Nevada City History


The Ditches of Nevada City

The Untold Story of Nevada City’s Gold Mining Ditches, the Men Who Built Them, and Their Thirst for Water and Power
by Dom Lindars, 884 pp., $165.

Now available in hardcover at local book stores in Nevada City and Grass Valley.
Or through in hardcover and ebook or on Apple Books and Google Play.
Praise for The Ditches of Nevada City:
- Amazon Review - “...Dom Lindars has created a treasure trove that so many people will be able to draw from. The breadth of information and photos included in this book, combined with an unpretentious, approachable narrative, make it both a valuable resource and a highly enjoyable read.”
- Book Review by Bill Oudegeest from the Donner Summit Historical Society.
This book tells the history of Nevada City, California, through the eyes of the men that built it. This vivid portrayal follows the area’s evolution from the chaos of thousands of miners scratching out a living in clusters of muddy tents to a genteel town with hotels, stores, banks, theaters and libraries. It was a Machiavellian “mining-first” mentality that drove forty-niners to plunder the area’s gold-rich streams and hills. In their single-minded focus, they dug up, sluiced and blasted away millions of tons of pay dirt, forever altering the landscape. They flooded out downstream farms and towns, and polluting the rivers with no thought for the impact of their actions.

Beyond the Gold Rush

This narrative traces the enduring stories of ingenuity and hard work of the town’s gold miners and ditch builders, while uncovering the origins of various local neighborhoods, like Hirschman's Pond, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Scotts Flat, Manzanita Diggings and Gold Flat. Shortly after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, fortune seekers came flooding into California by ship into San Francisco, via wagon on the Overland Trail, and later on the Pacific Railroad. The men who rose to power in Nevada City from the 1850s, through the Civil War years and into the 1890s introduced the nascent technologies that helped create what today is one of the world’s largest economies, from the Pony Express and the telegraph to electric lights, steamboats, and the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. At the same time, it recounts the darker tales of land lust and xenophobia. These new settlers pushed out local Native Americans, took part in the battles at Pyramid Lake, and even helped create the Chinese Exclusion Act, which fueled racist actions against immigrants of Asian descent for nearly 100 years.

Local Nevada City Focus

This journey began as a search to uncover Nevada County’s sprawling network of ditches. These made and lost fortunes during California’s Gold Rush and in the years that followed. The arc of the story turned into a comprehensive look at the people and companies of one of the most historically significant areas in the fledgling state of California. The Ditches of Nevada City features never-before-told stories of the gold miners and business owners, and of the ruthless and greedy ditch company and the rivals that it crushed. The resulting ditch monopoly not only powered the development of hydraulic mining, but also created a distribution network that enabled the industrialization of water. In 1884, the landmark Sawyer Decision finally exposed the tremendous, irreversible environmental damage done by hydraulic mining, bringing to an end the practice of washing away entire hillsides to extract gold from ancient riverbeds. The domineering ditch company, though, held on to the legacy of their water ditch network that enabled the next generation of monopoly to provide electrical power. This in turn led to the now forward-looking stewardship of the Nevada Irrigation District.

Untold Stories, Rich Images

This compelling account includes previously unpublished family histories, along with detailed descriptions of nineteenth-century ditch construction and mining techniques compiled from over 5,000 meticulously researched sources. The unique format of this book blends beautiful archival images with in-depth biographies of the key ditch builders and gold miners in Nevada City and others whose legacies live on in California and US politics, legislation and industry. This large hardcover book includes over 600 full-color illustrations, including 200 historic photographs and 75 hand-crafted maps based on modern lidar technology that reveal the locations of the old mining ditches, flumes and tunnels.

About the Author

Dom Lindars is a historian and genealogist with a passion for storytelling and discovering unsung heroes. He grew up in England and moved to California in 1995, where he worked in software product development in the Bay Area. After leading several unspectacular startups, Dom ran teams designing the next generation of cloud software until retiring in 2019. A resident of Nevada City since 2013, he enjoys researching and writing about the town’s gold mining history.

You can find his professional profile here on LinkedIn.

Other Books to Read

If you enjoy journeying into the past, the following books may be of interest as they are similar historical explorations of California, each with different perspectives:
Rush for Riches: Gold Fever and the Making of California (1999) by J.S. Holliday

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California (2019) by Mark Arax

Gold vs. Grain (1959) by Robert L. Kelley
And the following are original texts of early Nevada City history that are fascinating to read with more context:
”Sketch of Nevada County,” from Brown & Dallison’s Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Directory (1856) by Aaron A. Sargent

Way sketches; Containing incidents of travel across the plains from St. Joseph to California in 1850 (1926) by Lorenzo Sawyer

The Diary of a Forty-Niner (1906) by Chauncey L. Canfield

Background Image
Flume and canal plans by Fred Tibbetts in 1921.
Source: NID.
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