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Mining inseparable from community

I am responding to the April 3 letter, “Mining not dear” by a woman who doesn’t understand mining and what it has contributed to Grass Valley and society as a whole. If she looks at the things she uses; her computer, home appliances, plumbing, and her car or bicycle, maybe she will realize that her lifestyle is dependent on mining. Remember, if you don’t grow it you have to mine to get the materials for it.

Mining people and companies cared about their communities and the environment around them. Companies and families gave property for schools, i.e. Grass Valley High School, property and stock for Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital as well as land for parks, i.e. Condon Park.

Boyce Thompson, founder of Newmont Mining Corporation, also created Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. Newmont Mining Corp. sold the North Star Mine property to Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) in 1957 for $100,000. The North Star property was more than 700 acres with houses, including the Hague House, along with the mine lab buildings. The institute operated as a research facility until 1970, under the guidance of Dr. Pierre (Peter) Vite and later Dr. Gary Pitman. During that time they worked on conifer physiology and the diseases and insects that killed trees. Their main goal was to control bark beetle infestations. Many doctorate and master’s degrees were written from the research conducted at Grass Valley. The students were from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Cornell University, and Oregon State University. Many of the bark beetle species pheromones were synthesized working with Stanford Research Institute. BTI invented devices to measure oleoresin exudation (pitch) pressure.



Newmont owned the Empire Mine when it donated lights and material for grandstands in Memorial Park. Mining in the foothills, especially in the Grass Valley Mining District, was the main force keeping Northern California economically afloat during the Great Depression. There were boarding houses in Grass Valley and Nevada City where men from all over stayed. There wasn’t enough housing for their families to live in the area.

During the early 1900s, there were nine or more narrow gauge trains leaving Grass Valley every day for San Francisco. There were nearly 4,000 miners working in the Grass Valley mines before World War II, not counting the engineers, geologists, assayers, machinists, foundry workers, and other support groups. During the war, they mined tungsten in one of the Grass Valley mines.




Nevada County never experienced the Depression to the extent other areas did. My father, a hard-rock miner, bought land and new cars in the heart of the depression. One of my grandfathers, a metallurgical engineer, came to Grass Valley in 1927. He said that it was the busiest place he ever saw. At the time there were 50 hard rock mines operating in and around Grass Valley.

If after more than 100 years of hard rock mining and if it was as devastating as the author of “Mining not dear” says, why did so many people want to live here? Since the mines closed people have brought Giardia and E. coli to the streams. When the mines closed, water from many of the streams was still drinkable and much of the area surrounding Grass Valley and Nevada City was still forest and wilderness. This is no longer true.

Patrick Hurley lives in Grass Valley


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