The History of the California Gold Rush

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Empire Mine State Park
George Roberts, a lumberman, discovered the Empire Mine originally in 1850. While surveying timber in the area the lumberman happened to glance down at his boots, which were covered with tiny gold flakes. Believing the land held little gold and too hard to mine, George sold the land and rights for only $350. Within 13 years of this sale over a million dollars in gold was brought to the surface. Eventually the mine produced over 5.6 million ounces of gold before its closure in 1956.

Today the Empire Mine still hoards its treasure as geologists figure that only 20% of the gold has been removed from the mine. The Mine boasts an unbelievable 367 miles of now abandoned and flooded shafts and extends 11,000 feet on the incline a mile below the surface.  The task of keeping track of so many tunnels was handled in what was called the “Secret Room” where a scale model was created and updated. Today the model can be viewed in the Park’s museum.

The men attributed to the success of the Empire Mine were William Bourn Jr. and his mine superintendent, George Starr. The later, Starr is credited with most of the technological innovations that helped to make the mine so successful.

In addition to the museum, visitors can walk up the path to the Bourn Mansion.  Built entirely of waste rock from the mine, the home is beautiful example of late 1890's architecture.  Designed to resemble an English country lodge, the home was built by Willis Polk. Surrounding the home are 13 acres of gardens and manicured lawns, Rose gardens, and reflecting pools.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, the grounds are decorated for the festive season.  It is recommended to call ahead for the Guided tours and audio-visual presentations offered throughout the day at various times by Park Rangers and local Docents.

The park, purchased by the state of California for over $1 million in 1975, boasts 22 miles of hiking trails that surround the 805 acres.

Truly a day of adventure and beauty for everyone in the family!

Empire Mine State Park
10791 Empire Mine St.
Grass Valley, CA 

Photo credit:
Peggy & Howard Levine
Owners of the Swan Levine House Bed & Breakfast in Grass Valley


Truly in the Heart of the Mother Lode
The Department of Parks & Recreation is close to realizing the Empire Mine’s Underground Tour Project. A tunnel will penetrate horizontally through the quartz-laced granite intersecting the main shaft. Transported by tram, visitors will travel along the 800 foot length, stopping from time to time, to view dioramas depicting the progression of hardrock mining techniques over the years. Near the intersection, visitors will see where the quartz vein was mined, leaving a cavernous void called a stope. Not to be missed, this will be an incredible educational opportunity, for both adults and children, experiencing the same smells, sights, and sounds as early miners.

Empire Mine Tour Project


Proposed New Tunnel
A tram will transport visitors on a tour, stopping to view exhibits
2 Exhibits
Visitors can view dioramas and learn about the changes in mining techniques over the years of the mine's operation.


Natural Groundwater
Most of mine's tunnels are now filled with water. During mine operations, 21.000 gallons of water per minute were pumped to the surface.


Unloading area
24-person visitor group will depart the tram at this point. Hard hats and rain slickers provided.

Tunnel & Shaft Intersection
100 feet below the surface the new tunnel will connect to the old diggings

Drift & Stope
Here, visitors will walk into a passage called a "drift" and view a “"stope"” - a large area where a vein of gold-infused quartz was extracted from the granite.

Main Shaft
At the end of the drift, a new viewing platform will allow visitors to view the main shafts as it decends into the depths of the old mine.

Daily Park Hours
January - April 10:00 AM. - 5:00 PM.
May - August 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 PM.
September - December 10:00 AM. - 5:00 p.m.
(Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day)

Entrance: $3.00 for adults over 16
$1.00 for children over 5 (children under 5 are free).

The Park is located on Empire Street accessed from the exit on Historic Hwy 49.

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