Prior to the Gold Rush, there were several thousand indigenous people inhabiting our area, Nisenan in the west and Washoe in the east. The arrival of gold prospectors was catastrophic for them, most of whom perished with the influx of prejudice, violence or sickness. However, Nisenan people are still members of the western county community and currently there is one protected Nisenan burial ground within the Nevada Cemetery District.
Our modern county history begins in 1848, when discovery of gold along the lower Yuba river brought the first emigrant settlers to Penn Valley, the site of the oldest recorded non-indigenous settlement in what is now Nevada County and home to three early historic cemeteries managed by the Cemetery District. People of all nationalities soon rushed to work the rivers, streams, and burgeoning mines.
By 1850 Boston Ravine, soon to become Centerville, then Grass Valley, and Ustumah, the Nisenan village, soon to become Caldwell’s Upper Store, then the City of Nevada, were formed. Nevada County was formally established in 1851, from portions of Yuba County. Communities of emigrants arose throughout Nevada County and the need for cemeteries coincided with their arrival. Many of these early localities had their own cemeteries, often located on a hillside a short distance from the town. Now, the cemeteries are respectfully tended by Cemetery District personnel.
The earliest cemeteries were often tended by community members, churches, and fraternal orders. By the 1880s, official cemetery committees were being formed, acting as stewards of the regional cemeteries. Cemetery maintenance became increasingly difficult as mining declined and many of the towns with cemeteries became ghost towns. In 1942, the Rev. Fathers P. J. O'Reilly and John McGary petitioned the Board of Supervisors to create an entity that would provide and maintain the cemeteries. The Board put the issue on the ballot and that same year, the voters created the Nevada Cemetery District. A vote in 1946 expanded the District's boundaries to include much of western Nevada County. Eastern Nevada County is served by the Truckee Cemetery District.