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Colorful history, colorful names

The Union editorial board

Always ready to jump on an opportunity for promotion – especially with the Richardson Street realignment kicking off what will be a year or two of construction downtown – the city of Grass Valley and its downtown association have come up with a contest to name the two freeway frontage roads that Caltrans will build to solve growing traffic problems.

We think the idea is great. Problem is, some of the ideas tossed out at the city council meeting this week were . . . well . . . kind of boring. Not that we don’t respect the various upstanding ex-politicians, business people or groups whose names have been tossed out. But it’s far from the creative names that evoke our rambunctious gold rush origins.

For example, a random glance through the Nevada County Atlas found a bounty of colorful names. Of course, a lot of them relate to gold mining, such as Empty Diggins Lane, Hard Rock Road, Highgrader Road (“highgraders” stole gold from mines they worked in), Sluice Box Road, Incline Shaft Road, Hydraulic Way, Inch By Inch Road, Pick and Pan Lane, and Tommyknocker Court (named for the Cornish elves said to warn miners of an impending cave-in).

When not hunting gold, our forefathers liked to gamble and have a drink or two. Thus, we have streets like Bourbon Hill Road, Applejack Drive, Poker Flat Road, Read ‘Em & Weep Drive, Whiskey Jack Court, You Win Court, Royal Flush Court, Sure Bet Road, and Drunken Miners Road.

Animal themes are plentiful, such as Bear Trap Road, Call of the Wild Lane, Running Horse Road, Red Dog Road, Wild Cat Street, and Dead Horse Road.

Some names display optimism (Alls Well Place, Frolic Meadow), others doom and gloom (Deadmans Flat Road, to Hell & Back Lane). There is whimsy (Cab Calloway, Coca Cola Avenue, Kitkitdizzle Drive, Syzygy Road), and references to people long forgotten (Teds Fault, Yankee Jim’s Road, Slave Girl Road, and Kanaka Road, referring to Native Hawaiians, who worked in the gold fields, often exploited by white men).

Geographical names help us envision events that may have led to the christening (Sunken Bridge Road, Garbage Pit Road, On A Rock Court, Thundershower Retreat, Wintering Ground Road, Duckabush Road, Lightning Tree Road).

Three of our favorites, right next to each other in the atlas, are No Name Drive, No Other Way, and No Such Road.

Of course, the new frontage roads could be named for local celebrities from the gold rush era, such as Lola Montez. Of course, with her “spider dance,” Lola was the 1850s equivalent of a stripper, and also was said to have run – what should we call it? – a maison de joie. Of course, she already has a road and a couple of lakes named for her in the county. How about memorializing outlaws like Kid Kansas or Joaquin Murieta?

Kid Kansas (Jeffrey Liddil) held up a stage outside Grass Valley in the 1870s and made off with a chest of newly minted gold coins. He’s said to have buried the gold near the Bridgeport covered bridge over the Yuba before making his getaway. The Kid supposedly was killed trying to rob a train at Copperopolis before he could return to dig up his loot, which would be worth a fortune today.

Murieta, a mythological Zorro-like bandit who terrorized Gold County, was immortalized in a book by Grass Valley editor John Rollin Ridge. The tale mixes truth with fiction, but it’s possible the legendary bandit visited Grass Valley – part of him, anyway. (His killer, a Texas Ranger, is said to have put the outlaw’s severed head in a jar of alcohol and toured mining camps, charging $1 apiece to gawkers.)

The point is, even if these frontage roads may be sterile creations of state highway planners, let’s use our imagination and christen them with names capturing our colorful history (and give us a chance to tell visitors some of these stories.).

Entries are being accepted in writing by City Clerk Bobbi Poznik-Coover at City Hall, 125 E. Main St., Grass Valley, CA 95945.


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