Empire Mine State Historic Park

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Empire Mine State Historic Park

Empire Mine State Historic Park is a state-protected mine and park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Grass Valley, California. The Empire Mine is on the National Register of Historic Places and a federal Historic District. Since 1975, California State Parks has administered and maintained the mine as a historic site. The Empire Mine is "one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest and richest gold mines in California" . Between 1850 until its closure in 1956, the Empire Mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold, extracted from 367 miles (591 km) of underground passages.


In 1850, George D. Roberts discovered gold in a quartz outcropping which became the Ophir vein. As word spread that hard rock gold had been found in California, miners from the tin and copper mines of Cornwall, England, arrived to share their experience and expertise in hard rock mining. Particularly important was the Cornish contribution of a unique system of pumps, operated on steam, which emptied the depths of the mine of its constant water seepage. This enabled increased productivity and expansion underground. The Cornish provided the bulk of the labor force from the late 1870s until the mine’s closure eighty years later.

William Bowers Bourn II inherited the Empire Mine in 1887. With his financial backing and the mining knowledge of his younger cousin, George Starr, the Empire Mine became famous for its mining technology, while the grounds became known for their gardens, residences, and social clubhouse. The noise was a constant and could be heard from three miles (5 km) away.

In 1929, at the recommendation of Fred Searls of Nevada City, Newmont Mining Corp. purchased the Empire Mine from Bourn. Newmont also purchased the North Star Mine, resulting in Empire-Star Mines, Ltd. The business was managed by Fred Nobs and later by Jack Mann. By the 1950s, inflation costs for gold mining were leaving the operation unprofitable. In 1956 a crippling miners strike over falling wages ceased operations. The mine was officially closed a year later on May 28, 1957 when the last water pumps were shut and removed. In its final year of operation in 1956, the Empire Mine had reached an incline depth of 11,007 ft (3,355 m).

In 1975, California State Parks purchased the Empire Mine property to create a state historic park. The state park now contains 813 acres (3.29 km2) including forested backcountry.

The Secret Room

During its operation, the Empire Mine had "The Secret Room." This room contained an accurate scale model of the entire mine. It was a valuable tool for mapping the shafts and stopes, spread out a mile deep and 2½ miles wide under the surface of the ground. What was a tightly guarded corporate secret for nearly 100 years is now one stop on the guided tour.


On weekends from May through October, volunteers dressed in Edwardian clothing give living history tours of the Bourn Cottage, the 1890s country estate home of William Bourn, Jr., and the Mineyard, with demonstrations of mine operations.

The park's museum contains a scale model of the underground workings of the Empire/Star mine complex, exhibits of ore samples from local mines, a recreated Assay Office and a collection of minerals.

There are 13 acres (53,000 m2) of gardens to tour.

Empire Mine Park Association

The EMPA provides of the interpretive and educational goals of this state historic park through donations, visitor center sales, membership dues and special events. It has a very active volunteer group. http://www.empiremine.org

  • Hardrock Trail
  • Indian Ridge Trail
  • Osborne Hill Loop
  • Pipeline Trail
  • Union Hill Trail