Welcome to Rough and Ready, the Tiny Town That Used to Be a Republic

3 min
The old Rough and Ready Hotel.  (Courtesy Jayna Ashcraft)

A lot of us Californians like to hit the open road, explore miles of highway and venture off onto some back roads. Sometimes, we come across towns with some pretty bizarre and surprising names. For this installment in our series “A Place Called What?!” we head to Rough and Ready, California. Know an unusual place name in California? Tell us about it in the comments below, or send a note to calreport@kqed.org.

Jayna Ashcraft and her husband have lived in Rough and Ready for 17 years.  But when she tells people where she lives, sometimes they don't believe her.

"They go, 'Are you kidding me?' " Ashcraft says. "When I've ordered stuff from different companies, they call back to double-check, making sure that is in fact Rough and Ready."

To add to the disbelief, the Ashcrafts also live on To Hell and Back Lane. "I think that kind of makes people shocked," she tells me. "Or they laugh. Usually it's a good laugh."

Rough and Ready is a Nevada County town about 5 miles west of Grass Valley, but don't let its size fool you. This tiny place has a big, presidential history.

The old Fippin Blacksmith shop in Rough and Ready. (Courtesy of Jayna Ashcraft)
Jayna and Craig Ashcraft in front of the Fippin Blacksmith shop. (Jayna Ashcraft)

Rough and Ready got its name from Captain A.A. Townsend, who served under President Zachary Taylor, whose nickname was "Old Rough and Ready." When Townsend arrived in 1849 and found some mineable gold, he reported back to his president and named the town after him.

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Ashcraft says history is a big part of what makes living in Rough and Ready special.

"It's that kind of community where we're very involved with our little town. We're very proud of our history."

But there's plenty of present-day charm here, too.

"When we first got here I was very charmed by a group called the Fruit Jar Pickers," says Ashcraft.

"They were just starting out with a group of maybe six men at the time, who would just get together on the front porch of the market and play homemade instruments."

The Grange in 1848. (Courtesy of Jayna Ashcraft)
The Grange today. (Courtesy of Jayna Ashcraft)

If you visit Rough and Ready, you'll see stores selling hats, flags and mugs emblazoned with "The Great Republic of Rough and Ready."

This name comes from a moment in history when the townspeople of Rough and Ready decided to secede from the nation.

It was 1850, and the townspeople didn't want to be taxed without government representation. They took a vote and sent paperwork to Washington, D.C.

But the Great Republic didn't last too long.

"Three months later ... some of the townspeople who went to Nevada City to purchase booze for their celebration were not allowed to do so because they were 'foreigners.' They went back to the town and decided to join the nation again," Ashcraft says with a laugh.

The oldest headstone in the Rough and Ready Cemetery, where the Ashcrafts plan to be buried. (Courtesy of Jayna Ashcraft)

Ashcraft and her husband have no plans to leave Rough and Ready anytime soon. In fact, they just bought their plot in the old cemetery where they want to be buried.

Ashcraft thinks this is a place that all Californians should stop and visit.

"I think if you're just driving down the road, you're going to blink and miss it. There's so much more there. Don’t pass history by!"

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