Gold Mining in Placerville
For years I have been visiting the Placerville area in California’s Sierra Foothills. Even so, I have always managed to miss the opportunity to go to the Gold Bug Park & Mine. And it’s right in downtown Placerville for goodness sake! There is no reason to miss out on it if you know about it and know where to go. The Gold Bug Park & Mine is just off of Highway 50 at Bedford Avenue in downtown Placerville. It is a quick and easy drive up the hill to the Park. They have lovely covered picnic areas right along the Big Canyon Creek. Entrance to the park is free, along with the use of the picnic areas, and free parking as well.
If you want to take the self guided tour of the Gold Bug Mine, it is $7 for adults and $4 for those 3 – 17 years old. They are open 7 days a week from April thru October and the hours are: 10:00 – 4:00 and then November thru March they are open on the weekends from 12:00 – 4:00.
The Gold Rush
Only 8 miles from the Gold Bug Mine, in the town now called Coloma, James Marshall was building a saw mill for Captain John Sutter (Sutter’s Mill) along the South Fork of the American River. This was in January of 1848. Whilst working he happened to notice some shining metal in the water. Of course – it was gold. While they tried to keep it a secret, it’s a very difficult thing to keep quiet. Not too far west & south of there, in San Francisco, as the news spread, it resulted in the exodus of three-quarters of the male population to Sutter’s Mill to seek their fortune. Imagine the influx into the little known area of Coloma & Placerville (Hangtown or Old Dry Diggins). Thus began the Gold Rush of 1849! Some 80,000 immigrants poured into California that year – known as 49’ers. The growth was incredible and by 1854 Placerville was the third largest town in all of California!
Into the Mines
After the “easy” pickings of gold from the creeks and rivers were playing out, the miners looked to follow the quartz veins into the hills surrounding the creeks to seek the gold there. One of those areas was Big Canyon Creek, just a mile from downtown Hangtown. The Hattie Mine (later known as Gold Bug Mine) was started in 1888. While it is not known how much gold was removed from Hattie Mine, as records were not kept, the team at Gold Bug Park & Mine speculate that with the quality of the quartz veins there, it was quite a lot of gold!
We took a tour of both the Gold Bug Mine and the Priest Mine. The Priest Mine is only open for special events and as a guided tour. You will want to call for details and availability for the Priest Mine. Both mines are excellent examples of hardrock mining of the mid – late 1800’s. As we stepped inside and looked at the actual pick marks that line the walls and ceiling, I could only think about the amount of
work and effort it took to carve into that hillside by hand! The shafts go back hundreds of feet through dark, damp, winding rock. Imagine how it must have felt to swing a pick all day, lit only by the lamps of the time, breathing that stale air – watching the caged bird to make sure you did not succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning or the like. You would really have to have “gold fever” to work in those kind of conditions.
The tours are great for families! The team of volunteers they have there are both very knowledgeable and talented in their storytelling of the history and tales of gold in those hills and creeks. Charlie gave some excellent history before we entered the mine. He engaged the kids and had some brilliant stories about the folks that won big and the majority who did not.
Duffy was our guide in the Priest Mine and was quite a character from start to finish! He had quite a few stories to tell of the mine itself and the men who worked there. That was all backed up by a very solid understanding of the geology of mining, the local history, and a good bit of theatrics to enjoy!
What is a stope?
You will definitely come away with a few new words for your vocabulary when you visit the Gold Bug Park & Mine. Stope, adit, drift, rake, and winze are just a few of them. If you happen to leave your tour wondering or arguing about what the heck a winze was, the team there can fill you in or they have resources on their website too. The website also has lots of other great information to enhance your time there. So what is a stope?? Well, according to Duffy, it is an upward excavation of a vein to get to the ore found there leading off from the regular shaft.
Not just a mine…
While the mines are probably one of the primary attractions; that is certainly not all that is going on at the Gold Bug Park & Mine. The activities there include Hattie’s Museum (named after the original mine there), Blacksmith Shop, Hendy Stamp Mill, Gem Panning for the kids, Hattie’s Gift Shop, and hiking trails. Lots to be able to see and do along with the lovely covered picnic area along the creek for a bit of relaxation and refreshment. This site is a California State Point of Interest and on the National Register of Historic Places!
Placerville and the Surrounding Area
The Gold Bug Park & Mine were a great way to spend the day! But that is not all there is to see in Placerville or the surrounding area. There is everything from rafting on the American River, Winery Tours (of which I can personally vouch for a number of them!), hiking trails galore, Farm Tours, Gold Panning and the list goes on and on… When you’re looking for an excellent resource for visiting the area, go to Visit-El Dorado and check out all the information they have there! The information on their newly updated website is a great way to plan your time in the area. The folks at the Visitor Center in Placerville are very helpful and you’ll definitely want to see the lovely cat they have there. Gilda was extremely friendly and an adorable addition to the team! Stop in and say Hi and tell them that JourneysofJim sent you. A big thank you to Jody there for all your information, assistance and background about the area and arranging a brilliant afternoon at the Gold Bug Park & Mine!
They are located at:
542 Main Street
Placerville, CA 95667
530 – 621 – 5885
Check out their website as well: www.visit-eldorado.com
I am even more excited now about going back to the Gold Bug Park & Mine and seeing more of what they have to offer and, of course, visiting one of my favorite spots in California – Placerville! Perhaps I will see you at one of the many winery’s next time too?! :o)