Yuba County History


by George Emmanuel Hanson



        Among the numerous camps and towns that temporarily grew and flourished on the Yuba were a few that retained something of their old prominence, or suffered intermittent decline, but resumed their growth, advanced and prospered.  These were the centers of trade in the mining camps, and the seats of justice of the counties that constituted the region.  One was located in the valley and became an interior distributing center for river traffic; two were situated in the lower hills on or near Deer Creek, and prospered as centers of quartz mining operations; another was located in the mountains at the forks of the North Yuba, and existed in the main by virtue of its position as county seat.

Marysville situated at the junction of the Yuba and Feather Rivers on the site of the famous Cordua Rancho was the first town established and the one which attained the greatest size and importance in Yuba Valley.  It was laid out in the winter of 1849 and christened Yubaville; but the name was subsequently changed to Marysville in honor of Mrs. Mary Covillaud a member of the celebrated Donner party.  Located at the head of steamboat navigation and in proximity to the rich mining districts along the Yuba and Feather Rivers, its position among those of a host of rival aspirants was the most favorable.

        In consequence of the energy and enterprise displayed by the proprietors of the embryo city it became in less than a year a live, bustling town.  The site was surveyed, divided into squares and streets, and marked off into lots that sold at almost fabulous prices.

        A steamboat called the "Laurence" ploughed the waters of the Yuba and Feather Rivers as early as December, 1849, and from that time continued to make regular and profitable trips between Marysville and Sacramento.  Freight was then eight cents a pound and a passenger's fare was twenty-five dollars.  Soon afterwards two other steamboats the Phoenix and the Linda assisted with the river traffic, while smaller boats, too, came into use.  Plying regularly up the streams to Marysville, the boats and steamers brought thousands of passengers and tons of freight to the Yuba metropolis.  The result was that the place rapidly assumed the aspect of a city, and became the center of trade for a large mining area.

        Having arrived at Marysville the question which next troubled many gold-seekers concerned the manner of conveying their goods to the little mining camps that lay hidden among the ravines and gulches, or on the bars miles up the river.  In the absence of more modern methods the sure-footed mules were brought into requisition.  These animals carried the merchandise and sometimes the travellers themselves, if they could afford the luxury of a mule-back ride.  Thousands of mules were used in this manner, and long pack trains could be seen radiating in various directions from Marysville, carrying to the toiling miners their necessary provisions.  Over the rugged and narrow trails this method of transportation continued to be used, but elsewhere with the construction of roads it was superseded by the mountain wagon and the "prairie schooner," and soon numbers of these left the city, daily heavily loaded with supplies for the mines and interior towns.

        There was an early demand for express facilities that was at first illy satisfied.  Light packages, letters, papers and gold dust had to be carried to or from the interior and for this purpose express companies with ramifications in every corner of the mountains were necessary.  It was but a year or two, before large and well organized express companies were reaching in every corner of the country.  Langton's Pioneer Express was one of the institutions of the early days.  With headquarters at Downieville it connected that region with the southern lines at Marysville.   It was also a passenger transportation company.

        Up to January 1850 there were no recognized laws, courts offices in Marysville, but in that month an election was held for a first and second alcalde, sheriff, and town council.  Stephen J. Field who became one of the leading citizens of the city was elected first alcalde.  The council proved almost useless, as all the duties of government seemed naturally to fall upon the alcaldes.  In the fall of 1850, the people of Yuba County elected Stephen Field to the Assembly.  The county at that time had no Senator.  At the next session of the Legislature Marysville was granted a charter; it was incorporated on the 5th of February, 1851, and S. M. Miles was chosen first Mayor.

        A series of destructive conflagrations ravaged the city from time to time.  By 1870 almost a dozen of them had visited Marysville, and each had destroyed buildings and property valued at thousands of dollars.

        In the winter of 1852 a new enemy made its appearance.  It was a flood.  Completely inundating the business portion of the city it injured and destroyed large quantities of goods.  Every few years the water rose quite high and covered the lowlands, but there were no disastrous floods until December, 1861.  By the inundation caused by the incessant rains of that winter a great many frame buildings of the city floated from their positions, while others undermined by the water fell crumbling to the ground.  The people in the country had to leave everything and flee to higher ground for safety.  This was the first appearance in any quantity of the disastrous debris from the hydraulic mines that brought ruin and devastation to much of Yuba Valley.  In 1866 a portion of the city was flooded but greatest and most destructive inundation in the annals of Marysville took place in January 1875.

        The first newspaper published at Marysville was the Herald which was started by Col. R. H. Taylor, August 6, 1850.  The Daily and Weekly Appeal was established in 1860 by the proprietors Lockwood and Dawson.

        Marysville was the center of the Manufacturing interests of the county which even before 1870 were quite extensive in some branches.  Most important of these were the woolen mills erected in 1867.

        In 1870 Marysville had more than five thousand residents.  It was a city composed of spacious fire-proof stores, hotels, and other business structures with suburbs abounding in tasty mansions and neat cottages.  It was the county seat and metropolis of Yuba County, and one of the distributing centers of the great interior valley.

Nevada City, located on Deer Creek a number of miles east of Marysville sprang up within a few months from a mere camp to a populous town rife with bustle and revelry.  A store was opened there in the fall of 1849 by A. B. Caldwell and from that fact the place was first known as "Caldwell's Upper Store."  By March of the following year several hundred people occupied the place.  Calling a public meeting they elected an alcalde and by popular vote adopted "Nevada" as the name of the new town.  The population increased steadily and before the end of 1850 no less than two hundred and fifty buildings dotted the town site.

        But at this stage the progress of the place was temporarily arrested, for the winter proved so dry that the miners, except in a few spots, could not work to advantage and many of them moved off to other localities.  Coupled with this mishap, a disastrous fire broke out in March 1851, laying a large part of the town in ashes. 

        This destruction only caused Nevada City to spring up with renewed rigor; by the end of April hardly a trace of the conflagration remained.  Ditches were constructed and a revival took place as ground sluicing, drift digging and quartz mining developed.  As evidence of its advance a semi-weekly newspaper called the Nevada Journal, the first publication of its kind in the Northern Mines, was started.

        Nevada County was organized out of Yuba by an act of the Legislature of May 18th, 1851, and the City of Nevada as it was called by an act of incorporation passed at the same session, became the seat of justice.

        From that time it continued to advance in substantial wealth and in all the advantages that made it a desirable place of permanent residence.  It was a town of churches, public buildings, and comfortable residences.  In 1856 as in 1860 it was the largest and most prosperous town in Nevada County.  One of two temporary checks which it encountered in its progress was the great fire of 1856; the second was the Washoe or silver mania of 1859.  But the superior character of the mines in the neighborhood soon incited a return of nearly all who under the impulse of temporary excitement had hastened away.  The state of prosperity of Nevada City in 1870 was revealed in its buildings and improvements.  It was a little city of hotels, stores, banks, fine residences, theaters, and costly bridges.  It had developed a toll-road system, and some thought had already been given to the construction of a railroad.

Grass Valley, as the name indicates is situated in a valley.  It is located on Wolf Creek four miles southwest of Nevada City and about thirty-five miles east from Marysville.  In the autumn of 1849 a company of miners settled on Badger Hill just east of town.  In December of that year Jules Rosiere opened a trading post at Boston Ravine; this was really the first store opened in Grass Valley.  The second store was established by Fowler Brothers in June 1850, and in the fall the first hotel was erected.

        In the early days of 1851 Grass Valley contained but two or three cabins, but its growth during this and the subsequent year was almost marvelous.  A school was opened and a post-office established in the year 1851.

        The most disastrous fire ravaged the town in September 1855, consuming over three hundred buildings and destroying much valuable property.  Another ruinous fire occurred in 1860 and still another in June, 1862.

        No richer or more extensive quartz veins were to be found than those in the vicinity of Grass Valley, and because of these the growth of the town was very rapid.  But like Nevada City it was however subject to many fluctuations caused by several rushes of the miners to newly reported gold regions, and by periods of depression and activity in the quartz-mining business.

        In 1870 it was the largest town in Nevada County - - considerably larger than the county seat.  It contained numerous well constructed halls, churches, school houses, and other public buildings.  It was supplied with gas and water works.  It had an efficient fire department and a well organized local government.  It was in easy communication with all parts of the State for the first class highway, the "Grass Valley and Illinoistown Turnpike" which intersected the line of the Pacific Railroad, was then completed.

Downieville, which lies in a deep canyon of the North Yuba, inclosed on all sides by mountainous ridges was once the busy center of one of the richest gravel regions of California.  It was first settled by William Downie after whom the town was named in the fall of 1849.  Growing suddenly up under the support afforded by the rich placers it soon had its halls and churches, its newspapers and theaters and everything indicative of progress in culture.  In April, 1852, upon the creation of Sierra County by the state legislature, Downieville was made the seat of justice which honor it has continuously maintained.

        Downieville is a most picturesque mountain town.  It is invested with interesting pioneer associations in regard to the early gold rush.  In 1870 it was still a thriving place, full of bustle and energy.



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