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Malakoff Diggin’s: The making of a state park

IN RECENT months, much has been written about the addition of the hydraulic gold mining property known as Hirshman’s Pond and Diggin’s to Nevada City’s park system. Many innovations to all gold mining processes occurred here in western Nevada County. The discovery of gold in place, that is in quartz rock, in Grass Valley, gave rise to the county’s dominance in lode or hard-rock gold mining for more than a century. As the mines were dug deeper into the earth, better methods of obtaining, removing and processing the ore were perfected. Use of compressed air- powered drilling equipment to loosen the ore was first used here. The hydraulic mining process was invented in the American Hill area of Nevada City and reached its zenith in the 1870s and 1880s in the mines along the San Juan Ridge, especially those at North Bloomfield. Some 80 years after the hydraulic gold mines were shut down by federal court order, the state of California, through its Division of Beaches and Parks, recognized that process and established the Malakoff Diggin’s State Historic Park to interpret the hydraulic process and provide recreation for the public. The town of North Bloomfield is part of the park’s interpretation and is undergoing a continuing restoration.

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ON THE WARM afternoon of Aug. 12, 1966, some 300 people gathered in the amphitheater near China Gardens at North Bloomfield for the formal dedication of the Malakoff Diggin’s State Historic Park. The master of ceremonies that afternoon was Nevada County’s man about everything, the late Bob Paine. Paine waxed poetic about the park and about the volunteers and committees that worked diligently to make it a reality.



When the Malakoff Diggin’s park opened that day, there were only 12 family campsites available for rent at $1 per night, and they were not all occupied. There was little other park development, and restoration of the town was just getting under way.

The movement to make the Malakoff Hydraulic Mine a state park began early in 1961, when Al Trivelpiece, the Sacramento Bee’s resident staff writer, approached the Nevada County Nugget’s publisher Alf Heller with that idea. Trivelpiece envisioned a park that would include what remained of the town of North Bloomfield and the vast open pit known as the Malakoff Diggin’s.




Heller agreed to drive up and a take a look. The location was 15 miles from Nevada City via Edward’s Crossing on the North Bloomfield road, or some 27 miles via Highway 49 and the Tyler-Foote Road. Heller asked the Nugget’s history columnist Bob Paine and staff photographer/feature writer Bob Wyckoff to accompany him. Al Trivelpiece was on assignment and could not make the trip.

The three toured the town’s old schoolhouse where Paine’s wife Ruth had once taught and also toured the cemetery next to the school. They visited the vacant McKillican-Mobley general store; the ramshackle Ostrom livery stable; Blair Lake, a reservoir; and Cummings Hall, once the social center of North Bloomfield. They talked with the town’s last barber, Wendell Kallenberger; they visited and were regaled with stories by North Bloomfield native Charlie Gaus, the last hydraulic miner; they inspected and photographed many other buildings and sites in and adjacent to the town. They returned to Nevada City convinced that the area must be saved and added to the state park system as interpretive of the most environmentally destructive form of gold mining: hydraulicking.

Local interest in and support of the idea was essential to what had now become a “project.” Paine wrote about hydraulic gold mining history in his column. Pictures of North Bloomfield and the diggin’s taken on the trip were published along with old photographs from private collections. A group of local merchants and businessmen became interested in what soon became an all-out effort to establish a park at North Bloomfield. The media, The Union and Auburn based radio KAHI-AM and KAFI-FM, in addition to Heller’s Nugget, endorsed the project. There was no local radio station at the time.

Heller was well connected politically in Sacramento and, after a few telephone calls, an inspection trip with officials from the State Division of Beaches and Parks was scheduled. The publisher was joined by Parks District III Superintendent Clyde Newlin, his Assistant Director Mel Whitaker; Trivelpiece; Paine; and Wyckoff. The officials were impressed with the area and with its potential as an interpretive park.

The stage was now fairly set. What followed that trip became a well-orchestrated campaign to convince Sacramento that the Malakoff Diggin’s should be saved for public use. A committee to publicize the Malakoff was formed and began to solicit resolutions and petitions from local clubs, fraternal organizations, governmental bodies and private citizens. The people of Nevada County were overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed state park.

Support in Sacramento from Nevada County’s Assemblyman Paul Lunardi and State Sen. Ronald Cameron was immediately forthcoming. Optimism in the western county rose to a high level.

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NEXT TIME: State officials and E Clampus Vitus climb on board.

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Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor and author of local history. You may contact him at: bobwyckoff@infostations.com or PO Box 216, Nevada City CA 95959.


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