A Bird's-Eye View - Grass Valley, California

Like other towns of the Mother Lode Grass Valley exploded in population with the discovery of gold. Unlike most other boom towns, though, mining endured in this Nevada County town for over a century. Evidence of the impact of mining and sudden growth on the surrounding environment is found in an interesting source in the case of Grass Valley and many other American towns of the late 1800s: the bird's-eye view lithograph. Town boosters commissioned these wide angle artist's renderings to entice new businesses and population. Looking at a time series of bird's-eye views of Grass Valley provides a unique insight into not only the town's early history, but the environmental impact of its growth as well - particularly the impact on the surrounding forest.

Roll your mouse over the 1852 image below for a winter view of the town today.

Grass Valley









To Start You Thinking

Each of the thumbnail images above is linked to a larger bird's-eye view of Grass Valley in the year indicated.

As you study each image complete the table in the Bird's-Eye View worksheet comparing and contrasting various aspects of the town and the surrounding region over the period from 1852 to 1889.

1) Write a general description of the changes in the landscape of Grass Valley and the surrounding hills over the approximately 50 years represented in the paintings. Specifically discuss changes in the vegetation you see in the paintings.

2) Describe the specific evidence in the paintings that allows you to draw conclusions about the use of timber products and the extent of that use in and around Grass Valley.


bird's-eye images from Robert E. Ogilby, artist, View of Grass Valley [Nevada County, California, 1852 as found in the Online Archive of California, Identifier #BANC PIC 1963.002:0849--FR,

Kuchel & Dresel, artists, " Grass Valley, Nevada County, California, 1858" as found in the Online Archive of California, Identifier #BANC PIC 1963.002:1533--E,

Augustus Koch, artist, "Bird's-eye view of Grass Valley, Nevada County, Cal[ifornia] 1871" as found in the Online Archive of California, Identifier #BANC PIC 1963.002:0861--D..

image from Edwin S. Moore, artist, "Grass Valley, [Nevada County] Cal[ifornia] looking west, 1889" as found in the Online Archive of California, Identifier #BANC PIC 1963.002:0832--D.

Rick Thomas, View of Grass Valley, 2010. This picture was taken from the only semi open vantage point near those used by Ogilby and the other bird's-eye artists.

Last modified in June, 2019 by Rick Thomas