Nevada City, California One Place Study

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Location: Nevada City, Californiamap
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The Fire of 1858 On May 23rd, 1858, a fire spread from a house on Broad street, two doors below the White Hall stables. The alarm immediately alerted residents who made strenuous efforts to extinguish the flames, but to no avail. The flames spread to adjoining buildings. Residents tore down the New York Hotel to avoid feeding the blaze, but soon all hopes of saving the wooden buildings in the business part of town was at an end. The fire crossed to the south side of Broad Street, and all the houses between the residence of Mrs. Von Poellnitz and Jesse Wall's brick store were destroyed. The Methodist Church, however, was saved by excessive blankets and water. The building at the junction of Broad and Commercial streets was torn down, effectively sparing all of the residences on Broad Street above Commercial. The fire slowly moved downtown, destroying all the wooden houses on the north side of Broad and on both sides of Commercial and Main Streets to the bridges. The Union Hotel, however was saved. The desperate and untiring exertions of many citizens for over an hour spared the Democrat Building and Lampe's barber shop. Had these two buildings caught fire, the flames would have crossed over to Spring Street and consumed the Baptist Church and a number of other residences. The flames also crossed the ravine to the east of Main Street, destroying the Gas Works and a number of buildings in the vicinity.

The slow-moving nature of the fire, however, created less destruction in total than the July 19th, 1856 blaze. Residents, this time, were fortunately able to save most of their movable property. Nearly three-dozen fire-proof bricks stood the fiery test and with their contents preserved.

The fire originated in a house occupied by Chinese residents, escalating a tone of prejudice throughout the town. The local newspaper, the Nevada Democrat, resorted to childish name-calling and recommended blatant discrimination as a solution to the problem. They claimed that "if white men will refuse to rent them houses, they can be kept out without trouble. If they must live in towns, let them build a town of their own."


  • I. J. Rolfe & Company (26-05-1858) The Nevada Democrat, Nevada City, California, Volume 5, Number 34, Page 1, 26 May 1858, accessed online at Chronicling America.

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