Carole Bryant: Why become an Elk? It’s a Grass Valley legacy |

Carole Bryant: Why become an Elk? It’s a Grass Valley legacy

Grass Valley Elks Lodge #538, part of one of the oldest fraternal orders remaining in the United States, and is still operating their “original” lodge in Grass Valley.

The order is distinctly American and was chartered as part of the Benevolent and Protective Society of Elks. The Lodge was established in 1900 with a handful of prominent Grass Valley businessmen, politicians, mine owners and managers. Among them the colorful, accomplished and ever popular, engineer, John F. Kidder. He was president of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad as well as the first Exalted Ruler of Grass Valley Elks.

More history on John Kidder can be found from historians, Bob Wyckoff, Maria Brower, the Nevada County Historical Society, as well as the below mentioned museum. See

Who was John F. Kidder? A Grass Valley Elk, a founding member of Grass Valley Elks Lodge and the first Exalted Ruler (1830-1901).

John Kidder, 1st Exalted Ruler and one of the founding members of the Grass Valley Elks Lodge was a doer, a thinker, a builder, who knew the importance of being involved…

1860: Kidder was a city engineer in Syracuse, New York and in 1861 worked at Nevada Territorial Legislative, surveying from Lake Bigler to Honey Lake.

1862: Kidder was appointed as Surveyor of Esmeralda County, Nev. and in 1864 moved to El Dorado County and served as a member of California’s 15th State Assembly District from 1865-1867.

1869: Kidder was the building engineer of the Oregon and California Railroad; also supervised the building of a portion of the Central Pacific Railway and served as a location engineer.

1874: Kidder was the building engineer on the Monterey and Salinas Valley Rail Road, which was the first Narrow Gauge Railway in California and in Later in the same year, he became chief engineer to construct the NCNGRR from Nevada City, California, through Grass Valley, to Colfax, California where it connected with the Central Pacific Railway.

1875: Kidder moved to Grass Valley. Construction on the NCNGRR (lovingly referred to as the “Never Come Never Go” was completed in 1876 and Kidder became the railroad’s General Superintendent by 1877. He went on to become the railroad’s President in 1884, along with Secretary, Treasurer, and made his family the Board of Directors. He owned four mines, and was a multi-millionaire.

John and Sarah Kidder built a mansion in Grass Valley. Sarah hosted tea parties and lavish balls at the fabulous Kidder Mansion, a beautifully scroll-saw estate surrounded by luscious flower gardens, located right behind the downtown train depot that paid for it. Residents clamored for invites to the beautiful home that often hosted senators, governors, and frequent visitor Mark Twain, a good friend of the Kidders. When she wasn’t entertaining or doting on her adopted daughter Beatrice, Sarah donated her time to the many orphans left in town by the perilous mining industry, and brought a bit of grace to the rowdy mountain town through her classic entertaining and charitable ways …”

John Kidder, 1st Exalted Ruler and one of the founding members of the Grass Valley Elks Lodge was a doer, a thinker, a builder, who knew the importance of being involved, of establishing community, of charitable endeavors. He remains a shining example of Elkdom and Grass Valley Elks Lodge is proud to have had such a luminary, guiding our way into the twentieth century and beyond.

Want more information on our historical, charitable and community organization, our activities or facility rental information, please visit or call our secretary at 530-273-9228. Grass Valley Elks welcomes new members.

Carole Bryant lives in Nevada City.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User