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New Almaden

Coordinates: 37°11′21″N 121°50′00″W / 37.189153°N 121.833269°W / 37.189153; -121.833269
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New Almaden
Spanish: Nueva Almadén
New Almaden is located in San Jose, California
New Almaden
New Almaden
Coordinates: 37°11′21″N 121°50′00″W / 37.189153°N 121.833269°W / 37.189153; -121.833269
CountryUnited States
CountySanta Clara
492 ft (150 m)
Time zoneUTC-8 (Pacific (PST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area code408
GNIS feature ID1659212[1]

New Almaden, known in Spanish as Nueva Almadén, is a historic community and former mercury mine in the Capitancillos Hills of San Jose, California, located at the southwestern point of Almaden Valley in South San Jose. New Almaden is divided into two parts: the mines and much of their immediate surroundings, including historic ghost town settlements in the Capintancillas, which together form the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, and the largely residential historic district surrounding the Casa Grande.

Discovered in the 1820s by Mexican settlers, New Almaden mines are the oldest mines in California and were one of the most productive mercury mines in the country.[2][3] Long before the arrival of the Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans, the indigenous Ohlone people had long utilized the area for its cinnabar, which they used in paint production.[4]


The Carson Adobe, built from 1848 to 1850 by Mexican miners, is one of the oldest buildings in New Almaden.

Cinnabar, bright red mercury ore, was used by the Ohlone people for paint, but the settlers soon saw its potential to produce quicksilver. The first settler to find the mine was Secundino Robles, who discovered it in 1824, and later owned shares in the mine along with his brother.[5] Andres Castillero, a captain in the Mexican Army, obtained a grant to the mine in 1846 but, occupied with his military duties during the Mexican War, soon sold it to Barron, Forbes Company, an English textile firm based in Tepic, Mexico. It was named "Nueva Almaden" by Alexander Forbes.[6] Castillero's mining claim was confirmed by the Board of Commissioners that evaluated private land claims in California on January 8, 1856, but there was continued litigation in the District court, The United States vs. Andres Castillero.[7][8][9] A claim of fraud was made on behalf of the Quicksilver Mining Company, which had acquired a competing land claim originating in an agricultural claim to the land the mine was on. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States the claim was found invalid in a decision rendered March 10, 1863.[10] One of the competing land claims was Rancho Los Capitancillos.[11][12][13][14][15]

The Hacienda de Beneficio reduction works, shown in 1852.
The Mine Hill School, c.1885

The mine is named for a mercury mine in (old) Almadén, Spain, which had operated since at least Roman times. (See Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija.) The term Almadén, meaning "the mine",[16] is derived from the Arabic language.[17][18]

In 1863, acting on information that title to the mine had not been proven, Abraham Lincoln attempted to seize the mine, but the federal agent and deputy federal marshal were met at the mine gates by armed miners. Mindful of the possibility of losing the loyalty of California during the Civil War, the federal government backed off[19] and Barron, Forbes Company was allowed to sell it to American investors for $1.75 million.[20][21]

Arthur De Wint Foote worked at New Almaden in the late 1870s under James Butterworth Randol.[22]

Representations of historical life at the New Almaden Mine were drawn in vivid detail 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.[23] 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.


A specimen of Cinnabar (mercury ore) from the New Almaden Mines.

Mining operations resulted in mercury pollution of the Guadalupe River and South San Francisco Bay, impacting birds and aquatic species. In 2005 the responsible parties, which include private companies and local government agencies, agreed to a legal settlement of approximately US$6,750,822 for restoration projects. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued an environmental restoration plan for the area in 2008.[24][25]


The mineralized area in the Almaden mining district where the New Almaden and the nearby Guadalupe mine are located is within the large Franciscan Assemblage associated with the Coast Range. Quicksilver ore deposited by hydrothermal deposition of cinnabar from deep within the earth is found in a gangue of silica-carbonate rock formed locally by hydrothermal alteration of serpentine. The Guadalupe mine produced about 10% as much mercury as the New Almaden. There are several smaller mines in the mining district, but their ore production was not significant. The only significant quicksilver ore is cinnabar; other sulfides are present in small quantities. Mining, other than a single placer deposit of cinnabar, was underground. There is a high probability of undiscovered high-grade ore which could be found and exploited using modern techniques.[6]

New Almaden Mines[edit]

New Almaden
Area3,200 acres (1,300 ha)
NRHP reference No.66000236[26]
CHISL No.339 and 339-1[27]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966[26]
Designated NHLJuly 4, 1961[28]
The New Almaden Smelting Works in 1863 (photo by Carleton Watkins).

The entrances to the mines are closed off. After being identified as a Superfund site and after 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.[28] By the time Santa Clara County bought the mines in 1976 and ended operations, 1,137,727 flasks totaling 83,974,076 pounds (38,090 metric tons) of mercury (worth more than US$70 million) had been extracted.[29]

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.

New Almaden Mine

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.[27]

There is also a museum adjacent at the site.

Almaden Quicksilver County Park[edit]

Almaden Quicksilver County Park.

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 (which 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]

Tombstone of a Californio miner in the Hacienda Cemetery.

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[30] and an Environmental Impact Report was prepared.[31]

Principal issues assessed in the park proposal:

  • 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]

Casa Grande, home of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum.

The New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum is located in the Casa Grande (big house) at 21350 Almaden Road in New Almaden. La Casa Grande, an 1854 revival-style mansion designed and built by architect Francis Myers, 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.

Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: New Almaden
  2. ^ Snell, Charles W. (April 24, 1964). "New Almaden". National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings (Revised). National Park Service.
  3. ^ "New Almaden". Photographs. National Park Service.
  4. ^ NPS Santa Clara guide
  5. ^ Pizarro, Sal (July 13, 2021). "After 131 years, California pioneer gets a gravesite marker in Santa Clara". The Mercury News. Retrieved July 13, 2023.
  6. ^ a b Edgar Herbert Bailey, Donald Lough Everhart Geology and quicksilver deposits of the New Almaden district, Santa Clara County, California Professional Paper 360 USGS
  7. ^ United States. District Court (California : Northern District) Land Case 420 ND
  8. ^ Finding Aid to the Documents Pertaining to the Adjudication of Private Land Claims in California, circa 1852-1892
  9. ^ "The United States vs. Andres Castillero : "New Almaden" : transcript of the record (1859)". United States. District Court (California : Northern District). 1859. Retrieved January 9, 2015.
  10. ^ "THE U.S. SUPREME COURT.; Decision in the New-Almaden Case--Prize Cases--Close of the Term". The New York Times. March 11, 1863. Retrieved January 9, 2015.
  11. ^ United States. District Court (California : Northern District) Land Case 132 ND
  12. ^ United States v. Fossat, U.S. Supreme Court, 61 U.S. 20 How. 413 413 (1857)
  13. ^ United States v. Fossat, U.S. Supreme Court, 62 U.S. 21 How. 445 445 (1858)
  14. ^ Report of the Surveyor General 1844 - 1886 Archived 2013-03-20 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ The Fossat or Quicksilver Mine Case, U.S. Supreme Court, 69 U.S. 2 Wall. 649 649 (1864)
  16. ^ Gudde, Erwin; William Bright (2004) California Place Names (Fourth ed. ed.). University of California Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-520-24217-3
  17. ^ ZIP Code Lookup
  18. ^ Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Quill Driver Books. p. 671. ISBN 1-884995-14-4.
  19. ^ "The Almaden Mine Case.; THE ORDER OF SEIZURE BY GOVERNMENT REVOKED". The New York Times. August 16, 1863. Retrieved January 9, 2015. From the San Francisco Bulletin, July 18
  20. ^ Martin Cheek (January 18, 2012) [First published in 2005]. "Lincoln and the South Valley". Gilroy Dispatch. Retrieved January 8, 2015.
  21. ^ Leonard Ascher (March 1936). "Lincoln's Administration and the New Almaden Scandal". Pacific Historical Review. 5 (1). University of California Press: 38–51. doi:10.2307/3633317. JSTOR 3633317.
  22. ^ Rickard, Thomas Arthur (1992). Interviews with Mining Engineers. Mini. p. 172. Arthur De Wint Foote.
  23. ^ Foote, Mary Hallock (February 1878). "A California Mining Camp". HathiTrust. Scribner's Monthly. pp. 480–494. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  24. ^ "New Almaden Mines". Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program. U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  25. ^ "New Almaden Mine CERCLA Site". Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Fish and Wildlife. December 11, 2018.
  26. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  27. ^ a b "California Historical Landmark: Santa Clara County". Office of Historic Preservation. California State Parks. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
  28. ^ a b "New Almaden". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on November 14, 2007. Retrieved January 17, 2008.
  29. ^ Martin Cheek, "Mercury Uprising," San Jose Magazine 9, no. 1 (January 2006): 80-85
  30. ^ Almaden Quicksilver Master Plan, County of Santa Clara, San Jose, California (1976)
  31. ^ 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)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]