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Overland Emigrant Trail (No. 799 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District
Trail map illustrating Emigrant Trail and other routes –

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder.

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

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As news of the discovery of gold in 1849 traveled around the world, millions of people packed up their belongings, left their homeland and traveled to California in wagons and by boat. As many as 30,000 settlers are estimated to have used the Overland Emigrant Trail in just one year.

While the scene may be silent now, take yourself back to the 1850s and 1860s and imagine the sounds of the wheels on covered wagons rolling slowly up the steep slopes of the Sierra, on primitive trails, through thick brush, dense tree cover, boulders, uneven terrain, Native American attacks, and challenges from unsettled weather. Weary and footsore travelers lost loved ones along the way who were either not strong enough to make the journey, died in accidents, or fell ill with no suitable medical care in the vast prairie. Imagine the effort required to pull covered wagons up the side of steep cliffs with ropes and pulleys.

The Overland Emigrant Trail marker stands to recognize the multiple hardships of the pioneers as they traveled west seeking a fortune from gold or just the promise of a new life. The Overland Emigrant Trail is one of a complex series of trails that crossed most Midwestern states to eventually lead into Utah, California, Oregon, and Washington.

The historical marker is located on California Highway 49 about 10 miles south of Grass Valley.

Nevada County

Nevada means “snow-covered” in Spanish. During winter months, Nevada County’s eastern border is wholly engulfed in the snows of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In the 1840s and 1850s many emigrants arrived in California via the Overland Emigrant Trail which threaded through the infamous Donner Pass.

Time Period Represented


Nearby Places