Take your kids to the museum this summer in Nevada City

On those days when your house is hot, your kids are wiggly and you don’t feel like sitting in the sun by the pool… take your kids to one of the local museums!

Firehouse No. 1 Museum

firehouse museum
Photo from Nevada City Chamber of Commerce

Completed in the Spring of 1861, this firehouse was home to Nevada Hose Company No.1 from 1861 to 1938. During those nearly 80 years, horse -drawn fire wagons and handcarts and “modern ” motorized fire engines rolled out the doors.

In 1947 the Nevada City City Council donated the use of the building to the Nevada County Historical Society to house its museum.

The brick building originally had a much simpler façade of the Greek revival style, with a tall bell tower.  In the early part of the twentieth century, the facade was replaced by the present Victorian gingerbread front. Today the firehouse has become a symbol of Nevada City. It is probably the most photographed building in Nevada City, as visitors are struck by its victorian grandeur.

Open Tuesday – Sunday 1-4 p.m. (May 1 – October 31, except holidays)

Wally Hagaman, curator
(530) 265-5468
215 Main Street, Nevada City

Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum

narrow gauge railroad
Photo from Nevada County Historical Society

Located in Nevada City, California, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum is dedicated to the preservation of local transportation history and artifacts from the narrow gauge railroad era.

In addition to the railroad, this Sierra foothills county boasted such turn-of-the 20th century transportation as an electric streetcar line, a steam powered automobile, and the first commercial airport in the United States.

Visitors are offered a docent-led historical tour of the museum, rail yard, and restoration shop.  Exhibited in the main gallery is Engine 5, an 1875 Baldwin that began service hauling lumber, then passengers and freight for the NCNGRR, and finally as a movie engine at Universal Studios in Hollywood.  The rail yard houses a collection of wooden rail cars, some restored, others awaiting their turn in the restoration shop.  The shop is usually a busy place with volunteers doing rolling stock maintenance and other restoration projects.  The museum’s Gift Shop offers visitors a choice of many railroad-related items.

Open Friday – Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (May 1 – October 31)
Closed Wednesday and Thursday and Holidays
School and group tours on other days by appointment

Free Admission (Donations always appreciated)

5 Kidder Court, Nevada City

The Searls Historical Library

nevada county historical map
Photo from Nevada County Historical Society

“A Researchers Gold Mine”

The Searls Historical Library is the archive of the Nevada County Historical Society. The original building was donated to the Society by the descendants of one of the earliest attorneys in the area, Niles Searls. Established in 1973, the Searls Library has become one of the premier libraries of materials on the area’s history, people and mines which contributed to the development of this county.

Researchers are welcome to access over 21,000 Nevada County historical photographs, nearly 3,000 printed books on early California and Gold Rush history, and nearly 1,000 maps of the area.

The Searls Library also contains innumerable original documents, including ledgers, diaries, old county records, and letters. The Searls family of attorneys also left their early law case records, many of which are the only copies in existence.

The volunteer staff is happy to help with research. Fees for use of the library are by donation. There are small fees for reproduction of photos, maps, and photo- copies of items.

If you cannot personally come to the Searls, inquiries are accepted by mail and the volunteers will do the research. The charge for this service is $20/hour, plus copying charges. If you are planning a visit, it is recommended that you call during business hours to verify that we will be available to help you.

Open Monday -Saturday, 1pm -4pm or by appointment.

161 Nevada City Hwy. Nevada City, CA 95959
(530) 265-5910

The Northstar Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum

northstar mine museum
Photo from Nevada County Historical Society

An exhibit of hundreds of mining artifacts, including a working Stamp Mill and Cornish Pump, the largest Pelton Wheel ever constructed.

No county in the Gold Country is more intimately connected with all aspects of gold mining than Nevada County. Here some of the earliest placer mining took place, here much of the hydraulic mining was practiced, and here deep quartz mining was started. Today, the placers are all but worked out, hydraulic mining was virtually forbidden in 1884 and the last of the deep quartz mines closed down in 1959. With gold advancing from $34 per ounce to over $400 per ounce, a number of small mines are now in operation. The equipment of the mines was sold or vanished in other ways. But for the efforts of some far-seeing citizens, such as Arthur Dowdell, former assayer of the Empire mine, only the foundations of former buildings from the mines or the immense chasms, left by the hydraulic operations, would remind one of the former great industries of Nevada County.

Arthur Dowdell collected a large number of objects relating to gold mining, which he presented to the Nevada County Historical Society in 1968. These objects formed the nucleus of the first Nevada County Mining Museum, which was opened on Mill Street, Grass Valley in that year.

Open Wednesday – Saturday 11-5, Sunday 12-4 (May 1 – October 31)

10933 Allison Ranch Road,
Grass Valley CA 95945

Empire Mine State Historic Park

empire mine
Photo by Brad Parrett

Each year Empire Mine welcome thousands and thousands of visitors from all over the world. Many come to discover the gritty hard-rock mining history, while others are lured by the splendor of Empire Cottage, with its glorious gardens and fountains.

Empire Mine State Historic Park’s close to 850 acres include miles of scenic trails for hiking, biking, dog walking and horseback riding. Bring a picnic lunch, and enjoy a memorable day at one of the oldest, largest and most prosperous gold mines in North American history.

In the early 1900s, Empire Mine was in its hey days. Stamp mills thundered 24 hours a day. You could set your watch by its haunting whistle that reminded local residents all systems were go at the prosperous Empire Mine.

Open for business from 1850 until its closing in 1956, Empire Mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold. Miners from Cornwall, England – and all over the world – left their homes to be part of the action.

Under the auspices of owner William Bourn, Jr. and successful mine manager George Starr, Empire Mine changed local, national and world history forever. Today visitors can walk in their footsteps – and experience what life was like in those heady times.

There’s prestigious Empire Cottage, designed by famed architect William Polk, and the Clubhouse known for its lavish entertaining. You can stroll through the rose gardens, and marvel at the majestic landscape. A visit to the Mineyard reveals the other side of prosperity. Here’s where shirt sleeves were rolled up for hard work, and mules were an essential source of power. The Machine Shop and Blacksmith Shop were the hubs for maintenance and progress.

A visit to Empire Mine State Park is a legacy of vision, hard work, and wondrous wealth. Tours, a film, artifacts, old mining equipment, factual interpretive panels, and a dramatic model all bring our golden history to life.

10791 Empire St.
Grass Valley. CA 95945
(530) 273-8522.

Daily Park Hours & Fees
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed holidays)

Entrance fees:
$7.00 ages 17 & over
$3.00 ages 6 -16
Children under 6 admitted FREE

Tours: Cottage, Mineyard and Grounds & Gardens included with the entrance fee.
Cottage Living History Experience is $2.00 and FREE for children under 6.

NOTE: Although credit cards are accepted in the Gift Shop, entrance fees must be paid in cash or by check.