New Almaden

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New Almaden
New Alm smelter.jpg
New Almaden Smelting Works, 1863. Photo: Carleton Watkins
New Almaden is located in California
New Almaden
Nearest city San Jose, California
Coordinates 37°10′48″N 121°50′8″W / 37.18000°N 121.83556°W / 37.18000; -121.83556Coordinates: 37°10′48″N 121°50′8″W / 37.18000°N 121.83556°W / 37.18000; -121.83556
Area 3,200 acres (1,300 ha)
Built 1854
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 66000236[1]
CHISL # 339 and 339-1[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHL July 4, 1961[3]

The New Almaden quicksilver mine in the Capitancillas range in Santa Clara County, California, United States, is the oldest and most productive quicksilver (i.e., mercury) mine in the U.S.[4][5] The site was known to the Ohlone for its cinnabar long before a Mexican settler became aware of the ores in 1820. By the time they were identified as mercury, the mine was perfectly timed to supply the California Gold Rush.[6] The mine ran intermittently after 1927 and eventually closed. It was purchased by the county and is now part of Almaden Quicksilver County Park.


The mine is named for a mercury mine in (old) Almadén, Spain, which had operated since at least Roman times. The term Almadén, meaning "the mine".,[7] is derived from the Arabic language through medieval Islamic Spain.

Mine Hill School, c.1885

Arthur De Wint Foote worked at New Almaden in the late 1870s under James Butterworth Randol.[8]

Historical life at the New Almaden mine was vividly drawn by Mary Hallock Foote, the wife of Arthur DeWint Foote, the Resident Engineer from 1876. Her illustrated correspondence about New Almaden, "A California Mining Camp", appeared in the February 1878 issue of Scribner's Monthly. New Almaden also features prominently in her memoir A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West, which was later fictionalized by Wallace Stegner in his novel Angle of Repose.

Modern times[edit]

The entrances to the mines are closed off. After being identified as a superfund site and subsequent containment activities, the mining area can now be visited as part of the Santa Clara County Almaden Quicksilver county park. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.[3] By the time Santa Clara County bought the mines in 1976 and ended operations, 83,974,076 pounds (37,388 metric tons) of mercury (worth more than US$70 million) had been extracted.[9]

The remains of a variety of structures left over from the 135 years of mining activity, including housing for the up to 1,800 miners, are scattered about the park, with the biggest concentration at what was known as English Camp, established by Cornish miners in the 1860s. Some structures were built later by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and there is a memorial honoring the Civilian Conservation Corps firefighters who were stationed there for a time.

Two California Historical Landmark markers honor New Almaden Mine: #339 marks a cinnabar hill where Indians gathered pigment for paint, while #339-1 is near Arroyo de los Alamitos Creek where the actual mining of ore first occurred.[2]

There is also a museum adjacent at the site.

Almaden Quicksilver County Park[edit]

Senador Mine ruins

Almaden Quicksilver County Park is a 4,147 acre (17 km²) park that includes the grounds of former mercury ("quicksilver") mines. The park's elevation varies greatly: the most used entrances (on the east side of the park) are less than 600 feet (183 m) above sea level, while the highest point in the park is over 1,700 feet (518 m) above sea level. During the coldest storms of the winter season, it is not uncommon for the high summits to receive a light dusting of snow; this light dusting usually melts by noon. The park is owned and managed by the County of Santa Clara and its grounds also include the Guadalupe Reservoir; adjacent to the park is the Almaden Reservoir. The Casa Grande Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum is located nearby.

Conversion from mines to park[edit]

In the period 1976 to 1978 the county developed a number of new large parks in rapid succession including Grant Ranch Park, Sanborn Park and Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Very soon after buying the mining property in 1976, Santa Clara County began planning for park usage, in an era where the county parks program was aggressively expanding.

The county parks director envisioned a historic park where visitors could experience the mining past and also enjoy the biodiversity of the natural setting. Facilities plans were created[10] and an Environmental Impact Report was prepared.[11]

Principal issues assessed in the park proposal were:

  • biological impacts upon habitat by park users
  • water quality impacts to creeks draining the watershed
  • visual and drainage impacts of road improvements
  • historical analysis of mine usage

New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum[edit]

Cinnabar (mercury ore) specimen from New Almaden

The New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum is located in the Casa Grande (big house) at 21350 Almaden Road in New Almaden. La Case Grande, an 1854 revival-style mansion designed and built by architect Francis Meyers, was the official residence and office of the mine superintendents, as well as a country retreat for wealthy mine investors. The mansion now serves as the site of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum, which contains exhibits about the history of mercury mining and the cultural history of the mining communities at New Almaden. The exhibits include a mine diorama of the interior of a mine shaft, mining equipment and technology, a mine manager's office with period displays, and artifacts from Cornish, Mexican and Chinese mining families.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ a b "California Historical Landmark: Santa Clara County". Office of Historic Preservation. California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  3. ^ a b "New Almaden". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  4. ^ Snell, Charles W. (April 24, 1964). "New Almaden" (pdf). Nantional Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings (Revised). National Park Service. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  5. ^ "New Almaden" (pdf). Photographs. National Park Service. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  6. ^ NPS Santa Clara guide
  7. ^ Gudde, Erwin; William Bright (2004) California Place Names (Fourth ed. ed.). University of California Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-520-24217-3
  8. ^ Rickard, Thomas Arthur (1992). Interviews with Mining Engineers. Mini. p. 172. 
  9. ^ Martin Cheek, "Mercury Uprising," San Jose Magazine 9, no. 1 (January 2006): 80-85
  10. ^ Almaden Quicksilver Master Plan, County of Santa Clara, San Jose, California (1976)
  11. ^ David Crimp, Leda Patmore, C. Michael Hogan, Harry Seidman and Vivian Paparigian, Final Environmental Impact Report, Almaden Quicksilver Park, prepared by Earth Metrics Inc. for the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department (1976)

External links[edit]