Experiencing History: North Star Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum reopens for summer | TheUnion.com

Experiencing History: North Star Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum reopens for summer

The world's largest Pelton wheel stands in its original location inside the Northstar Mine's powerhouse, now the location of the Northstar Mining Museum at the corner of Freeman Lane and Allison Ranch Road in Grass Valley.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com


WHAT: The North Star Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum

WHERE: 933 Allison Ranch Road, Grass Valley

HOURS: Summer (May 1 to Oct 31) from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays as well as Sundays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. The museum is closed in winter.

TICKETS: Free admission, donations appreciated

INFO: http://www.nevadacountyhistory.org/mining-museum or 530-273-4255

If you’re local, you’ve probably visited the Empire Mine on numerous occasions. You’ve likely taken friends and family from out of town to see its historical artifacts and pristine gardens.

However in the shadows of this popular state park lies the lesser-known North Star Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum, an equally historical site that boasts an extensive collection of mining artifacts including the largest known Pelton Wheel, which stands a whopping 30 feet high.

The museum is under the umbrella of the Nevada County Historical Society, and exists to preserve and protect the area’s mining heritage while educating and informing people about the mining process, as well as the impact the industry had on the people who built and worked in the mines.

North Star Museum director Rudy Cisar, a former mechanical engineer, has been with the museum for about seven years.

“I used to drive a school bus after I retired,” Cisar said. “I never knew this place existed, then I drove the kids here one day and saw a docent sign and I thought ‘Hey that might be nice.’”

Since then, Cisar has been advocating for the preservation of the museum and its contents. He proudly demonstrates the many functioning exhibits which he said are meant to capture the imaginations of kids of all ages.

“I look at it as an educational process,” said Cisar, “(for) the tourists or anybody who’s interested in mining or the history of Grass Valley to come and enjoy our exhibits. Most of the exhibits are interactive which means they are in working order, as opposed to just standing.”

“And it makes more sense when looking at an object to see it function. That’s what we strive for; to have more interactive projects in here.”

Visitors will find the museum full of articles and machinery that dates back to the mining heyday in Nevada County.

Nevada County Historical Society board member Rolf Laessig, an engineer in his own right, recently completed a model Gold Ore Processing Plant that is a replica of the plants used in the gold mining process. Over 500 total hours went into the model, which is complete with electricity and functioning parts.

Some of the other larger features include a working dynamite packer, a Cornish water pump, and stamp mills.

The exhibits are largely made possible by generous donors, some of whom bequeath their collections. Bob Kraft alone donated more than 80 Pelton Wheels of all sizes, some of them small enough to fit in your hand.

The main structure, which houses most of the museum’s contents, was built by A.D. Foote in 1895. It was the first complete water-powered, compressed-air transmission plant of its kind. It was declared a California Registered Landmark in 1971.

Wolf Creek runs alongside the museum which will open its doors for the season beginning May 2. Picnic tables dots the creekside, allowing guests to picnic or just sit and take in the scenery.

The museum is always looking for volunteer docents to help lead tours and demonstrate the many machines within the space.

“There’s no magic abilities required,” said Cisar. “Just to get along with people and interact with them.”

“At Empire Mine, if they want to do something they have to go through the state and they have to jump through hoops, and get funding. If we have the funding and we all agree ‘that’s a project,’ we do it, no questions asked.”

While surveying the museum’s massive collection, Cisar gestured to the priceless items.

“This is why we’re so proud.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.

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