Located in the heart of California’s Gold Country, Grass Valley was once a small settlement of fortune hunters who arrived just after the Gold Rush to California began in 1848. Two years later, prospectors discovered a major vein in Grass Valley and the district boomed.
Over the next 100 years of mining, it became one of the most productive gold-bearing areas in the state. It even attracted a number of tin miners from Cornwall, England, who brought their mining skills and their taste for Cornish pasties. (See above miner at Empire Mine in 1900.) Even though the mines closed some 50 years ago, Grass Valley still retains the character of a mining town and locals still enjoy Cornish cuisine.
What historic site do most of the schoolchildren visit?: Empire Mine State Historic Park (off Route 49), the site of one of California’s oldest—1850—and richest hardrock gold mines, with trails for horseback riders.
Who knows Grass Valley’s history best?: Librarians Maria Brower and Ed Tyson, who have written books and articles about the area.
Favorite Local Cuisine: Pasties, a meat pie the Cornish miners used to eat while working at the Empire Mine in the early 1850s. Cousin Jack’s (100 S. Auburn St.) has the best.
Old West Attractions: Holbrooke Hotel, est. 1851 (212 W. Main St., right), Lola Montez House (248 Mill St.) and North Star Power House (Mill St. & McCourtney Rd.), which includes in its mining exhibits the largest Pelton Wheel ever constructed.
Best Cowboy Bar: The bar at the Holbrooke Hotel is one of the, if not the, oldest continuously-working saloons in the West.
Top Holiday Events: Cornish Christmas in Downtown Grass Valley and Music in the Mountains Festival.
What radio personality do the locals listen to?: George Rath and Tom Fitzsimmons on KNCO 830 AM.
Popular Local Event: The Nevada County Fair held every August.
Best Western Bookstore: The Book Seller (107 Mill St.).
Do-not-miss Attraction: The historic downtown area along Mill Street. This thoroughfare dates back to 1851.
Who’s the person in Grass Valley everyone knows? Ron Sturgell, who operates the Video History Museum (415 Central Ave.), which features a documentary of area history.
Best Time of Year: The fall, when the picturesque landscape is bright with autumn colors.
Average House Cost: $450,000.
Average Temperature: Winter is in the mid-40s; Summer temperatures average in the 90s.
Preservation Project: Restoring a home designed by the first licensed female architect in California, Julia Morgan.