‘Mother, there’s a gold mine in our basement!’ | TheUnion.com

‘Mother, there’s a gold mine in our basement!’

NEVADA COUNTY’S gold mining lore is filled with stories of incredibly rich strikes and also of disastrous busts. There are stories of miners loosing a good producing vein, giving up and selling out only to have the new owner almost immediately relocate the vein and reap huge profits.

One of the strangest of these stories, and a particular favorite, takes place in early 20th century and concerns a Grass Valley Studebaker automobile dealer named Atherton Bernhardt or A. B. Snyder, also called “Ab,” and his Grass Valley Garage on the west flank of Mill Street near Neal.

We’ll call this well-documented, true story “The Garage Vein Caper,” or “Our Basement’s Full of Gold!” and it goes like this:

“This town has plenty of gold right under it,” claimed the DAILY MORNING UNION on June 11, 1875, and “Ab” Snyder never argued the point.

His Studebaker automobile agency and garage occupied the present Wells Fargo bank site at 214 Mill street around the time of the Great War, as it was then called. Today that conflict is better known as the first World War, 1914-1918. While excavating for an underground petroleum storage tank in his garage, he uncovered a well-defined ledge of gold quartz at a depth of some six feet. An excited Snyder decided to forget the automobile business and do some mining inside his garage.

A windlass was installed and a shaft sunk, and in a short time some beautiful gold specimens were extracted from underneath the garage floor. The shaft was sunk to a depth of 60 feet, when water was encountered in quantities requiring the installation of an electric pump in order to keep the workings dry.

Several tons of gold ore were taken out of the shaft and drifts. (A drift is a nearly horizontal passageway dug on a parallel to the course of the vein being followed.) The ore was of good quality and yielded about $130 in gold per ton processed.

After awhile, Snyder decided to return to the automobile business and sold the mineral rights to Charles Brockington, owner of the nearby Golden Center mine located where the Safeway store stands on Neal street between S. Auburn and Mill. Brockington tunneled into Snyder’s basement excavation from the Golden Center’s operation and aptly named the addition the “Garage Vein.”

Every so often someone tries to connect Wells Fargo’s financial stability to Snyder’s Garage Vein but without luck. At least the bank’s home office denies that the Grass Valley branch is in the gold mining business.


Snyder was born in Grass Valley 1884 and died there in 1969, at age 85. He lived in his hometown all but a few years of his life.

After graduating from local schools, Snyder studied mechanical engineering and served as a mechanical draftsman at San Francisco’s Union Iron Work for some five years. He survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, after which he returned to Grass Valley. Upon his return he spent three years doing the same type of drafting work at Grass Valley’s Taylor Foundry.

He foresaw the rapid rise of the automobile and locally pioneered the automobile repair and the sale of new autos through dealerships in the western county. He was distributor of Studebaker automobiles and White trucks in both Sierra and Nevada Counties.

In later years he sold his automobile and repair businesses, shifted gears and coasted into retail selling of radios and refrigerators. He was also active in the Grass Valley Elks and served a term as exalted ruler.

He was well liked by his peers and listed as a prominent citizen in the 1920s volume, History of Placer and Nevada Counties. Here’s part of what was written:

“the name of Atherton B. Snyder stands prominent as that of a man who has rendered inestimable services toward the upbuilding and advancement of the community … He is a man of good business principles, is broad-minded and liberal, well-versed on all current subjects, and enjoys to an exceptional degree the good-will and appreciation of his business associates and friends…”

BOB WYCKOFF is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor/publisher and author of local history publications including “The Way It Was; Looking Back in Nevada County.” Contact: bobwyckoff@sbcglobal.net or PO Box 216, Nevada City CA 95959.

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