For Alex Burgh, his recent visit to Empire Mine State Historic Park was both a sentimental journey as well as an unusual family reunion.
Alex, a resident of Guernsey, is the great, great grandson of William and Agnes Bourn, Jr. – the owners of Empire Mine during its heydays in the early 1900s. It was under their ownership that Empire ranked as one of the oldest, largest and most prosperous hard-rock gold mines in North America. Alex’s ancestors played a major role in our local history. Maud, their only daughter, married an Irishman, Arthur Rose Vincent, and they had two children: Elizabeth Rose Vincent and Arthur William Bourn Vincent, known affectionately throughout the world as “Billy.” Prior to his death last year, at age 93, Billy provided many fascinating facts about his parents and grandparents – facts that volunteers continue to share with around 100,000 visitors from all over the world each year. Billy’s sister, Elizabeth Rose, married the 6th Lord Burgh. As far back as he can remember, Alex, the 8th Lord Burgh, has shared a special interest in his family’s history. He also enjoyed a close relationship with his great uncle Billy.
Billy, a devoted family man, entrusted Alex with many family photo albums which Alex brought with him on his visit.
Living History volunteers, dressed in period costumes, turned out to welcome Alex, and to enjoy vintage photographs they’d never seen before. Bill Dempsey happened to be portraying William Bourn, Jr. that day, and he was so convincing that Alex had to look twice.
“All Bill needed was a mustache,” he laughed, “and I’d have thought I truly was stepping back in time. That’s how striking the resemblance was.”
Arlie Harrell portrayed Agnes Bourn, Vince Seck portrayed mine manager George Starr with Barbara Langdon as his wife, Libbie.
One particularly memorable moment occurred when Alex sat in the very same office chair his great, great grandfather used generations earlier.
“This truly is a thrill,” he said. “William Bourn, Jr. was a thoughtful man, renowned for his planning skills. Sitting here, I feel as if a great honor has been passed on to me, and it’s my turn to preserve our family’s link with the past. Empire Mine is a vital, vibrant part of that past.”
Alex’s financial company in Guernsey is named after another important Bay Area Bourn family residence, Filoli Ltd.
“His visit was inspiring,” said Park Ranger, Greg Sherr, “and all of us are looking forward to welcoming him back soon.”
Courtney Ferguson is a freelancer writer in Nevada County.