GRASS VALLEY, Calif. (KTXL) — We know California as the Golden State, but it was first called El Dorado by our first settlers after they discovered the rolling hills and mountainsides were rich with gold.
Today, there are more than 13,000 historic gold mines, and one of the largest mining systems is in Grass Valley.
At one point in time, Empire Mine lived up to its name, cranking out about 5.8 million ounces of gold between its start in 1850 to its end in 1956, making it the oldest, the longest and richest gold mine in California state history.
Among this 13-acre estate of gardens, hiking trails and the original mining complex is the museum.
Its most striking feature is this scale model representing the 367 miles of intricate and abandoned mine shafts that still run underneath Grass Valley.
“Gold was discovered first here in the parking lot,” explained Gold Start tour guide Jenny Comperda. “And there’s a saying: ‘If you find the quartz, you find the gold.’ So, they found an outcropping of quartz, and they knew where to dig. This was a bustling community.”
If someone found an ounce of gold in that mine today, they would take home $1,900.
Comperda said one of the many favorites of the historic site is visiting the ol’ blacksmith.
Peter Perkins demonstrated how to make an old-fashioned dinner triangle, the same kind that would call the gold miners to supper.
“This bends into a triangle, and these two hooks will come to a point. And so that’s the triangle part, and this piece is going to be the striker,” Perkins shared. “’Strike while the iron is hot’ is an old blacksmith adage.”
But the showpiece of the historic park is not above — it’s deep below.
“We are about to go into the main shaft at Empire State Park,” Comperda said. “This is a very unique part of our park that we’re able to preserve this unique part of our history.”
Miners would work about 10 hours a day underground, bringing the gold up.
An interesting fact about this mine: It’s partially underwater, and there’s still gold down there.
Unfortunately, you may have to scuba dive 11,000 feet to get it.
For those who like to keep their head above ground, taking a tour of the beautiful grounds of Empire Cottage may be more of a golden moment.
“We have a lot of state parks, over 280. This is one of those parks that’s really unique in that it’s protecting and preserving California’s really early history of gold mining,” Comperda explained.
Between the old mine shaft, the beautiful museum and the historic grounds of Empire Mine State Park, there are many reasons why this is another great destination in California.
Comperda told FOX40 the museum is closed, and they are not giving any tours to the public for now. But come June 15, they are hopeful all of that will change.