Empire Mine SHP
Narrated by Russ Christoff
Twenty-two miles north of Auburn on Highway 49, we came to the once active hard rock gold mining town of Grass Valley; and the home of Empire Mine State Historic Park.
This historic park protects well-preserved mining buildings and equipment.
Empire Mine is one of the most profitable mines in America, producing over six million ounces of gold in its day.
As recently as 1956, this equipment was still in use by hard rock miners, who were sent nearly a mile under the earth, in search of gold.
A map station aids visitors on a self-guided tour of the mine area.
Guided tours with a docent are also available on certain days.
The main shaft drops to 4,650 feet, and has many branching tunnels.
The deepest of which is two miles from this point.
The visitors center contains an intricate model of the mine, and is the place to sign up for a tour, and learn about the mine's owner William Bourne Jr.
Although William and Agnes Bourne were active in civic and philanthropic endeavors, during most of their married lives, and spent most of their time in the San Francisco area.
They enjoyed entertaining at the cottage. Today, the cottage and gardens also on the Empire Mine property, are available for the public to explore and reflect on an era gone by.
I met with volunteer docent, Maxine, who shared some of the history of the park.
How long have you been a volunteer here?
DOCENT MAXINE: I've been a volunteer here since 1983, I've been a volunteer for 13 years at this park.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: And you do the tours in the afternoon.
DOCENT MAXINE: I give the tours and I also interpret. I interpret at different stations like the cottage. We take people every 15 minutes, give them a little talk, take them in the house, and then I also do the regular one and two o'clock tour.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: What was the life of a miner like?
DOCENT MAXINE: Well, I think the life of a miner was incredible, that these people who worked here at this mine seemed to be adapted to this type of lifestyle.
They were hard rock miners from Cornwall, England. They had worked the tin mines probably for 2,000 years or more.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: So, they had the experience?
DOCENT MAXINE: The miners could almost smell a vain of gold, that's how adapted they were to working underground.
Their life to me, I often think about this, was total darkness at times. They probably came to work very early in the morning when it was dark, especially in the winter, and went down into the depths of the mine and worked in total darkness. The only light was a candle, in the early days, and later on the carbide lamp.
And maybe if it was dark in the winter when they went in, it was dark when they came out. So you wonder how much sunlight they ever got on their bodies, I often think about that.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: Yea, yea, that was.....
DOCENT MAXINE: So, it was a hard life underground.
RUSS CHRISTOFF: What is that special thing about this park that you love and it makes it great for you?
DOCENT MAXINE: Well, the special thing to me is a sense of mystery, because we can only guess at what went on here.
The lives of the people working here, the things that went on with the family here, which just, how do I explain it, but it's something like I would like to put myself into that time, and kind of relive it. And, I do that every time I come here to the park.