of The Union carried a story titled “How Town Talk Got its Name.” The correspondent came by the story from the Standard Oil Bulletin, a publication of the Standard Oil Co.
From at least 1915 through the early 1940s, Standard Oil had a substation at Town Talk, along with Shell Oil Co. The Bulletin claimed to have heard the following story from an “old-timer”:
“In the early days a saloon having a sign, ‘Town Talk,’ over its entrance stood on the banks of Deer Creek, near the plaza in Nevada City. One stormy winter, Deer Creek overflowed its banks and carried this liquor emporium downstream.
“A miner walking along the creek after the waters had receded happened on the sign, which he tucked under his arm and carried up to the summit where his lodging-house was situated and nailed over his door. From that sign the hill took its name.”
It is not unusual for traditions to have some grain of truth in them, even if they aren’t completely true. In Book 1 of Mining Claims in Nevada County is a deed for a quartz claim that was filed and recorded on June 18, 1862, by Elizabeth P. and Henry C. Kingsley, Thomas Wigton, Wilhelmina Tracy, John Dolan, Donald McGould, Charles Grove, Michele Acato, Isaac Collins and John O’Neil. They located 10 quartz claims of 100 feet each on the ledge named the Town Talk Ledge in the township of Grass Valley.
Pennsylvania-born miner George Simmons came to California in 1859. After living in El Dorado County and Napa, he settled in Nevada County and lived at Town Talk House. This may have been the lodging house in the story above, although Simmons did not become its proprietor until June 1878.
The “1880 History of Nevada County” said the Town Talk mines had very extensive and rich hydraulic claims. The Shea, or Enterprise, the Independent and the Town Talk mines all had rich claims and were worked for a long time. The Town Talk diggins had an eight-stamp mill, the capacity of which was 40 tons of ore processed in 24 hours.
Over the years, news of the area was reported in the newspapers as the Town Talk summit saw snowstorms, floods, fires, and both the Nevada County Narrow Gauge and the trolley went through its tunnel. In 1867, a fire was reported to have destroyed the Town Talk mill that had been recently purchased. The fire was said to have been the work of an incendiary device, and the property was valued at $5,000, but only insured for $2,000. There were other businesses there at that time.
Nevada City has been home to every kind of disaster. Never to be forgotten and long on the tongues and memory of the residents at the time was a runaway train on the Nevada City side of the Town Talk hill.
In 1937, two cars had been loaded with ballast on a hill near the Town Talk tunnel. A pin on a coupler between the engine and the two train cars broke, and the cars began to roll backward towards Nevada City, gaining speed.
The engine couldn’t hook up with the runaway cars, and they flew through town to the end of the line. The cars collided with an empty boxcar and sent it hurling across Sacramento Street, through fences and concrete, finally landing in the front yard of Charles Loughridge’s home.
The Nevada County Historical Society meets at 7:30 p.m. the last Thursday of the month at the new Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum and Interpretive Center in Nevada City (take Gold Flat Road to New Mohawk road, turn left, and go to the end until you reach Kidder Court.) The Aug. 29 meeting will feature local historian and author Orval Bronson, who will answer questions and have available his recently published book “Nevada City.” For further information, contact president Paul Hinshelwood at 272-1743.
Maria E. Brower is a local researcher and member of both the Nevada County Genealogical Society and the Nevada County Historical Society. She works at the Doris Foley History Branch Library.
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