A gold mine and freeway share the same name
The Golden Center gold mine was located on the fringe of downtown Grass Valley in an area roughly defined by South Auburn, Neal and Mill streets. Today, the Golden Center Freeway cuts through the former surface workings of that mine near the off-ramp that delivers traffic to South Auburn at Neal.
The Safeway store stands on the former mine property and on a portion of Brockington Manor, a residential cul-de-sac that gave way in1959 to become Grass Valley’s first shopping center located on Neal Street and bearing the same name. Charles A. Brockington was the mine’s first guiding light, superintendent and part owner. First, a little background on western Nevada County gold mining.
Gold production was the principal contributor to Nevada County’s economic prosperity for roughly 90 years, from 1850 until our entry into World War II. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the infamous executive order L-208, which designated gold mining as “nonessential” to the war effort, resulting in the shutdown of all U. S. gold mines. Western Nevada County was devastated!
As the shutdown of the mines began, many miners went into military service, some took employment in San Francisco Bay Area shipyards, while still others took their skills to other parts of the country to mine vital metals. Some area machine shops landed contracts to help the war effort. The Miners Foundry in Nevada City machined cargo ship parts.
During gold’s heyday, the rich quartz mines of the Grass Valley District produced an annual recorded average of some $8 million in bullion sent to the San Francisco Mint.
I say “recorded” because there is no record of the value of “high grade” (free samples acquired underground by some enterprising miners at the expense of their employers), which also found its way into the economy through the back door!
In Grass Valley, the Empire, Pennsylvania, North Star, Idaho-Maryland and Golden Center were among the richest and deepest gold mines in the world.
The North Star’s central shaft descended vertically 3,000 feet into the earth. Incline shaft extensions and winzes (a steep incline, underground passage connecting one work site with a lower one) reached a depth of 10,500 feet from the surface.
Peace returned in 1945, and some of the mines reopened amid much excitement and optimistic expectation.
However, the cost to rehabilitate the mines, coupled with inflated production costs, especially wages and new machinery, rapidly approached and then exceeded the value gold produced, leaving no profit or reinvestment capital.
In 1934, the federal government fixed the price of monetary gold (bullion) at $35 per troy ounce (troy weight is based on a 12-ounce pound vs. the avoirdupois 16-ounce pound) and designated itself the only legal purchaser. The mines were forced to sell their product only to the U. S. Mint, thereby binding them to an artificially static price.
In 1956, an era came to a close when the mighty Empire, the area’s largest and greatest producing mine, “pulled the pumps.” That is, they ceased pumping water from the mine’s depths, causing the workings to flood – thereby shutting down operations.
The Golden Center Mine was a great gold mine in the heart of the city
In the early 1890s, Charles A. Brockington sold out his interest in the W.Y.O.D. (work your own diggings) Mine, a property he had developed into a good producer, and concentrated his efforts on acquiring and developing the Dromedary Mine (some references spell it Dromendary). In 1892, he negotiated the Dromedary’s purchase from principal owner William Harvey, who was now living in his native England.
The astute Brockington organized the Golden Center of Grass Valley Mining Co. which he incorporated on St. Patrick’s Day – March 17, 1913.
The new company’s operations were “centered in town” and encompassed not only the Dromedary, Rock Roche and Peabody mines, but also mineral rights from the Roman Catholic Church in Grass Valley, and mining rights from owners of many lots and acreage in, around and beneath the city of Grass Valley.
One property acquired later by the Golden Center was what became known as “The Garage Vein.” The story is unique and validates the oft made claim that, “This town (Grass Valley) has plenty of gold right under it!”
Around the time of World War I, Studebaker automobile dealer A. B. Snyder, whose shop was located on Mill Street where today’s Wells Fargo Bank’s solid red brick building stands, was excavating his floor to install a gasoline storage tank.
In the process, he uncovered a well-defined ledge of gold quartz at a depth of 6 feet! He decided to temporarily forget the automobile business and do some mining inside his garage.
A windlass was installed and a shaft sunk. In a short time, some very valuable high grade specimens surfaced from beneath the garage floor. At 60 feet, Snyder encountered so much water that a pump had to be installed.
Eventually, several tons of ore were crushed with an average yield of $130 per ton. After awhile, Snyder decided that selling Studebakers was easier than the manual effort needed to remove ore. The Golden Center Mining Co. named Snyder’s Diggin’s, the “Garage Vein.”
Next time: Additional information about the Golden Center Mine, Brockington Manor and construction of the Golden Center Freeway.
Bob Wyckoff is a retired newspaper editor, an author of local history, a lifetime student of California history and a longtime resident of Nevada County. You can write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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