Empire Mine State Historic Park

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Empire Mine State Historic Park
Empire mine shaft.jpg
View down the main drift at Empire Mine
Map showing the location of Empire Mine State Historic Park
Map showing the location of Empire Mine State Historic Park
Location Nevada County, California, USA
Nearest city Grass Valley, California
Coordinates 39°12′13″N 121°2′34″W / 39.20361°N 121.04278°W / 39.20361; -121.04278Coordinates: 39°12′13″N 121°2′34″W / 39.20361°N 121.04278°W / 39.20361; -121.04278
Area 853 acres (345 ha)
Established 1975
Governing body California Department of Parks and Recreation
Empire Mine
Area 777 acres
Built 1896
Architect Polk, Willis
Governing body State
NRHP Reference # 77000318[1]
CHISL # 298[2]
Added to NRHP December 09, 1977

Empire Mine State Historic Park is a state-protected mine and park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Grass Valley, California, USA. The Empire Mine is on the National Register of Historic Places, a federal Historic District, and a California Historical Landmark. Since 1975 California State Parks has administered and maintained the mine as a historic site. The Empire Mine is "one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest and richest gold mines in California."[3] Between 1850 until its closure in 1956, the Empire Mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold, extracted from 367 miles (591 km) of underground passages.


In 1850 George D. Roberts discovered gold in a quartz outcropping which became known as the Ophir Vein. As word spread that hard rock gold had been found in California, 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 a unique system of pumps, operated on steam, which emptied the depths of the mine of its constant water seepage. This enabled increased productivity and expansion underground. The Cornish provided the bulk of the labor force from the late 1870s until the mine’s closure eighty years later.

William Bowers Bourn II inherited the Empire Mine in 1887.[4] With his financial backing and the mining knowledge of his younger cousin George Starr, the Empire Mine became famous for its mining technology, while the grounds became known for their gardens, residences, and social clubhouse. The noise was constant and could be heard from 3 miles (4.8 km) away.

In 1929, at the recommendation of Fred Searls of Nevada City, Newmont Mining Corp. purchased the Empire Mine from Bourn. Newmont also purchased the North Star Mine, resulting in Empire-Star Mines, Ltd. The business was managed by Fred Nobs and later by Jack Mann. By the 1950s inflation costs for gold mining were leaving the operation unprofitable. In 1956 a crippling miners' strike over falling wages ended operations. The mine was officially closed a year later on May 28, 1957 when the last water pumps were shut and removed. In its final year of operation in 1956, the Empire Mine had reached an incline depth of 11,007 ft (3,355 m).

In 1975 California State Parks purchased the Empire Mine property to create a state historic park. The state park now contains 853 acres (345 ha),[5] including forested backcountry.[3] Newmont Mining retained the mineral rights to the Empire Mine.

The Secret Room[edit]

During its operation, the Empire Mine kept "The Secret Room." This room contained an accurate scale model of the entire mine. It was a valuable tool for mapping the shafts and stopes, spread out a mile deep and 2.5 miles (4.0 km) wide under the surface of the ground. What was a tightly guarded corporate secret for nearly 100 years is now one stop on the guided tour. Some say now, that the mine would be ever haunted of the spirits who died trying to keep it a secret.



On weekends from May through October, volunteers dressed in Edwardian clothing give living history tours of the Bourn Cottage, the 1890s country estate home of William Bourn, Jr., and the Mineyard, with demonstrations of mine operations.

The park's museum contains a scale model of the underground workings of the Empire/Star mine complex, exhibits of ore samples from local mines, a recreated Assay Office and a collection of minerals.

There are 13 acres (5.3 ha) of gardens to tour.

Empire Mine Park Association[edit]

The Empire Mine Park Association (EMPA) provides of the interpretive and educational goals of this state historic park through donations, visitor center sales, membership dues and special events. It has a very active volunteer group.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  2. ^ "Empire Mine". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  3. ^ a b "Empire Mine SHP". California State Parks. Retrieved 2011-12-16. 
  4. ^ Fullwood, Janet (1998-04-26). "In Grass Valley, the Empire Mine was California's biggest, most productive operation". Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Retrieved 2011-12-16. 
  5. ^ "California State Park System Statistical Report: Fiscal Year 2009/10". California State Parks. p. 32. Retrieved 2011-12-16. 
  6. ^ "Empire Mine". Empire Mine Park Association. Retrieved 2011-12-16. 

Further reading[edit]

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