There were a lot of pioneer entrepreneurs who left their mark on the landscape of the Sierra Nevada mineral valleys during the height of the California Gold Rush, but John and Sarah Kidder were among the biggest hitters.
John Flint Kidder was a politician and civil engineer who in 1875 moved to the burgeoning gold rush settlement of Grass Valley, California, to serve as chief engineer during the construction of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad (NCNGRR) in Northern California. Soon he was promoted to general superintendent, and soon after Kidder became president of the successful railroad, as well as secretary and treasurer. He appointed his family to the supervisory board, and between the railroad and the four mines he owned, he and his wife Sarah were officially multimillionaires by 1884.
Along with her ambitious husband, Mrs Kidder has led a busy existence as the richest woman in town. A member of the highest society that a rugged mining town could possibly support, Sarah hosted lavish tea parties and balls at the fabulous Kidder Mansion, a beautiful scroll saw estate surrounded by lush flower gardens, located just behind the depot of downtown train that paid for it. Residents were asking for invitations to the beautiful house which often hosted Senators, Governors and frequent visitor Mark Twain, a good friend of the Kidders. When not entertaining or worshiping her adopted daughter Beatrice, Sarah donated her time to the many orphans left behind in town by the perilous mining industry and brought a little grace to the mountain town. flashy thanks to her classic ways of entertainment and charity, but it wasn’t until John’s death in 1901 that Sarah found her true calling: business.
Praised as “the most important man to the well-being and advancement of Nevada County,” John Kidder finally succumbed to diabetes in 1901 after a long illness. Before he died, he ceded his railroad stock to his wife Sarah, giving him control of three quarters of the share capital. Within a month, Sarah Kidder was elected the first female president of a railroad. Although she never showed much interest in anything outside of her domestic life until this monumental turn of events, her presidency became known as the “twelve golden years” in due to the line becoming more profitable than it had ever been before or ever would be in the future, surpassing both her husband who built the line and the men who ultimately bought it in 1913.
After selling her stock, Sarah retired to San Francisco to live quietly the rest of her life. The railway finally closed during WWII and the mansion was abandoned in the center of town. In 1940, an asphalt-filled tank car caught fire at the depot, and the depot building and Kidder Mansion were extensively damaged.
Now only the foundations of the mansion remain from which one can barely trace the once majestic rooms, and the vegetation-covered depot staircase, both of which went unnoticed by the locals in a quiet street that is no longer considered the city center.