Echoes of Our Past – The Lone Pine: A Nevada County Landmark


Imagine for a moment the obituary of a scruffy tree, its roots exposed before the wind finally frees it.

Line from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson? No, he describes April 10, 1911, newspaper accounts of the death of the Lone Pine – a famous Nevada County nexus at a time when hydraulic mining was ravaging the landscape.

Earlier this year, the Nevada County Historic Landmarks Commission dedicated a plaque to Elder Hirschman Diggins, now known as Hirschman’s Pond, to honor our county’s first Jewish community, including Leb Hirschman, the mine owner. The pond, located above Nevada City, is a remnant of hydraulic mining – an environmentally destructive mining method that injected millions of dollars into the economy while dumping millions of tons of muddy “slickins” in the Yuba and other rivers.

The plaque drew criticism from some quarters for not mentioning that Hirschman’s success came at the expense of destroying the tribal lands occupied by the Nisenan, but this aspect of local history was addressed in a column by May Other Voices. It’s a story about the lonely pine.

Hydraulic mining began here in the early 1850s and continued unbridled until U.S. Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Sawyer, a former Nevada city attorney, issued his historic ruling. of 1884 Sawyer which essentially reduced the hydraulic devastation. His decision did not immediately eliminate all hydraulic activity, but the mines eventually closed.

Before collapsing in the spring of 1911, the Lone Pine at Hirschman Diggins was a living relic of the days of hydraulic mining. (To get an idea of ​​the size of the tree and the circumference of its roots, note the man standing near it).
Submitted to The Union

In the abandoned ruin of Hirschman Diggins stood a huge granite boulder with a single pine clinging to what little earth remained on top of the boulder – a sentry watching a huge hole in the ground. Then, from around 1900, when the hydraulic site filled with water and was populated by hundreds of catfish fry, the pond began to attract picnickers, fishermen, bathers and canoeists. And that’s when the tree was nicknamed the Lone Pine.

In 1905, the Grass Valley Daily Morning Union informed its readers that the local saloon of the Native Sons of the Golden West had formed a committee to “take care of the famous Lone Pine.” And although a team of living room adventurers climbed to the top of the huge boulder and attempted to stabilize the tree with cables, it soon tottered at a 70-degree angle, prompting the newspaper to report that “his end is near”.


The Lone Pine, however, was stubborn and remained atop its granite pedestal until April 9, 1911. The next day the Morning Union reported: “The Lone Pine, situated in the Hirschman Diggins, and which is known to nearly all the people of Nevada. County, ended its existence yesterday when it was blown away from the few feet of dirt in which its roots were encased.

“In the days of hydraulic mining,” the story continues, “this tree was the only one in this section that was not swept away by the violent force of the monitors. For years it stood, its roots exposed, and people who saw it wondered how the lonely tree supported its weight in such a small amount of soil. Photographers have depicted it on postcards and artists have painted it, but now the only evergreen has passed into history.

The April 10 Sacramento Daily Union also reported on the tree’s fate, stating in a headline: “Lone Pine Tree, Ancient Guardian of Gold Diggings, Is Swept Away.” The accompanying story announced: “Figuratively, the goddess of miner freedom in the early days, standing alone in the sky and seen at distances in all directions – the sole guardian of the ancient excavations near Nevada City – Lone Pine, a landmark that the oldest resident remembers, was swept away.

“For many years the tree withstood the storms of winter and the heat of summer…(but) gradually the earth washed away its roots and they became exposed,” adding: “The heavy storms of the beginning of this winter were more than he could bear and, after holding on for some time, he finally gave in and fell with a crash into the excavations which he had dominated for nearly half a century.

It’s not often you find an obituary for a tree on the front page, but the death of Lone Pine in 1911 was significant news for the community. The flowery words of tribute may have represented an over-romanticized version of Nevada County’s past — with no regard for the environmental damage wrought by hydraulic mining and the mistreatment of Nisenan who had lived here for centuries — but for many men and women who came here during the Gold Rush and stayed to grow with Grass Valley and Nevada City, the Lone Pine was a beloved relic.

Historian Steve Cottrell, former Nevada City Councilman and Mayor, can be reached at [email protected]

The Lone Pine at Hirschman Diggins was a popular tourist destination. When the site of the abandoned water mine finally filled with water and turned into Hirschman’s Pond, it became a favorite spot for picnicking, fishing, camping and canoeing. Today, the former Diggins neighborhood is owned and maintained by Nevada City.
Submitted to The Union

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