Articles and Press Releases

Plaque Commemorating Truckee's Chinatowns Dedicated on May 10, 2024 

On Friday morning, May 10, 2024, a large and enthusiastic crowd gathered at Truckee's Old Jail Museum to witness the dedication and unveiling of a plaque commemorating one of Nevada County's newest landmarks. Truckee's Chinatowns were declared a County historical landmark by the Board of Supervisors last June at the recommendation of the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission. The ceremony was scheduled for May 10, the 155th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, so instrumental in the development of Truckee and its Chinatowns. 

The principal speakers were Carissa Cyr on behalf of District 5 Supervisor Hardy Bullock, Truckee Councilmember Courtney Henderson, and  Alyce Wong, Chair of the Tahoe Forest Hospital District Board Of Directors, who spoke about the history of the Chinese experience in Truckee. Truckee-Donner Historical Society president Greg Zirbel and member Heidi Sproat unveiled the plaque and read its text.


This plaque will be featured in the Commission’s interactive landmarks map [] and in the next edition of its book Exploring Nevada County, a guide to all the County's historical landmarks. The book is available in electronic format for any smartphone or tablet from Apple or Amazon. Go to You Bet Press to find clickable links. 

Prefer paper? The paperback edition is available at local bookstores, museum gift shops and from Comstock Bonanza Press or Amazon. 

Mention in Episode of Wild Nevada on PBS 

Public invited to unveiling of Washington's Chinese Community landmark plaque

Did you know that in the 1850s, over 20% of Nevada County‘s population was Chinese and the town of Washington had one of the County's largest Chinese communities. Learn more on Saturday, May 27, 2023 at 11 AM when a plaque commemorating Washington’s Chinese Community will be unveiled. The Nevada County Historical Landmarks commission invites the public to attend the ceremony at the head of China Alley, which led down to the Chinese community. The Alley is located next to the General Store at 15382 Washington Road. Explore the rest of this historic town while you're there.

One of the most prominent Chinese families was that of Suey Chung (later better known as Fong Chow) and his wife, Lonnie Tom. Mr. Fong operated the nearby Omega Mine for some years.  The plaque was sponsored by their descendants, led by Professor Gordon Chang of Stanford University, who will attend and speak.


by Bernie Zimmerman

Spenceville was a ranching, farming and mining community located in the southwestern part of Nevada County, on Spenceville Road just east of Waldo Road, about 17 miles from Grass Valley.  Its elevation was about 400 feet. The former townsite is now part of the Spenceville Wildlife Area.


The area was long occupied by Nisenan Indians, and evidence of their habitation, such as grinding rocks, can be found in the area. White settlers and prospectors begin to arrive in the 1840s. The Nisenan were removed from the area by a series on treaties beginning in 1850, which the Congress never ratified. 

Spenceville was never a major gold producing area, in part because the very rich auriferous channel that runs down the San Juan Ridge turns west a few miles north of Spenceville, towards Smartsville and Timbuctoo. The early settlers were farmers and ranchers. In the early 1860s, copper ore was found while digging a well on Purtyman's Ranch. The Well Lead (or Lode), later known as the Well Copper Mine, and its surrounding ranch, soon became the town of Spenceville, named for Edward Spence, a druggist and property owner in Nevada City with interests in the Well Copper Mine. Spence also donated the lumber for a new school house built in 1868.


Copper mining at Spenceville expanded with the discovery of the Last Chance Mine, so called because James Downey had just about given up mining when he found a promising spot and proclaimed "this is the last chance - if I don't strike it here I'll give it up". Still, copper mining initially was not very profitable. Much of the ore was low grade and the early processes for extracting the copper from the ore were not very efficient.Generally ore had to be transported to a distant processing facility such as a smelter. There are even reports of copper ore being sent to Wales for processing.A fall in the price of copper following the Civil War caused a slump in the Spenceville copper mines.

In the mid-1870s, a number of the copper mines around Spenceville were consolidated into the San Francisco Copper Company. The Company substantially improved the roasting and leaching method for processing the copper and operated successfully for a number of years. In 1880, the engineering works, located above the mine, caved in. The mine continued to operate until 1887, falling victim to declining copper prices. In 1890, the Imperial Paint and Copper Company acquired the property. It did not mine but worked the refuse from earlier mining to manufacture a brown paint which was touted as fire and water proof and "superior to any of the metallic paints imported from the East or from Europe." Unfortunately, it was soon discovered that during rain, the sulphur in the paint produced sulphuric acid which ate into the heads of the nails holding down wood shingles and siding. In 1897, the property was acquired by the Spence Mineral Company for the purpose of manufacturing sulphuric acid. A fire in 1915 ended that enterprise.

World War I saw an increase in demand for copper and a revival of some of the Spenceville copper mines. Once the war ended in 1918, copper mining around Spenceville was largely shut down. Over $1 million of copper had been mined. The dark side of copper mining was that it created a lot of pollution and environmental contamination. Contemporary news articles report on the fumes from the copper smelter killing the greenery, including trees, in the area.


During the 1870s, the town had a post office, three general stores, a hotel and was home to about four hundred people. A school was established; it had 48 students in 1867. A new schoolhouse was built in 1868 on land where the Spenceville Copper Mine buildings were later built. The schoolhouse was then moved further up the road. Spenceville also had a Methodist Church and a Templar Lodge, organized in 1865. A Sunday school had 42 pupils in 1864. The town had a popular baseball team, the White Stockings.  A Spenceville election district was established in 1862. 50 people voted in the 1864 presidential election, 33 for Lincoln. The election district was discontinued as copper mining declined but reestablished in 1879. Spenceville was connected by stage to Wheatland, Smartsville and Grass Valley. In the early 1900s, there was considerable talk about a railroad being built to connect points in the Sacramento Valley with Grass Valley and Nevada City, running through Spenceville. It was promoted in part as expediting the shipment of copper ore from Spenceville, but the railroad never materialized.


Apart from mining, ranching and farming were prominent. As one historian noted, “Citrus fruits and all kinds of deciduous fruits grow here to perfection.” Just west of Spenceville, enterprising black farmers grew cabbages, which provided Vitamin C for miners to treat scurvy, giving rise to the town of Cabbage Patch, later Waldo. Sheep and cattle were pastured, wherever alfalfa and other grains were not grown.


One of the prominent Spenceville families was the Kneebones. Joseph Kneebone, Sr. came from Cornwall, England in 1867, and purchased a ranch near Spenceville. He started a successful teaming business transporting merchandise from Wheatland to North San Juan and as far east as Virginia City.  He and his wife Mary had seven children. In a family cemetery overlooking the Kneebone Ranch are buried five family members, including Joseph Sr. and Jr.. murdered about 20 years apart.

Another prominent family was the Bitners. Cyrus and Mary Bitner, and their two daughters, moved to Spenceville from Iowa in 1873. A Civil War veteran, Captain Bitner owned interests in a number of the copper mines around Spenceville as well as in gold mines throughout Nevada County. He served as Spenceville's justice of the peace.


With the collapse of copper mining following World War I, Spenceville began a rapid decline. The school district lapsed in 1920. The post office closed in 1932.  During World War II, the United States acquired by eminent domain much of the area around Spenceville and established a training facility. The town site, renamed Spenceburg, was used to simulate a German town. In 1964, the United States sold part of the land, and retained the part that became Beale Air Force Base. California acquired some of the land and created the Spenceville Wildlife Area. A lengthy and expensive effort to clean up the environmental contamination was completed by 2013. The Spenceville Wildlife Area has become a popular site for hiking and recreation. There are few traces left of the old town and mine.