Empire Mine State Historic Park, California
Empire Mine State Historic Park preserves a large hardrock gold mine in Grass Valley California. The Empire Mine was an underground mine as opposed to a placer or hydraulic mine like nearby Malakoff Diggins. The Empire Mine's main shaft is still de-watered and visitors were able to tour it until recently. It is still possible to look down into the main shaft, which is over two miles long, but tours have been suspended. The Empire Mine operated from 1850 to 1956. During that time a small complex of support structures were built around the main mine shaft. Some of those buildings are in use today as park offices and exhibit space. There is also a small museum and gift shop at the park entrance. The ruined foundations of a large stamp mill are visible in the complex. The park has a lot of visitors. Many come to events that are held in the 1897 Empire Cottage which is a mansion with formal grounds built for the mine owner. There is an admission charge for the preserved and interpreted part of the park. Outside of the interpreted area, there are extensive grounds which are undeveloped aside from hiking trails. There are remains of several smaller mines and mills in these forested areas. These remains are perhaps as interesting and possibly more pleasant to visit than the Empire Mine itself. There are substantial ruins at the Orleans mine and mill (shown on park map) that can be fun to explore if one is interested in industrial archeology.
The Empire Mine was purchased from Newmont Mining by the state of California in 1974 for preservation and recreation. Since then a number of expensive environmental problems have become apparent. The mine had an on-site cyanide plant which contaminated the land around it. That area of the park was still closed in 2017 with remediation work on-going. The mine included 367 miles of tunnels many of which have filled with water. The water in the former mine tunnels emerges in a few locations after having leached heavy metals and other toxins from the mine. These drainage issues present on-going problems in Grass Valley. The State sued Newmont, who retained mineral rights to the area, to recover some of the clean up costs. I'm not sure if those efforts were successful. Grass Valley is an interesting town with great bookshops, stores and restaurants. Grass Valley has a substantial 19th Century central business district. There were several mines in and around Grass Valley in addition to the Empire Mine. None of the mines outside of Empire Mine State Historic Park are easy to access.
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