Empire Mine


Becoming California, stories from California Gold Rush History

In 1850 George Roberts discovered an outcropping of quartz which led to a vein of gold called the Ophir Vein. Investors arrived from other areas to buy the land that might contain the rich ore. Shafts or tunnels were dug into the earth. This type of mining was known as quartz or hardrock mining.

In l850 the Empire Mine in Grass Valley was opened at the site of the Ophir vein. Miners were brought from Cornwall, British Isles, because of their knowlege and experience as tin miners. Most of the Cornish men who lived in Grass Valley worked in the Empire Mine.

Over the years several different people owned the mine. William Bourn Jr. and his cousin, George Starr made the mine into a productive working mine. They also built a beautiful stone cottage, gardens, fountains, dance areas, and social clubhouses to entertain their guests.

In 1874 the mine shaft went down to the 1,250 foot level and they brought 11,000 tons of dirt and rocks from the inside of the mine.

During that time miners used dynamite to blast the shafts open. There were also mules that lived inside the mine . The mules were used to haul the heavy ore carts. The skips hauled the dirt up to the surface where it could be crushed by huge stamp mills that ran twenty-four hours a day. Next, the gold was washed across a mercury bath. The gold and mercury would stick together and form a chemical bond. This amalgam was then heated to very high temperatures which caused the gold to separate from the mercury. The pure gold was poured into bars and shipped to San Francisco and other places in the world.

By 1892 the mine reached the 2,100 foot level and by 1914 reached the 4,600 foot level. Electricity eventually replaced steam and the mules were blindfolded and brought out of the mines. The mules were sold to new owners.

These are examples of the wages paid to the workers:

    Miner $3.00 per day
    Shoveler 2.50 per day
    Foreman 4.00 per day

In 1929 Newmont Mining Company purchased the Empire Mine and other surrounding mines. They wanted to join several mines and find all the gold veins that ran between them. In 1934 The war forced the mine to shut down when gold was priced at $34.00 per ounce. The Empire reopened briefly until its final closure in 1956. At that time the tunnels went to a depth of 11,007 feet and there were 357 miles of shafts and drifts. During its one hundred years of operation the miners dug out more than $120 million in gold to make it one of the richest gold-quartz mines in the world.

In l975 the six hundred acres of mine property was purchased by the State of California. Today it is operated as a state park. When visiting Grass Valley you should plan on seeing the mine shafts, beautiful gardens, buildings, the museum, and the gift store. The future plan is to construct a train that will run into the mine, so everyone will know what it felt like to be deep inside the mine. If you visit Grass Valley, be sure to take a tour of the Empire Mine.

Our Visit to the 16 to 1 Mine

The Day the Whopper Came out of the 16 to 1 Mine

The Original 16 to 1 Mine Website

Nevada County Gold Online: Empire Mine


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