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Nevada County has a diverse religious history. This web site is seeking a person to compile records for the following:

Catholic church in Grass Valley: including records of the convent and orphanage at St. Mary's
African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME)
Other Protestant Church records

At present our Nevada County GenWeb church records consist of very limited references.


Emmanuel Episcopal Church

As quoted in part from the Emmanuel Episcopal Church pamphlet printed about 1985 to celebrate a church anniversary:

"Grass Valley had its beginning when a few immigrants crossed the plains in the fall of 1849, built a cabin on Badger Hill (one-half mile east of the present town site), and engaged in placer mining. Previous to George McKnight's discovery in October 1850, on Gold Hill, men had remained only as long as they were satisfied with their placer mining efforts. Those who were not, left. Following discovery of gold quartz, however, the picture changed. News traveled fast and men bent on "striking it rich" came from all directions. Almost overnight, a boom town developed, as men joined forces to build cabins, supply stores and saloons.

"In the scramble for gold, the motto was "everyone for himself." Sunday was as good a day as any other for gold washing and trade, and to cease from labors on that day, was to relinquish the large yield of a day's work. Men of Christian families worked on the Sabbath as if their lives depended upon their exertions. It was the liveliest day of the week in a mining camp, and Grass Valley was no exception. Miners came into town to get supplies and it was then that saloons and gambling tables reaped a harvest of dust. A day of riotous pleasure - a gala day.

"Those that clung to their faith and customs and observed the Sabbath felt lonesome. A few missionary preachers soon followed the tide of immigration and sought to preach the word of God where so little heed was paid to it. About these, gathered the few straggling Christian representatives of all the denominations, and meetings were held in the streets, under wide spreading trees, in crude shake shanties and in private cabins.

"Everywhere the pioneer preachers were treated with respect and sermons in the street were listened to by crowds of idlers, drawn together by curiosity and caring but little whether the speaker was a minister or an auctioneer. No insult was offered them and no disturbances created - - except possibly by an occasional drunken man.

"Ministers went into saloons and gambling houses and were well received and listened to, with respect and attention. Instances were common where a preacher entered a gambling saloon, the game was suspended, a cloth covered over the tables and attention was given to him while he sang a hymn and spoke a few words. Collections were often taken up for his benefit and to aid him in building a church. As soon as the discourse was at an end, the cloths were removed from the tables, and the games went on as if there had been no interruption. In circulating subscriptions for the erection of houses of worship, the saloons were not overlooked and frequently they donated liberally.

"The Episcopal Church first officially arrived in Nevada County in the person of the Right Reverend William Ingraham Kip, but first Bishop of California. Bishop Kip presided at the first Episcopal services in Nevada City on April 21, 1834, and in Grass Valley the following day. Services and organization of the Episcopal congregation first took place March 20, 1855, in the old Masonic Hall on Main Street, which was located in an old wooden building between East and West Main Streets, where North Auburn Street takes off from Main Street. North Auburn Street was not yet a street, and a row of wooden buildings was erected by an early pioneer for rental purposes.

"The congregation was formally incorporated April 27, 1855 as Emmanuel Parish. Its first Rector was the Rev. W. H. Hill. When the Masonic Hall was destroyed by fire in 1856, the congregation moved to the Sons of Temperance Hall on Church Street. On December 11, 1856, the Gold Hill Mining Company donated to the parish, a valuable lot of land bounded by Church, Walsh and Mill Streets, on condition that a church edifice be erected within 18 months. The offer was gratefully accepted, and the present Emmanuel Episcopal Church was built at a cost of $6,000.00, and opened for worship on August 1, 1858, and was finally completed November 1858. Designed by architect William Bettis, a native of New York state, this church is one of the oldest religious buildings in the Sierra country. One of the few remaining examples of carpenter-Gothic architecture, it is built of wood, on a stone base, and features a high vaulted ceiling, supported by Gothic arches, Gothic windows and cruciform design.

"The first rectory was built in the fall of 1867. The Rev. D. D. Chapin was the Rector. It was later moved to the other side of the church and used as a parish hall. In 1897, the church and rectory were first lighted by electricity and were connected to sewer lines in 1899. In April 1898, the choir room and the church vestibule were added to the existing church, giving it it's present appearance. The present rectory was built in 1901, a Mr. Fox being the architect. It's first occupant was the Rev. W. H. Fenton Smith. The rectory was to be an eight room house to be completed in four months at a cost of $2,260.00. The actual cost was $2,355.00 and was financed by a legacy of $1,000.00 from the Polglase Estate, and the sale of church lots facing on Mill Street, as well as private subscriptions. NOTE: After the rectory was moved from the corner of Walsh and Church Streets to the present location of Parish Hall, the Rev. W. H. Fenton Smith, on October 12, 1901, opened a library and reading room with donated books, magazines and papers. Checkers, chess and other games were provided for those who did not care to read. This incidentally was the first public library of Grass Valley, presided over by volunteer attendants of the church.

"The present Parish Hall was erected in 1937 under the direction of the Rev. Charles Washburn, and has proved of great benefit to the congregation and others, during the many years of constant use."


Dates Names
1855-1856 The Rev. W. H. Hill
1856-1858 The Rev. C. M. Hitchcock
1858-1859 The Rev. H. O. Smeatham
1860-1861 The Rev. John Chittenden
1862 (Church Closed)
1863-1866 The Rev. R. F. Putnam
1866-1869 The Rev. D. D. Chapin
1869-1874 The Rev. A. P. Anderson
1875-1876 The Rev. J. H. Wingfield
1876-1878 The Rev. R. E. Pidlsey
1878-1885 The Rev. W. C. Powell
1885-1886 The Rev. W. H. Lynd
1887-1889 The Rev. E. Lewis
1889-1893 The Rev. A. H. Wilcox
1894- The Rev. W. M. Reilly
1895-1898 The Rev. E. Van Deerlin
1898-1899 The Rev. T. F. Marsden
1899-1903 The Rev. W. H. Fenton Smith
1903 (Jul & Aug) The Rev. W. A. Rimer
1904-1906 The Rev. Charles E. Farrar
1907-1908 The Rev. C. M. Hitchcock
1909-1912 The Rev. Isaac Dawson
1913-1920 The Rev. Bert Foster
1921-1924 The Rev. H. V. Harris
1924-1927 The Rev. T. D. Reynolds
1927-1930 The Rev. W. C. Pearson
1930-1939 The Rev. Charles Washburn
1940- The Rev. H. H. Pateman and The Rev. E. P. Runnels
1942 The Rev. M. Norton
1944-1951 The Rev. Frank Buck
1951-1955 The Rev. Karl Markgraf
1955-1960 The Rev. Harry Leigh-Pink
1961-1966 The Rev. William F. Bohn
1967-1970 The Rev. Franklin B. Dalton
1972-1983 The Rev. Francis O'Reilly
1983 The Rev. Donald West
1983- The Rev. David G. Davidson
Note: No explanations given for unassigned years.


Hallowed Were the Gold Dust Trails (Story of the Pioneer Priests of Northern California) by Henry L. Walsh, S.J. (1946/47)
Christine Helm

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This page last updated: 4 July 2015

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