Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Adventures at the Empire Mine

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
The Empire Mine, located in Grass Valley, California, is one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest, and richest gold mines in California. Between 1850 and its closure in 1956, the Empire Mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold, extracted from 367 miles (591 km) of underground passages.
My grandparents lived in Nevada City, another town situated in the Mother Lode. Exploring gold mines became a summer ritual once I hit my teens. We'd find remnants lying on the ground in old garbage dumps and along the property not far from their house. Grandma and I found checks dated in 1901 from a gold mining company, crucibles (a ceramic container in which gold was melted at very high temperatures), and several other gold containers.
I remember the first time I visited the Empire Mine. We were able to step four feet into the mine to the place where the miners loaded and unloaded into the cart that carried them deep inside the mine.
We learned they kept canaries in cages. If one died, they knew methane gas (a colorless, odorless flammable gas that is the most common dangerous gas found in underground gold mines) was in the section they worked. The miners new they needed to vacate that area of the mine. They'd take mules down into the mines to carry what the miners dug out of the walls. They'd enter the mine before sunrise and come out after sunset.
The mules never saw daylight.
In Oct. 1850, George McKnight discovered gold in a quartz outcrop (ledge) called the Ophir Vein. It was bought and purchased several times until the Empire Mining Co. was incorporated in 1854. Miners from the tin and copper mines of Cornwall, England, arrived to share their experience and expertise in hard rock mining. Particularly important was the Cornish contribution of the Cornish engine, operated on steam, which emptied the depths of the mine of its constant water seepage at a rate of 18,000 gallons per day. This increased the productivity and expansion underground. Starting in 1895, Lester Allan Pelton's water wheel provided electric power for the mine and stamp mill. The Cornish provided the bulk of the labor force from the late 1870s until the mine’s closure eighty years later.
William Bowers Bourn acquired control of the company in 1869. Bourn died in 1874, and his estate ran the mine, abandoning the Ophir vein for the Rich Hill in 1878. Bourn's son, William Bowers Bourn II, formed the Original Empire Co. in 1878, took over the assets of the Empire Mining Co., and continued work on the Ophir vein after it was bottomed out at 1200 feet and allowed to fill with water. With his financial backing, and after 1887, the mining knowledge and management of his younger cousin George W. Starr, the Empire Mine became famous for its mining technology. Bourn purchased the North Star Mine in 1884, turning it into a major producer, and then sold it to James D. Hague in 1887, along with controlling interest in the Empire a year later.
Bourn reacquired control of the Empire Mine in 1896, forming the Empire Mines and Investment Co. In 1897, he commissioned Willis Polk to build the Cottage on land near the mine, using waste rock from the mine. The Cottage included a greenhouse, gardens, fountains and a reflecting pool.
PHOTOS:
Paisley Kirkpatrick
JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, c
Clark, W.B. - Gold Districts of California, Bulletin 193, California Division of Mines and Geology
Johnston, W.D. - The Gold Quartz Veins of Grass Valley, California, Professional Paper 194, USGS
Broken Promise is set in the California 1849 Gold Rush. The heroine inherits a gold mine and must discover its location to save her inheritance.
http://amzn.com/1612527485

10 comments:

  1. All I could think of were those poor pitiful mules who never saw daylight!
    The history of this mine is awesome. It's hard to believe there was that much gold down there. It makes one wonder how much has been overlooked in the past.
    Thanks for the research, and especially the great photos. Very good, Paisley! It was very helpful for your book Broken Promise.

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    1. Thank you, Celia. I thought the same thing I heard about those mules and the poor canaries. I visited the mine many times and thought it such an educational trip.

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  2. Paisley, while visiting our son several years ago, we visited the Empire Mine. We were amazed at how laborious and dangerous the work was for those miners day in and day out. Thanks for the opportunity to "revisit" that mine!

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    1. Thank you, Cheri. The miners didn't have much of a life and I doubt they saw very much daylight either.

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  3. I feel so sorry for those mules and the miners who never saw daylight. In my nursing career I had to work night shift when my rotation came around. After several nights I could feel the difference both physically and mentally. I felt tired all the time and began to lose my inner joy. Most people, and I'm assuming other animals as well, just aren't meant to be awake at night and asleep in the day--unless you're a vampire. It's dreadful.
    Okay, I looked at the picture of the "cottage" and thought I could use a little cottage like that. LOL
    This was such an interesting article about the Empire Mine and how it was run, Paisley. I wish you great success with Broken Promise. Love the title and your cover is amazing.

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    1. Thank you, Sarah. I'm glad everyone is liking this blog. I never know, but go with what interests me and this was awesome. My grandparents lived in such an interesting area and we loved to explore.

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  4. Excellent post, Paisley. I loved learning more about the mine. I'd be afraid the water engine would break and I'd drown. What am I saying? I'd never go down there in the first place! LOL That's quite a "cottage" in the photo, isn't it? Wishing you continued success with your writing.

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    1. Thank you Caroline. I'd never go down there either. Just walking down the four feet was scary. I remember the cottage to be extravagant and filled with beautiful furniture and artwork.

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  5. I always learn something new and amazing on your blogs. Love it.

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    1. Thank you Jay Morgan. I'm glad that you enjoyed my post. :)

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