‘Lucky to have it’: North Star Mining Museum to reopen May 1 | TheUnion.com

‘Lucky to have it’: North Star Mining Museum to reopen May 1

The largest known Pelton Wheel, which stands 30-feet high, sits in its original location near the intersection of Freeman Lane and Allison Ranch Road in Grass Valley as part of the North Star Mining Museum and Pelton Wheel Exhibit, which will open soon after a year of closure.
Photo: Elias Funez

The North Star Mining Museum, at 933 Allison Ranch Road in Grass Valley, will reopen for the 2021 season on May 1, after remaining closed last year due to the pandemic.

The museum, which first opened in 1971, traditionally opens to visitors from May 1 through Oct. 31 each year.

The North Star Mine powerhouse has since been restored and constructed into a museum housing many operating mining implements, including a working stamp mill.
Photo: Elias Funez

Jeffrey Boylan, the museum’s new director, said, “One of the most interesting things about our museum is that we have a number of working exhibits.”

These include a functioning compressed-air steam engine and drill, as well as the largest known Pelton wheel — an invention he described as both “so critical to mining” and integral to local history, as Lester Allan Pelton brought the 19th century invention to the Miner’s Foundry in Nevada City, after first developing it in Camptonville.

In 1895, said Boylan, the building which is now a museum was the North Star Mine powerhouse, the first complete compressed-air transmission plant of its kind.

“I just get really excited when I start telling the stories, because it was all happening right here in Nevada City and Grass Valley,” said Boylan.

Northstar Mining Museum docents, including Jeffrey Boylan, right, all met last week to prepare for the upcoming reopening.
Photo: Elias Funez

According to Boylan, the museum has attracted a variety of visitors over the years, from tourists to local fourth graders on field trips as their curriculum covers Californian history.

“You get kids when they’re 9 or 10 years old, and then you get people that are curious again when they’re older that come through, so there’s all kind of groups that tend to cycle through the museum,” said Boylan.

“And anybody that’s curious realizes the value in it, because it’s one of the most interesting museums in California as far as mining history goes.”

Many of the exhibits at the North Star Mining Museum have been restored over the past year that the museum has been closed to the public, including spaces like the assay office, pictured.
Photo: Elias Funez
The restored interior contains many working pieces of local mining history.
Photo: Elias Funez

According to the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, as Nevada County remains in the red — or “substantial” — COVID-19 risk tier, museums are permitted to open while limiting indoor activities to 25% of capacity, among other modifications.

On how things will look different to visitors this year, Boylan said standard COVID-19 precautions such as physical distancing and the usage of face coverings will be in place.

Visitors will be cycled through the museum in groups limited to around 10 people at a time, said Boylan.

A large collection of mineral and crystal specimens are on display at the North Star Mining Museum in Grass Valley, set to open in May.
Photo: Elias Funez

The North Star Mining Museum is one of three museums run by the Nevada County Historical Society. The other two are the historic Firehouse No. 1 museum and the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, both in Nevada City.

This museum, according to the Nevada County Historical Society, exists to educate and inform the public, “not only about the mining process, but also about the impact the industry had upon the humanity of the people who built the mines and those who toiled there during their operation.”

Boylan said that, after putting out a call for docents earlier this month, he has been “very excited” to see that the response this year has been greater than usual.

Docents, according to the announcement, will give guided tours to the public, sharing about the process of gold extraction “rock to bar,” from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.

Boylan said he considers the site unique in both the stone building’s beauty and its historical significance.

“We’re just really lucky to have it locally,” he said.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.





Jeffrey Boylan: 530-575-7481


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