History of Gold Rush right there in library | TheUnion.com

History of Gold Rush right there in library

Oops. I left out the name of the most senior volunteer at the Doris Foley library.

Annabel Straus.

“Oh, this library couldn’t function at all without our volunteers, absolutely not,” Maria Brower said.

You know where that library is, don’t you? It’s the old, original Nevada City library right by the County Courthouse. All the books were removed to the new building years ago, of course, but the comfortable, ancient rocking chairs were left behind, thank goodness.

I have fond memories of driving my little kids in from Washington for story time while I browsed the shelves. Sisters, I know a lot of you did the same thing with your kids, but maybe go way further back than me. Happy days …

The library is now stuffed to the gills with every kind of book and document you can think of: birth and tax records, old directories, cemetery information, a huge mining collection, all kinds of newspapers, maps, obituaries, my gosh, the list goes on and on.

“This building houses the essence of the Gold Rush. The gold of those times is now contained in our books and records; the real treasure of Nevada County is right here on these shelves,” Dayle Smidt told me. I’ll say!

Talk about the staff’s patience … it took seven visits for me to get the hang of threading a reel on the film reader by myself, and not once did anyone sigh or roll their eyes in exasperation. I was grateful.

If you have the Tombstone Twitch and are curious about old-time county doings, please visit there, if for no other reason than to experience the incredible smell in the building. I expected a moldy, mildew-y odor (after all, the place is packed with old, old papers), maybe a strong whiff of some flowery, fruity room spray. Nope. The rooms carry the welcome, warm, intimate scent of books, pure and simple, something a dedicated reader will understand perfectly.

Dayle is so right: One way or another, an awful lot of history is packed in that little library, one-of-a-kind documents of every sort … and not a fire sprinkler in sight. Steffanie said there’s no money in the budget to install any and worse, no money even to reproduce all the records so they could be stored somewhere else in case of emergency. That is scary.

I’ve picked up a very few items of interest about Washington, but I have to slog through a lot of old Unions to find what I need. I get caught up in other events happening in 1900 Bigtown, sidetracked by a sudden diphtheria/smallpox outbreak or a sale on denim overalls for thirty-five cents, and it keeps slowing me down.

I really enjoyed an advertisement for Relley’s Cocaine Toothache Drops. Now there’s a great way to start off your day, whether you have a toothache or not, whether you have teeth or not!

“You’d not be late for church” if you had a new-fangled gas stove, and didn’t have to waste time firing up a wood or coal stove on a cold winter morning to get breakfast ready fro the family. One of the Cicogni brothers told me his mother, Maria, was a fabulous cook and used a wood stove exclusively. In 1918 the family moved from Gaston to Grass Valley and she eventually got a new-fangled gas stove; she didn’t like it, though. She preferred the wood burning one. I think about that a lot when I’m waiting for the microwave to finish a one-minute zap on my lunch.

Please stop by the Doris Foley library (open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. every day except Thursday and Sunday) and visit yesteryear. You’ll be giving yourself a real treat.


Vivian Herron is a longtime resident of the town of Washington whose column appears on Saturdays. You can write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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