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Days after celebrating Juneteenth, Nevada County welcomed its newest historical landmarks. The Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission is pleased to announce the Nevada County Board of Supervisors has designated the Kentucky Ridge Mine Site and the Grass Valley African Methodist Episcopal Church and School Site as Nevada County Historical Landmarks, NEV 21-01 and NEV 21- 02 respectively.

Kentucky Ridge Mine Site

Located near the intersection of Bitney Spring Rd and Lone Lobo Trail, the Kentucky Ridge Mine Site was the largest enterprise in California operated by enslaved Black labor despite California joining the Union as a free state. After gold was discovered on the site in 1851, former Florida plantation owner Colonel William F. English, one of over a dozen slave owners in Nevada County at the time, brought between 30 and 45 slaves from Florida and South Carolina to mine.

Chasey Sanks who was enslaved at the Kentucky Ridge Mine. Illustration: San Francisco Chronicle from October 11, 1903

After English died in a gun accident in August 1852, the mine failed. Some of the former slaves stayed and tried to mine for themselves, but most gradually migrated down into Grass Valley, many settling in the Boston Ravine area. Many of the slaves went on to be pillars of the community. Isaac Sanks, husband of Chasey, one of the slaves, became a religious leader, businessman, and newspaper reporter who helped to gain Black men the right to serve on juries and vote by 1870. Mr. Sanks may have been the first Black to run for public office in California, when he ran for Grass Valley town trustee in 1870.

Any questions regarding the Kentucky Ridge Mine Site should be directed to Chuck Scimeca at (530) 277-1573.

Grass Valley African Methodist Episcopal Church and School Site

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church grew out of the Free African Society that reached the west coast in the early 1850s. The Society was set up to provide mutual aid for “free Africans and their descendants.” In 1854, the Grass Valley AME Church was erected on what is now South Church Street on a formerly larger lot that currently comprises 315, 319, 321, and 323 S. Church St. The Grass Valley AME Church held weekly services and was known for its choir. It was used as a venue for concerts and political activities, raising funds for important civil rights causes of the era.

Map of the AME Church and School Site on Augustus Koch’s Birds Eye Map of Grass Valley, 1871. The Site is marked “6”

The need for a new school was brought on by the 1860s state law that allowed districts to provide segregated education for “Negroes, Mongolians, and Indians” who were prohibited from attending public schools with white children. In 1880, the expense of a separate school system for a relatively small number of Black children in California caused the state to abolish the segregation law.

As the Black population of Grass Valley declined towards the end of the 19th century, the church and school were sold at public auction in 1893, and the new owner sold off the property in four parcels where the Victorian homes we see today were built in 1894. The AME church and school were the Black community’s oldest and most important institutions in Grass Valley. The Church and School Site is the first Black institution to be landmarked in Grass Valley.

Any questions regarding the Grass Valley AME Church and School site should be directed to Linda Jack at editor@nevadacountyhistory.org.

The purpose of the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission is to promote the general welfare of Nevada County and its citizens through official recognition, recording, marking, preserving, and promoting the historical resources of Nevada County.