For Nevada City locals, there has always been complication explaining where they live, to someone who is not from Northern California.
"So Nevada City is not in Nevada..?" is the frequent response with folk from out of state. Yes, Nevada City is in Nevada County, which is in California.
And there can follow sarcastic remarks about how some up-start new state had clearly stolen the name!
The story often goes that the town of Nevada, founded in 1850, was forced to change its name to Nevada City to avoid confusion when the neighboring Nevada Territory was formed in 1861.
However, the truth is somewhat simpler. In nearly all legal and other reliable documents of the time, at least through the 1860s,
the town is referred to as the Township of Nevada and the City of Nevada, or simply as Nevada.
During the 1850s, being the third largest city in the state, the locals or anyone who lived in California, it was called just Nevada.
No one would have been confused about the name until 1861, as there was no other place of that name.
Its name was always Nevada City though.
The first US Post Office was established in the town on December 12, 1850
, under the name Nevada City.
Likewise, Nevada City was incorporated as a city in
And when Nevada County, which is
after the city
, was formed on April 25, 1851, Nevada City was named the county seat.
In March 1850, with the deep, deep snow still melting, the settlement called Caldwell’s Upper Store or Deer Creek Dry Diggings had a booming population of between
6,000 and 16,000
miners, making it at the time the third largest city in California,
after San Francisco and Sacramento. After a murder
and some other
local trouble, the miners elected a magistrate, aka alcalde, as the territory was still under local Mexican laws at the time. One of the town’s first inhabitants, Charley Stamps,
was elected to be the local judge. Although California had been under United States authority since February 1848, state laws didn’t take effect until California was finally
admitted as a state of the Union on September 9, 1850
On April 16, 1850
, as the election was counted, a crowd of somewhere between
gathered outside Peyton Womack
and A.B. Kenzie’s hotel
at the corner
of Commercial Street and Main Street
(Now the location of the Inner Path Yoga & Meditation Center).
Once the results were announced, it was suggested that the town needed a better name, a real name. On the spot, a write-in naming competition was held, with
slips of paper
passed out to all miners. Stories vary on how the name
came about, but as Aaron Sargent, later the town’s newspaper editor, then district attorney and US senator, wrote in 1856, “As the mountains were ‘snowy,’ and the winter had
been a ‘snowy’ one, it was not a very strange idea of calling the place ‘snowy,’ ‘snow covered’ or ‘
nevada’ as the word is in Spanish.” This final name
was first suggested by a store owner, Octavius
Blackman, although later his
partner, Edward H. Truex,
claimed he’d thought of the name first.
The State of Nevada
The Washoe area, then part of western Utah Territory, was renamed to form Nevada Territory from 1861 until Nevada’s statehood in 1864.
The state’s records show that the name was intended as a shortening
of Sierra Nevada. By the 1870s, all mentions of the older town used the name “Nevada City” to avoid any confusion.
The Sierra Nevada name was much older. It was first used to describe the snow-covered mountain range by Pedro Font, a Spanish missionary and map maker,
while he was exploring California in 1777.