Into the field! we shouted with glee as we decided to take a break from museums and return to dusty courthouse books and cemeteries. Libraries may be productive for finding one's relatives names, but there's nothing like visiting the place where they lived. Gilpin County Courthouse
Great great aunt Ellen Rowe was one of our more adventurous forbears. Leaving St. Austell, Cornwall with her family when she was 16, she lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; then in the southwest Wisconsin lead fields. We knew she died in Bisbee, Arizona, but when we visited Bisbee, we discovered she'd been married twice and had first lived in Nevadaville, Colorado. Now we know the family moved on to Silver City, New Mexico.
Nevadaville is a mile up the road from Central City, which in turn is a mile up the road from Blackhawk, which has been Discovered by Nevada Gaming Interests. So in addition to one-lane traffic due to road construction, our trip to the courthouse was impeded by busloads of gamblers coming and going. And this was a quiet Wednesday after Labor Day!
All the aforesaid towns were mining towns; all were built in narrow canyons, with a long skinny Main Street stretching up and down, lined with gold rush hotels, saloons and opera houses. We missed the courthouse on the first pass and had to snake back down the canyon to the tiny parking lot. Bald Mountain Cemetary [sic]
Wonder of wonders there were no metal detectors. The back door was open, and while we were thumbing through deed books, the squirrels were running in and out of the courthouse! Well, it turned out the reason there were no metal detectors was that the trials were now being held in the sterile new Gilpin County Justice Center, about ten miles out of town. All that was left in the lovely old building were the files and the assessor's office. The county commissioners occasionally met upstairs. It was lovely!
We admit to being very lucky with our genealogical investigations; we can offer no rational explanation. In this case the first page we turned to had the location of a deed, and we were off and running. Within an hour we had located the deeds and mortgages which told the story of the young couple's life in Nevadaville. They came as newlyweds in 1869, bought and sold three houses and a silver mining claim in succession by April 1880, when Ellen's husband James Nicholls raised $1000 and headed for New Mexico. On 31 December he executed a power of attorney to Ellen to sell the house, sent it to Colorado, and on 11 Jan 1881, Ellen had sold the house and presumably headed south with the four children. We actually drove through Silver City last fall, but didn't know that James and Ellen lived there. So we'll have to go back and find out how he died. James Albert's grave
A history of Gilpin County for that time says, "The Gilpin County towns were known throughout the mountains for their relative sobriety and want of violence. Society here early acquired tone, and managers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, and others of substance, brought their families, their crystal and china, their fine linens and furniture to establish homes.
"The workers in mines mills and smelters were also a rather sober lot. Cornish miners sang at their work, and every day at high noon Cornish housewives, starched and scrubbed, paraded up the roads to the mines, with silver-like pails containing hot lunches for their men."
Some of the oldest journals in the vault (yes, the records were kept inside an old bank vault, which reminded Bob of his first office at his last job) had a noticeable layer of dust. We found the handwritten pages where the miners' laws were first written, and account books from the local general store and many records of claims of silver mines. If we were just doing local history we could have remained happily for days.
Out in the main corridor of the courthouse hung a faded old plan of Bald Mountain Cemetery, and it just so happened that we looked up on the wall and there in front of our eyes was the name of James and Ellen's son James Albert, who died just before his fourth birthday. Dumb luck. Everybody in the courthouse had a hand in directing us to the cemetery, so we set out up and up and up the road until it became a dirt road and we followed a switchback and Nevadaville's main street climbed up and up and came to a crossroads and our luck held and just down the road was the cemetery where we walked right to the grave, our luck still holding.
Turning right after we left the cemetery we descended the mountain and luckily found the ghost town of Nevadaville. Actually, not quite a ghost town, as a dozen buildings remain standing, but there are lots of ruins of fallen down buildings and abandoned mines. We took pictures and imagined where James and Ellen lived.
We stopped back in Central City for lunch at the restaurant on the second floor above the E Z Street Casino. The casino itself reminded us of those of small mining towns of Nevada, with banks of slot machines. But the slot machines are up-to-date. A shuttle bus carries tourists from the big casinos in Black Hawk up to these smaller places where they can sightsee along the restored main street.
We never did find the Gilpin County Library, but we had enough information to keep us busy for hours updating our genealogy databases.