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Nevada City/Grass Valley, California

Gold Rush History

Photo Nevada City and Grass Valley, in the Gold Country of Northern California
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1848 -- The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill by James Marshall brought fortune seekers to California, desperately searching the Sierra foothill tributaries and rivers. Soon after, Jonas Spect discovered gold near Rose's Bar, which was a short distance downstream from present-day Bridgeport (the center piece of the South Yuba River State Park). Prospectors poured into the South Yuba River Canyon, concentrating heavily in the area of today's 22 mile South Yuba River Project, which is managed by the California Department of Parks & Recreation. This way not only a European migration but an Asian one as well. By 1852 there were 3,000 Chinese in Nevada County and 25,000 more throughout the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada.

In fact, the Chinese made up 25% of the state's population by 1870. (The 1852 census showed less than 950 native Americans).

1848 -- John Rose is given credit as the first European settler to build a permanent structure in Nevada County. He built a trading post for Native Americans and gold seekers that was halfway between present day Lake Wildwood and Bridgeport.

1849 -- The rapid entrance of the emigrants caused them to set up tent sites overnight along the sand bars of the South Yuba River. They where given colorful names such as Frenchman Bar, Banjo Bar, Illinois Bar, Jones Bar, and Champion Bar (near Hoyt's Crossing).

Development of the Crossings

The need for immediate crossing of the Sierra rivers emerged. First were the ferries; Point Defiance Ferry (near present day Bridgeport), Jones Bar Ferry (near present day Hwy. 49 Bridge), Moore's Ferry (present day Purdon Bridge); Edward's Crossing near Illinois Bar and Nyes Ferry near Freeman's Crossing on the Middle Fork.

These crossings were little more than the owners overturning their wagons and putting them together for makeshift barges. Each had its own unique history. Very quickly the crossings gave way to the construction of the first bridges.

1849 -- The successors of the first bridge crossings lie within the South Yuba River State Park today and proudly stand as landmarks, all of which are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Rapid Development of Mining Techniques

1849-1855 -- At first, the gold pan extracted large nuggets for the few who were lucky. But by the mid-1850's gold mining techniques were rapidly advancing. The pan gave way to the rocker, then the sluice box, then Long Tom (mentioned in Diary of a 49er).

Men became extremely industrious, to the point that the "Miner's Tunnel", built in 1879, is now on National Register of Historic Places. It is 800 feet long through solid rock between Hwy. 49 and Hoyt's Crossing. The purpose was to divert the flow of the South Yuba during summer months, so that the miners could work the dry river bed undisturbed.

The tunnel right of way was sold by William Clymo in 1877 to John Jacka & Company for $21.00 who formed the South Yuba River Mining Tunnel Company. The Tunnel was sold in 1881 to George Emory at a nice profit. The sale amount was $12,061. River bed mining and ground sluicing became the norm, with men banding together to form mining companies to consolidate their resources. Evidence of these early mining activities are found throughout the South Yuba River Project.

1848-1858 -- Placer gold mining amounted to about 90% of gold recovered in all of California. But during the 1860's through 1880's, mining techniques advanced toward a devastating level with the emphasis on wide spread hydraulic mining .

1858 -- Excelsior Ditch was completed. It took four years with hundreds of Chinese workers building the headwater diversion 4 miles above present day Hwy. 49 Crossing and then 27 miles southwest to the hydraulic mining areas of Timbuktu at the cost of $250,000.

This project has become a major visitor attraction. Today it allows wheelchair-users and others to cross towering historic water flumes to view panoramic vistas of the South Yuba River and at the same time allowing disabled visitors one of the few wilderness experiences in the Sierras.

1880's -- Chinese gold miners began to form their own companies, working older claims abandoned by Europeans. Many remnants of Chinese claims are found from this period upstream from Bridgeport and elsewhere in the project.

The method employed by the Chinese at this time to mine small portions of the South Yuba was to construct a coffer dam, called "wing-damming." Where the entire river channel is worked, a dam is built entirely across the river, as with the Miner's Tunnel (1879). The dry river bed is then worked by the miners; the gravel being thrown into sluices and washed, while the larger boulders are lifted out of the way with derricks and piled up on the bedrock.

1869 -- With the completion of the cross country railroad, signified by the golden spike driven at Promontory, Utah Territory .........1869, Abraham Lincoln's dream was complete to bring the Union together. But this act drew to a close the brief rapid rise of the Bridge/Toll Road builders and their profits.

A vast majority of commerce shifted to the railroad. Traffic was greatly diminished on the Henness Pass and its major tributaries, principal of which was David Wood's Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Overnight the Virginia Turnpike and its famous bridge became insignificant and was relegated to local business traffic.

The Depression Era Gold Rush

Some called the depression era, 1930-1939 the second gold rush along the South Yuba River, due to the arrival of many poor disadvantaged people. These people barely eked out a living as "Snipers", those who searched every possible crack and panned for small amounts of gold.

They sold the gold to Victoria's son, Alfred Kneebone, who operated the gas station and grocery store, near the old Charles Cole dairy barn. He paid the "snipers" $18.20 per oz. and processed the gold bearing sands in his mercury retort behind the gas station and then sold the gold for $20.70 an oz. in Grass Valley.

During the period of 1927-1936, Alfred Kneebone also operated a resort along the South Yuba River about 1/4 mile upstream from the Covered Bridge, on present park property. At that location were bath houses, cabins, cold room for ice cream etc., and a large dance hall. Visitors came to swim and used the warm beaches much as the thousands of visitors do today. The Kneebone family collected fees from a booth in the old barn, charges were $.50 per car, a gate was lifted and away to the "main swim" hole they drove.

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