On Sunday, September 18, an enthusiastic crowd of about 50 people gathered in front of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad kiosk at the corner of Sacramento Street and Railroad Avenue in Nevada City for the unveiling and dedication of a historical plaque commemorating the hundreds of Chinese workers who helped build the NCNGR. The kiosk sits on the site of the Nevada City terminal of the NCNGR.
Community members and visitors learned how more than 10,000 Chinese men came to America under contract of employment, aiding in connecting Nevada City and Grass Valley to Colfax and the Central Pacific Railroad.
Guest speakers included Andrew Brandon, Curator of the NCNGRR Museum, Bernie Zimmerman, Chairman of the NC Historic Landmarks Commission, and John Christensen, Director of the NC Narrow Gauge Railroad & Transportation Museum. Dr. David Yee, a member of the California Commission on Asian & Pacific Islander American Affairs, shared a poignant personal connection while delivering a framed California Senate Resolution that posthumously honored Chinese Narrow Gauge Rail Workers. The Resolution was signed by Honorable Richard Pan of the 6th Senatorial District and Honorable Brian Dahle of the 1st Senatorial District.
Dr. Yee shared how his great, great, great Grandfather immigrated in 1850 and helped to treat the Chinese Narrow Gauge Rail Workers, his medical contributions are referenced in the California Museum. Additionally, Dr Yee’s maternal ancestors helped build the railroad. Dr. Yee shared how more than 10,000 Chinese men were recruited from the southeastern coastal province of Guangdong. Following the NCNGRR completion, many returned to China, while hundreds stayed on helping to build the Transcontinental Railroad, as well as the Sacramento levee systems. Approximately $270 million in gold value traveled between the NCNGRR and the Transcontinental rails.
Grass Valley resident, Patty Lum-Ohmann, shared how important it was for her to participate in the plaque dedication, as both her Grandfather and Great Grandfather worked across the Sierras building the railroads. Chinese Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS) Executive Director, Jeannie Wood, also felt the significance of the event, having just returned from a tour about the Chinese contributions to the development of the Yosemite Valley National Park.
The plaque reads:
“In the race to build the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Central Pacific Railroad recruited over ten thousand young men from China, creating a skilled and dependable work force. Upon completion many of these workers, who had come to America under contract for employment, returned home to China. Others remained to find employment building railroads throughout the United States.
This site marks one end of the 22-mile Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad that connected Nevada City and Grass Valley with Colfax and the Central Pacific Railroad. After construction of the NCNGRR started in 1875, over three hundred Chinese immigrants labored to build the railroad. They built the railroad grade over the rugged and uneven terrain between Colfax and Grass Valley, scaling canyons, filling ravines, and preparing the way for bridges and trestles. Using hand tools, horse drawn scrapers, hand carts, and their determination, they completed the task in early 1876. Although considered more dependable than white workers, they were paid less.
When the railroad was completed in 1876 most of the Chinese moved on to other railroad construction projects, A few Chinese workers remained as track workers maintaining the NCNGRR. Apart from laboring on the railroad, several Chinese businessmen in Nevada City were investors and retained stock in the company into the 20th century. The contributions of Chinese immigrants were an essential element in the building and success of the NCNGRR.”