Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Guide to the Empire Mine State Historic Park Collection
Consult repository  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (276.67 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Organizational History
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Material Cataloged Separately
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Empire Mine State Historic Park collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1866-1985 (bulk 1900-1960)
    Collection number: Consult repository
    Collector: Empire Mine (Calif.)
    Extent: 79 cubic feet
    Repository: California. Department of Parks and Recreation.
    Sacramento, CA 95814
    Abstract: The Empire Mine State Historic Park Collection contains correspondence, financial and administrative material, mining records, employee records, and vendor material from the Empire Mine located in Grass Valley, California, and from other mines located throughout Nevada County, California. Mines and mining corporations documented in this collection include Empire Mine, North Star Mine, Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., Newmont Mining Corporation, Champion Mine, Gaston Ridge Mine, Golden Center Mine, Lava Cap Gold Mine, Pennsylvania Mine, Twin River Consolidated Mining Company, Yuba Drift Mining Company, and Zeibright Mine. Also included in this collection are personal papers of William Bourn, Jr., Phil Keast, Fred W. Nobs, George W. Starr, and Robert H. Svendsen. These individuals were either owners or employees of one or more of the above listed mines and mining corporations. The records in this collection cover the years 1866 to 1985 with the bulk of the material ranging from 1900 to 1960.
    Physical location: The collection is on deposit at the California State Archives, Sacramento.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access

    The collection is open for research. Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., employee records located in Box 9, Folders 23-24, 32, and 42 through Box 10, Folder 4 are permanently restricted.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

    Preferred Citation

    Empire Mine State Historic Park Collection. California State Parks.

    Acquisition Information

    Primary donors include Empire Mine Park Association in 1980, 1983-1984, and 1986-1988; Phil Keast in 1979, 1991, and 1992; and Mildred Nobs in 1979 and 1981.

    Organizational History

    Grass Valley was once the richest gold mining district in California. The largest and most productive mining operations in the region were the Empire, North Star, and Idaho-Maryland mines. From 1900-1925 the Empire Mine, under the direction of George W. Starr, and the North Star Mine, under the direction of James D. Hague and A. D. Foote, produced most of the gold in all of Nevada County, California. George W. Starr wrote in a 1900 edition of Mining and Science Press, "In the history of gold mining in California the Empire stands preeminent, not alone for its wealth but for what the mine, above all others, has given in the way of example and earnest, well-applied endeavor. It is the pioneer in deep mining and the first to regard Grass Valley mining a legitimate business, controlled by the same laws and conditions as should govern a well-managed manufacturing establishment."
    The discovery of gold-bearing quartz in the hillside above Grass Valley in 1850 marked the beginning of hard rock mining in the area. Near the site of the initial discovery, George D. Roberts purchased a hill in 1850 where Empire Mine would eventually be established. The next year, Roberts' sold his claim to Woodbury, Park, and Company who consolidated other nearby claims into the Ophir Hill Mine. In 1852, the Ophir Hill Mine was auctioned and acquired by two parties. Half of the mine was purchased by John R. Rush, and the other by the Empire Quartz Hill Company. Within two years, the Empire Quartz Hill Company bought out John R. Rush and became the sole owner of Ophir Hill Mine.
    In 1854, the Ophir Hill Mine, along with other recently purchased adjacent claims, became the Empire Mining Company. Ten years later the Empire Mining Company was purchased by Captain S. W. Lee and A. H. Houston. In 1867, half of the interest in the company was sold to San Francisco investors, Conrise, Lake, Homer, and Associates and the next year they gained controlling interest.
    William Bourn, Sr., gained control of the Empire Mining Company in 1869. During this year the mine also experienced its first recorded strike when mine workers protested the use of dynamite, which eliminated the need for two drillers per blast area. Empire Mine workers protested the use of dynamite again in 1872.
    After his father's death, William Bourn, Jr. took over management of the Empire Mining Company and reorganized the company into the Original Empire Mill and Mining Company in 1879. Five years later he gained controlling interest in the nearby North Star Mine which he then sold to James D. Hague in 1887. The next year he also sold controlling interest in the Empire Mine to Hague, which he repurchased from Hague in 1896. After regaining controlling interest, Bourn reorganized the company and formed the Empire Mines and Investment Company.
    Much of Empire Mine's success has been attributed to George W. Starr, cousin of William Bourn, Jr. Starr began work at Empire Mine as a mucker in 1881 (at the age of 19) and by 1887 was appointed superintendent of the mine. Reputed for introducing new mining techniques and tools, in 1890 he introduced compressed air drills, which increased the rate of development at Empire. Finally in 1893 he left Empire Mine to join John Hayes Hammond, a renowned mining engineer, in the gold mines of South Africa. Starr returned to California in 1898 on his way to Alaska when Bourn persuaded him to return to Empire Mine.
    Another factor in the early success of Empire was the immigration of skilled miners from Cornwall, England, to California. For over a thousand years, hard rock mining of tin and copper was carried out in Cornwall and the Cornishmen brought years of experience and the latest advances in hard rock mining equipment and technologies. Among the innovations was the "Cornish pump," which continued to be used in Grass Valley mines until the early 1930s. By the 1890s the population of Grass Valley was reportedly 85% Cornish and at one point, the Empire Mine labor force was made up of 90% Cornish miners.
    From 1896 until production at Empire Mine ceased in 1956, mules were used underground to haul rock to the main mine shaft where it could then be hoisted to the surface. The mules lived underground in barns and were tended by "mule skinners" who groomed them, checked for harness sores, and led them from place to place.
    Early in the 1900s, under the direction of Bourn and Starr, Empire Mine was known as one of the most progressive and best-managed gold mines in the United States. Geologists and engineers from around the world reportedly traveled to Grass Valley to view the latest mining technologies in use at Empire. Empire also experienced two more labor disputes, the first in 1907 when workers sought to obtain an 8-hour workday and the other in 1919 when workers went on strike to obtain a $1.00 per day wage increase and a 10% annual bonus. Empire also endured court proceedings lasting six years when in 1908 North Star Mine sued Empire Mine for trespass. Empire Mine settled the case out of court in 1914 for $15,000.
    In 1928 Empire Mines and Investment Company became the Empire Mines due to another reorganization of the company. The next year, William Bourn, Jr. sold Empire Mines to Fred Searls of the Newmont Mining Corporation. Newmont combined the Empire Mines operation with the recently acquired North Star Mine to form the Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd. That same year, George W. Starr retired and Fred. W. Nobs soon took over as mine manager.
    By the 1930s, Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., owned and operated at least 60 mines in the Nevada County area including Browns Valley, Bullion, Champion, Empire, Gold Hill, Kate Hayes, Massachusetts Hill, Murchie, New York Hill, North Star, Ophir, Osborne Hill, Pennsylvania, Rocky Bar, Sultana, Union Hill, W.Y.O.D., and Zeibright.
    In 1942 the United States War Production Board issued order L-208 which halted all nonessential industries, including gold mining. Empire, as well as other mines in operation at the time, was forced to close. In subsequent years Empire Mine reopened under limited production but closed soon after due to poor profits. In 1947 Empire Mine reopened under lessee-operated conditions.
    After 106 years of development in Grass Valley, Empire Mine was finally forced to shut down in 1956 due primarily to the Mine Workers Protective League wage strike. Since the mine was already operating at a loss, new wage demands could not be met. For nearly 20 years after the closure, Newmont Mining Corporation minimally maintained the buildings and grounds and in 1975 sold the 750-acre property to the State of California to establish a state park.

    Chronology

    1850 Quartz outcrops of present day Empire Mine were discovered by George D. Roberts, a lumberman, who purchased the entire hill where the mine was eventually established.
    1851 George Roberts' claim purchased by Woodbury, Park, and Company, which consolidated other nearby claims into the Ophir Hill Mine.
    1852 Ophir Hill Mine purchased at auction by two parties, John R. Rush and the Empire Quartz Hill Company (a group of local miners).
    1854 John R. Rush sold his half of Ophir Hill Mine to the Empire Quartz Hill Company. The Ophir Hill Mine, along with other recently purchased adjacent claims, became the Empire Mining Company.
    1856 Stamp mill constructed on Ophir Hill.
    1863 Empire Mining Company closed due to rising production costs, drought conditions, and military conscription for the Union Army.
    1864 Empire Mining Company purchased by Captain S. W. Lee and A. H. Houston.
    1865 Steamboat Stamp Mill constructed.
    1867 One half of the interest in Empire Mining Company sold to San Francisco investors, Conrise, Lake, Homer, and Associates.
    1868 San Francisco investors, Conrise, Lake, Homer, and Associates gained control of Empire Mining Company.
    1869 William Bourn, Sr., gained a controlling interest in Empire Mining Company. Empire Mine employees strike, protesting the use of dynamite, which eliminated the need for two drillers per blast area.
    1870 Fire destroyed an Empire Mine mill, pumping and hoisting equipment, and supplies. F. Nesmith became superintendent of Empire Mine.
    1872 Empire Mine employees strike protesting the use of dynamite.
    1879 William Bourn, Jr., took over management of the Empire Mining Company and reorganized the Company into the Original Empire Mill and Mining Company.
    1884 William Bourn, Jr., gained controlling interest in North Star Mine.
    1885 William Bourn, Jr., established the Grass Valley Water Company to bring water to the Empire, North Star, Allison Ranch, and Idaho mines.
    1887 George W. Starr, cousin of William Bourn, Jr., became superintendent of Empire Mine.
    1888 Explosion at Empire Mine killed two men and destroyed dry house and the amalgamating building, blacksmithing, and carpentry works. Hoist equipment was also damaged. James D. Hague purchased controlling interest in the Original Empire Mill and Mining Company from William Bourn, Jr. William Bourn, Jr., gained control of the Massachusetts Hill Mining Company.
    1893 George W. Starr departed Empire Mine to work at gold mines in Africa. Robert Walker became superintendent of Empire Mine.
    1896 William Bourn, Jr., regained controlling interest of the Original Empire Mill and Mining Company.
    1897 Empire Cottage and grounds constructed.
    1898 George W. Starr returned as superintendent of Empire Mine.
    1899 William Bourn, Jr., reorganized the Company and formed the Empire Mines and Investment Company. Empire Mine machine shop and carpentry shop constructed. Mules introduced to underground work at Empire Mine.
    1901 George Starr completed a large-scale modernization project at Empire Mine. Upgrades included new head frame with rock crusher and ore bins, new pumps, new air compressors, new boilers, new hydraulic systems, a new office building and refinery, and a hot water heating system.
    1907 Empire Mine employees strike to obtain an 8-hour workday.
    1908-1914 North Star Mine sued Empire Mine for trespass. Empire Mine settled out of court for $15,000.
    1910 Cyanide plant constructed below stamp mill at Empire Mine.
    1912 Empire Mine gained control of Pennsylvania Mine.
    1918 Empire Mine stamp mill reconstructed. Electric-powered trains began to pull ore carts from Pennsylvania Mine to Empire Mine.
    1919 Empire Mine employees strike for $1.00 per day wage increase and a 10% annual bonus.
    1920s Phil Keast began working at Empire Mine as a Master Mechanic.
    1924 Empire Mine gained control of Sultana Mine. Empire and Pennsylvania Mines were connected underground.
    1928 Empire Mines and Investment Company became the Empire Mines due to another reorganization of the company.
    1929 William Bourn, Jr. sold Empire Mines to Fred Searls of the Newmont Mining Corporation. Newmont combined the operation of the recently acquired North Star Mine with Empire Mines. The new operation was named the Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd.
    1930 Fred W. Nobs became manager of Empire Mine. An aerial tramway was constructed to deliver ore to Empire Mine from North Star Mine for processing. Engineer's office is constructed at Empire Mine.
    1931 Empire and North Star mines were physically united when a "manway" was constructed between the two mines.
    1932 Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., purchased Murchie Mine.
    1933 Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., purchased the entire Sultana group consisting of 27 claims.
    1939 Jack Mann became manager of Empire Mine.
    1940s-1970s Robert H. Svendsen began consulting work for Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd.
    1942 Empire Mine closed due to War Production Board order L-208 which halted all nonessential industries.
    1945 Empire Mine reopened under limited production due to a labor shortage.
    1946 Empire Mine closed due to poor profits, however milling operations continued.
    1947 Empire Mine reopened under lessee-operated conditions.
    1956 Mine Workers Protective League called for a strike at the Empire Mine due to inadequate wages.
    1957 Empire Mine strike continued, the mine closed, and Newmont Mining Corporation began liquidation of equipment. Liquidation completed under the name New Verde Mines Company.
    1959 Empire Mine equipment sold at auction.
    1975 Empire Mine property purchased by the State of California to establish a state park.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Empire Mine State Historic Park Collection contains correspondence, financial and administrative material, mining records, employee records, and vendor material from the Empire Mine located in Grass Valley, California, and from other mines located throughout Nevada County, California. Mines and mining corporations documented in this collection include Empire Mine, North Star Mine, Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., Newmont Mining Corporation, Champion Mine, Gaston Ridge Mine, Golden Center Mine, Lava Cap Gold Mine, Pennsylvania Mine, Twin River Consolidated Mining Company, Yuba Drift Mining Company, and Zeibright Mine. Also included in this collection are personal papers of William Bourn, Jr., Phil Keast, Fred W. Nobs, George W. Starr, and Robert H. Svendsen. These individuals were either owners or employees of one or more of the above listed mines and mining corporations. The records in this collection cover the years 1866 to 1985 with the bulk of the material ranging from 1900 to 1960.
    The material in this collection is largely textual and consists of correspondence, account books and ledgers, invoices and receipts, reports, vendor publications, and equipment diagrams, instructions, and notes. Other formats, located in Series 5 and scattered throughout the collection, are photographs and slides.
    Much of the collection is made up of vendor material, located in Series 7, and includes catalogs, correspondence, parts and price lists, and other publications. The bulk of the vendor material is catalogs with dates ranging from 1899 to 1982. Vendors that are well represented in the collection are Bethlehem Steel Company, Crane Company, Caterpillar Tractor Company, General Electric Company, Ingersoll-Rand, Joy Manufacturing Company, Link Belt Company, John A. Roebling's Sons Company, and Westinghouse.
    In addition to vendor correspondence in Series 7, there is also vendor correspondence in Series 2, Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd. equipment records, and Series 4, personal papers of Phil Keast. In his work at Empire Mine and with other mines, Phil Keast often used the back of vendor correspondence and envelopes for mining equipment notes and diagrams. Equipment notes and diagrams are typically filed by mine and then topically by equipment type.
    The other major emphasis in this collection is mining in Nevada County, California. Nevada County mines and mining companies represented in this collection include, Banner, Bullion, Champion, Empire, Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., Gaston Ridge, Golden Center, Idaho-Maryland, Lava Cap, Massachusetts Hill, Murchie, New Verde Mines Company, North Star, Pennsylvania, Union Hill, and Zeibright. Other California mines include Forest, Plumbago, the Yuba Drift Mining Company, and Golden Dream Mine. Mines located in neighboring states include Idarado Mining Company in Colorado and Twin River Consolidated Mining Company in Nevada. Two other mining companies included in this collection are Gray Rock Mining Company and Middlefork Gold Mining Company.
    Series 1, Empire Mine, and Series 2, Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., make up the bulk of the mining records. Most of the records are accounting and administrative records and are dated 1871-1977, the bulk of the records are from 1910-1950. These records include accident reports, supplies and shipment records, mine safety publications and meeting minutes, records on leases of land to private individuals, and correspondence of mine managers and owners such as, A. D. Foote, William Hague, Fred W. Nobbs, Fred Searls, and George W. Starr.
    Documents within folders are arranged in chronological order by date and undated material resides at the end of each folder. The overall arrangement of the collection was imposed during processing in the absence of a usable original order.
    The collection is organized into nine series:
    • Series 1. Empire Mine, 1866-1984. 5.25 cubic ft.
    • Series 2. Empire Star Mines Company, Ltd., 1905-1977. 5.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 3. Other Mines and Mining Company Records, 1873-1984 and undated. 7.25 cubic ft.
    • Series 4. Personal Papers, 1883-1985 and undated. 2.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 5. Photographic Material, 1929-1964 and undated. .5 cubic ft.
    • Series 6. Reference Files, 1893-1972. 4.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 7. Vendor Material, 1893-1982. 35.75 cubic ft.
    • Series 8. Oversize Material. 17.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 9. Restricted Material. .25 cubic ft.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    Loose maps, blueprints, figures, and drawings that were not originally associated with files in the collection prior to processing were removed from the collection and are stored at the Empire Mine State Historic Park.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.

    Subjects

    Empire Mine (Calif.)--Archives.
    Gold mines and mining--California--Nevada County--Archival resources.
    Historic sites--California--Nevada County--Archival resources.