Highway 49--Gold Rush Country
Empire Mine State Historic Park 10791 E. Empire St., (530) 273-8522. Daily 10-5. $7, 6-16 $3; cottage living history $2 age 6+; tours free, schedule varies.
Once the largest and richest hard rock mine in the state, the Empire Mine operated for more than a century--from 1850 to 1956. Though it still holds millions of dollars’ worth of gold, the ore is too expensive to extract. The mine is now a peaceful 805-acre state park with grassy expanses and tall pines. The Gold Rush started here in 1850 with a stubbed toe in what is now the parking lot.
The mineyard illustrates many facets of the business and allows visitors to look deep down into a lighted mine shaft. Nearby in the mineyard office, a scale model shows the underground presence of this and other mines in the town (it is amazing to see all the tunnels and shafts).
And don’t miss a visit to the blacksmith. I got myself a prairie diamond ring made from a nail, which I am wearing to replace my own missing wedding ring (you can buy these in the gift shop for $1, as well as a vial heavy with gold leaf for $8.50). Among approximately 12 miles of hiking trails are self-guided backcountry paths and an easy 2-mile loop Hardrock Trail. Picnicking is not permitted.
The stone Bourn Cottage (also known as the Empire Cottage), was designed and built in 1897 as a summer home for William Bowers Bourn II and his wife Agnes by his hunting buddy, Willis Polk. It is in the style of an English country manor and features hand-planed heart-redwood walls. The surrounding 13 acres of formal gardens include an antique rose garden planted in 1905, several fountains, and a reflecting pool.
On Living History days, many of the characters mentioned above come to life, and since this cottage was a showcase of technology you might even see a demonstration of the magic of electricity.
Springtime at Empire Mine is held each Mother’s Day, when the gardens are at their blooming best, and includes Living History programs.
More things to do in Grass Valley.
More things to do in Gold Rush Country.
More ideas for exploring Northern California.
images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers