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Image of Empire Mine machine shop from office

This image was made on a foggy day from the side of the Empire Mine office building looking toward the machine shop in 1975. We visited the mine soon after the State of California acquired the Empire Mine with the intention of creating a State Historic Park to showcase this prime example of a hardrock gold mine. The Empire Mine had been idle since 1956 when the Newmont Mining Corporation stopped operations due to the low price of gold. The price of gold had been fixed by the U.S. Government at $35 per ounce since 1934 and by the 1950s Newmont was operating the mine at a loss.

The Empire Mine operated under various owners from 1850 to 1956. It was the largest and richest hardrock gold mine in California with a total gold production of nearly six million ounces. One of the most important factors in the success of the Empire and other hardrock mines in California was the immigration of skilled hardrock miners from Cornwall, England which started in the early 1850s. These Cornish miners had experience, skill and a knowledge of hardrock mining and mining equipment which was invaluable. The Cornish made up the bulk of the labor force from the late 1870s until the mines closure in 1956. During that time the mine thrived under two separate owners. In 1874 William Bourn, Jr. inherited the Empire from his father. Under his direction and along with the mining genius of his cousin, George Starr, the Empire became a showplace of mining technology by the turn of the century. In 1929 after William Bourn’s daughter died and his wife became ill, Bourn decided to sell the Empire. It was purchased by the Newmont Mining Corporation for $250,000. Several other surrounding mines were also purchased by Newmont and consolidated with the Empire into the Empire-Star Mines Co., Ltd. Newmont continued exploration, development and further sophistication of the Mine complex. After the mine shut down in 1956 most of the equipment and contents of the buildings were auctioned off. The mine was idle for almost 20 years until the property (777 acres) was purchased by the State of California in 1975 from Newmont for $1,250,000. However, Newmont retained the mineral rights under the property. The State has been busy the past 25 years restoring and reconstructing parts of the surface workings at the Park with an emphasis on “historic integrity.”

There is another image of the Empire Mine available to view in the gallery, the refining room.

Link to Wikipedia page on Empire Mine State Historic Park.

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