I rather like the ancient Greek definition of the word "symposium." It meant a social gathering where people would share a drink or two, not just a solemn meeting in today's sense.

And speaking of symposiums, I went to a good one last month, one that had a bit of the Greek touch.

Along with more than 40 other history lovers from all over California, I went to Grass Valley to attend the fall symposium of the Conference of California Historical Societies.

We got a fascinating glimpse of the Gold Country during the hectic days of the mad rush to California when population numbers exploded with people coming here from all over the world.

There were miles of mining tunnels under Grass Valley. We saw giant machinery, such as the 30-foot Pelton water wheel -- biggest in the world -- which powered operations at the North Star Mine for more than 30 years. At the North Star Mining Museum we heard an enormous stamping machine crush rocks to get at itty-bitty flakes of gold.

We met Shelly Covert, a member of the Nisenan tribe of native people who had lived in that area for thousands of years before Europeans came and devastated their lives and culture. She sang a song handed down from generation to generation.

At the Firehouse Museum No 1, we saw a Chinese temple altar. The museum is housed in the firehouse that served Nevada City from 1861 to 1938.


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We ate dinner at the historic Holbrooke Hotel, where Presidents Grant, Harrison, Garfield and Cleveland had stayed. The hotel's present owner told us it was the oldest continuously operated saloon west of the Mississippi River.

The highlight of the symposium was our bus visit to the South Yuba River State Park. Not only had most of us historians never been to this lovely park, we didn't even know it existed.

The park, in the South Yuba River Canyon, is the home of the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, the longest single-span covered bridge in the country. The bridge was built in 1862 to replace a structure wiped out in that year's calamitous flood.

The park's volunteer docents told us about David Wood, who was responsible for building the bridge. Wood came to the Gold Country in the 1850s. He bought two existing bridges on the South Yuba and organized the 14-mile Virginia Turnpike Co.

Wood and his partners made good money on their investment. The bridge and turnpike earned $4,000 to $5,000 a month for the company's shareholders. It cost $6 for a team of eight horses and wagon to use the turnpike and bridge. A hog could cross for a nickel.

Published history writers lectured at our lunches and dinners. Chris Enss talked about the mail-order brides of the 1850s. From Richard Hurley and Terry Meekins we learned about California's politicians during the Civil War.

The next conference symposium will be in Napa in February and I will be there.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.