According to literature, the Empire Mine 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 of underground passages. At today’s prices, that is $8.6 billion worth of gold.
Today, the grounds have become a California State Historical Park. Since I grew up in a mining family, and both of us have an interest in western U.S. history, the grounds and tour of the mine area were an instant attraction to us.
The location includes the owner’s 1897 “cottage.” Built of leftover rock from the mine, and with an interior decked out in clear heart redwood, the house featured electric lights, powered from the mine’s electric system.
As fans of the Poldark TV series, we were fascinated to learn that almost all of the miners immigrated from Cornwall in the UK. As mines there played out and their region was in economic collapse, the miners emigrated to the US, bringing with them hundreds of years of underground mining expertise, a strong work ethic, and a new item needed here, the Cornish mine pump, necessary to clear water which was constantly flowing into the mine. At one point, 75% of Grass Valley area residents were of Cornish descent!
The pictures below show the cottage, the beautifully landscaped grounds, and highlights from the mine tour.