Grass Valley Museum – Grass Valley, California - Atlas Obscura
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Grass Valley, California

Grass Valley Museum

A rich history stashed behind an unassuming door in the heart of Gold Country. 

Tucked away on the 2nd floor of St. Joseph’s Cultural Center is one of Grass Valley, California’s most hidden gems, filled with history, memorabilia and art of the small town that produced two of the richest gold mines in the Golden State. 

Even many of the locals have no idea what kinds of treasures reside behind the modest door facing the parking lot shared by St. Patrick’s Church and Mount Saint Mary’s Academy. A town rich with eccentric stories, boomtown era celebrities, and record-breaking Eureka strikes, the collection meticulously portrays almost every conceivable aspect of life in a booming mining town in the wild west of California. 

The deceivingly small door leads into a large museum maintained by the St. Joseph’s Cultural Center and the Mt. St. Mary’s Preservation Committee. The museum accepts donations but is free to the public, and the tour is led by knowledgable and engaged docents who have an answer for every question and have no problem with those who take their time gawking at the intricate doll houses, art, photos, and relics.

Much of the collection was donated by the nuns of St. Mary’s, who taught and cared for the children and orphans of the rapidly expanding and hazard-filled settlement. Some of the highlights include hair art woven from the locks of the sisters, a fully restored classroom including an attendance book from 1890, exotic dancer Lola Montez’s bathtub, and a disturbing but fascinatingly large amount of medical paraphernalia and records from the former hospital now eclectic bed and breakfast, The Swan Levine House.

Maybe one of the most interesting things residing in the museum is a table used for the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco in 1945, a gorgeous mosaic masterpiece that represents the impact this currently quaint town had on California’s history.