At six years old Lotta Crabtree entertained audiences on stage at gold mining camps for the first time. This was the beginning of her long and prosperous life as a dancer, singer and banjo player. Crabtree was born in New York in 1847. She was considered by many, “the eternal child.” Many times Crabtree was asked to play children on stage because of her red hair and skill at being full of mischief, unpredictable and impulsive.
When the Crabtree family arrived in Grass Valley in 1853, they lived in a house on the same street as Lola Montez, an internationally famous dancer. Montez befriended Crabtree and urged her to continue in a career as a performer. Crabtree was a star at many California mining camps, including performances at the Nevada Theatre. She decided to try out the stages in San Francisco. By the time her parents moved to San Francisco in 1859, Crabtree had already captured the hearts of those living in the city. Crabtree was called “The San Francisco Favorite.”
A few years later, in 1863 Crabtree left for the East Coast to perform in stage plays. By age 20, she was a national star and owned her theatrical company. Crabtree’s peak years came in the 1870s and 1880s. She was earning $5,000 a week. She never married, although her life was filled with admirers.
As she continued to accumulate wealth from her successful career, Crabtree invested in real estate and made a fortune. When Crabtree retired at 45 in 1891 following an injury, she was one of the wealthiest actresses in America. She became a philanthropist and invested in charities devoted to animals, youth and other causes. After her death in Boston in 1924, Crabtree left an estate of $4 million in trusts that continue today to fund projects in her name.
She is also recognized for her support to build fountains. The most famous of Lotta’s Fountains was built in San Francisco, in 1875 at the intersection of Market, Kearney, Geary and Third Streets. The fountain survived the 1906 earthquake and fire and became a gathering spot for locals at the time to gather information.
The historical landmark at the Crabtree home is located at 238 Mill Street in Nevada City.
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.