‘Good for the soul’: ‘Windows on History’ provides glimpse into Nevada City’s past — and present

If you are looking for something to do before the cold and wet days of winter set in, Nevada City has a fun COVID-19 friendly activity taking place throughout October. “Windows on History” is an annual display of historic photographs of the former county seat. Take yourself on a self-guided tour and see some of photographs of the Nevada City of yester-year, sitting in or near the location in which the photo was taken.

One of the original founders of Windows on History Eileen Jorgensen said, “The photos are by and large — if not in the shop the picture represents — it is nearby.” The photographs themselves are quite large and easy to spot at 20 by 24 inches and require the cooperation of the business owners who are happy to put the history of the town on display.

Jorgensen explained that the idea was part of the work of the now defunct Nevada City Business Improvement District.

“Fifteen years ago we had a business improvement district in Nevada City and that was a project we did, on top of so many other wonderful things. It’s such a fun project.”

Jorgensen said she organizes this trip through history because she is interested in the town and as a merchant (The Magic Carpet) for 40 years, she realizes the importance of getting people excited about this well preserved community. “We all think the history is our gold mine. People want to step back and want to see how people lived. We are very fortunate to have a historic ordinance in place.”

The Motherlode architectural design is mandated by the ordinance written in the late 1960s by the city council. It includes restrictions on wood, brick, shutters, gables and other elements that preserve the beauty of the era.

The photographs included in Windows on History were researched through historical museums, libraries, societies and private families to pair the photographs with captions that give the viewer a sense of walking into the past. The focus of the project is of streetscapes of Nevada City taken between 1850 and 1920.

“In the past we had cultural events that went along with it,” said Jorgensen. “The BID (Business Improvement District) felt that was what people wanted. They wanted to promote that in our town. And that retail and hospitality and real estate and everything would do well if we were to show off our town.”

Now a Chamber of Commerce event, the photographs are displayed in about 30 storefronts along Broad, Commercial and Spring streets. Jorgensen said the project is a reminder of the history of Nevada City.

“It is really remembering how unique our environment is, and how fragile it is and to have a look back at how people lived 150 years ago. It’s not many places you can go and see this.”

“Everybody came here to be around the water. The town center was where Lefty’s is now. The freeway cut right through the town.” Jorgensen said you can see that in several of the photographs.

This year two retailers are featured with displays that tie to the photographs. One is Gold Mountain at 312 Broad Street. The tea shop window has an exhibit of Chinese families that lived in the area and the photographs added are of the Chinese Quarter.

The other partnered business is the Odd Fellows Hall located at 225 Broad Street. Jorgensen said it is the oldest building in town.

“They have an exhibit already with the suffragettes. There is a big history with the founding of the Odd Fellows Hall and the suffragette, and they are honoring that. We added photos of lower Broad Street during the suffragettes time.”

Each photograph comes with a companion story about the history of Nevada City. When pressed for a favorite, Jorgensen said, “The 4th of July coming down the street. There are no spectators. Everyone is in the parade and I think that is classic. The streets are completely empty, and everyone is in the parade.”

Jorgensen said she, along with Leea Davis of The Earth Store, are the “survivors” of the project, doing the lion share of the work and she would love to see some new, preferably young people get involved.

“I would love to have some young, wonderful person step up and redo this now because we have the Chinese experience and the Niesenan, so it really needs to be added to. I am hoping that happens before I fade away.”

“In this particular place so much has happened, it’s nice we can see and have a look back to see how people lived. It isn’t all pretty, but they did some good work with a lot of collaboration,” Jorgensen said. “People want to come to what we have. I think it is very healing for people to come to this semblance of beauty and simplicity – with no neon lights and no franchises. It’s a good thing for the soul.”

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at [email protected]

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