It is said that Grass Valley was named by settlers whose cattle had wandered from their campsite on Greenhorn Creek to a "grassy valley" nearby where the grazing was better. Miners panning for gold along Wolf Creek and a major discovery of gold-bearing quartz in 1850 started a boom. The "grassy valley" was an easy place to put up buildings. A store opened and the spot became known as Boston Ravine. For a short time it was called Centerville; then it became Grass Valley. As the number of wage-earning miners grew, Grass Valley became a trading center, and in November 1850 the first town election was held.
The 1860's and 70's saw things from 'boom' to 'bust'. WYOD, Pennsylvania, North Star, Empire and Grass Valley mines became known far and wide and drew miners from Cornwall and Ireland. As the mines fluctuated in production, miners came and went. Toward the end of the century the population stabilized and families expanded and became the norm. The commitment to keep the mines open and operating generated employment and opportunity, and as the middle class grew, social clubs, churches and schools provided increasing stability to the community.
Grass Valley mines produced well during the Depression of the 1930's, but closed temporarily during World War II. Not long after the war, production costs went off the scale, and almost one hundred years after it started, it was over. One by one the great mines closed down leaving behind colorful history, miles of subterranean tunnels and shafts - and gold.
Mill Street and its intersection with Main Street, the heart of Grass Valley, still retain much of the historic flavor of the Gold Rush. The spirit that established commercially successful quartz mining helps Grass Valley remain the commercial center of Western Nevada County. The Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber of Commerce has worked to attract more visitors to appreciate the City's colorful history and structures. An active Downtown Business Association helps maintain a vital business climate. The City of Grass Valley remains committed to providing an attractive and quality environment in which to live and work.
In March 1893, Grass Valley was incorporated and became a Charter City. The Constitution of the State of California grants to Charter Cities a large degree of control over local affairs, independent of the State government. The Charter can be and has been amended several times since it was established.
Grass Valley's Charter establishes a Council-Manager form of government, in which the elected Council provides political leadership and sets policy while a City Manager directs the various City departments in carrying out that policy.
The City of Grass Valley participates in a variety of ways with other governments and agencies. It has a representative on the Sierra Economic Development District Board, which covers Sierra, Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties. It is also represented on the Nevada County Transportation Commission which works on transportation issues of countywide concern, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) and the Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission.