Kennedy and Argonaut Gold Mines, California

A new day for a new adventure, me, my parents, Ta Gie and Sam went for another trop in the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Traveling Northwards from I-5 we exit to freeway 4 and to 99 North, we have finally left the freeway by exiting 88 to Jackson. We were greeted by vineyards and farms and a couple of small towns, and we turned left by Clements to follow 88 and we passed by empty gold fields and the weather was still hot. The road finally went up and by the time we reached Martell and the outskirts of Jackson it was almost 10 am.

Our first stop was the Memorial for the town and mines. I’ve been here before with Deelow but we didn’t have time to see the mines. We just read the markers and take pictures. We did that all today and here is the California Markers Dedicated to the miines.

Here is a start of the history of Kennedy Mines.

The history of the Kennedy Mine is traced to January 4, 1860 when Andrew Kennedy, John Fullen, James Fleming, and James Berringan filed four mining claims, each 120 feet long, in the vicinity of today’s Viewpoint along Highway 49/88. Andrew Kennedy had explored the area up to the Oneida Mine boundary line to the North. He is also credited with digging a prospecting shaft to a depth of 100 feet, using a bucket attached to a winch with a handle. This shaft was sunk approximately 400 feet south of the Oneida boundary line beginning perhaps as early as 1855. Andrew’s three partners were associated with the Oneida Mine at the time the mining claims were filed.”

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Kennedy Mine

After looking and taking pictures we moved on looking for the Argonaut Mine but at no avail. We ended up on street heading to downtown Jackson. So we turned around and headed back by the memorial because across the road from it was the Kennedy Gold Mines. Open from 10am to 3pm and FREE from March till October. We drove in and it took quite a while following the road and seeing the remnants of the mines. Equipment and storages were around the area with markers in them. Here is the continued story.

“Andrew sold his one quarter interest in the undeveloped mining claim within a year, on October 4, 1861, for $5,000.00. The four partners operated sporadically along one whim shaft until 1869. The Mine was sold to eleven Jackson businessmen for $1.00 on November 22, 1869. Nine of these men formed a corporation named the “Kennedy Mining Company.” 

Peter Reichling, one of the nine corporate members, operated the Mine as superintendent. He operated the Mine periodically for a total of 41 months between 1870 and June 1878. At least three new shafts, which yielded gold, were sunk during this time period. One of these three would later be referred to as the “South Shaft.” 

The Kennedy Mining Company is credited with recovering $300,000 in gold value between 1870 and 1878. The amount of gold recovered prior to 1870 by the partnership is unknown, but considered modest compared to the $300,000. Several attempts to reopen the Mine by the Kennedy Mining Company after 1878 were unsuccessful. 

The Mine was sold again in 1886 for $97,500 to fifteen Bay Area investors after prominent mining engineer, J.J. Thomas, had performed extensive ground testing. The lead investor was Francis Reichling, the older brother of Peter. The new investors incorporated under the name of the “Kennedy Mining and Milling Company.”

The Kennedy Mining and Milling Company investors were able to infuse more capital into the business. They employed an experienced manager and engineer J. J. Thomas who succeeded in operating the mine profitably,  Some of the major factors that brought about this change in profitability were (1) a larger amount of investment capital by the fifteen investors to purchase up-to-date mining machinery, (2) the implementation of effective mining engineering concepts by J.J. Thomas, (3) the availability of sufficient water from the Sierra to effectively use water power to run the mining machinery, and (4) the discovery of rock at greater depth with a higher quantity of gold.”

We passed by the Head Frame and so a couple of vehicles parked beside the buildings. So we parked beside them and went to the building. Two ladies greeted us and told us about the tour of $10 per person, while there was a self-guided tour by buying a $5 book. We chose the latter and being the first people in the mines, we have everything to ourselves. The souvenir store was the first stop which is the original Change House.

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Change House

(1) Change House – When the miner came to work, he would change from street clothes to work clothes. At the end of his shift he would return here, change out of the work clothes and would be inspected during the shower routine. He could then dress back into street clothes and go home. This ritual was supposed to prevent “high grading” (stealing gold.)

After that we moved on to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th stops which were there beside the souvenir stores.

(2) First Aid Station – All injuries would first be attended to in this building. The first county hospital was built in Jackson in the late 1800s.

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Boiler Room

(3) Boiler Building – Until 1926 the mine was powered by steam fueled first by wood, then later oil. The oil was brought to Martell by rail tankers and transferred to the mine. After 1926 the mine was powered by electricity and the steam from this remaining boiler was used for hot water and heat. Boilers were used at the mines for several reasons. First using wood and later oil in the early 20th century, water was heated to boiling, 212 F, to create steam to power the steam engines. Those engines operated machinery such as the compressors and the hoist.. With the arrival of electricity in 1926, the steam boilers were abandoned.

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Water Tank

(4) Water Tank – This tank used to store water for the miners to shower with at the end of their shift.

We walked further back and saw a row of different buildings with each one with a sign in on the front. I was pretending to be the tourist guide read each site from the pamphlet and these were the buildings in the area.

(5) Outhouse –  The workers used pit toilets (restrooms with no plumbing.) This outhouse was raised and restored in 2012. The outhouse has 12 holes. Many outhouses were portable. When the pit was full a new pit was dug and the outhouses were moved over the new pit. The dirt from the new pit was used to fill-in the old pit.

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Blacksmith Shop

(6) Replica of an 1849 Blacksmith Shop – a blacksmith shop was used as a hardware store in the early 1800’s. Tools and equipment were made and repaired on site.

(7) Oil Building – This building was used to store lubricating oil and grease for the different machines and cables. Its architectural style is a mystery. Consturcted of concrete walls and arched roof on a concrete slab foundation. It is unlike any other structure at the Kennedy Mine.

Then we went to the open area where there equipment or part of it lying around. But following the map and guidelines we went by the edge overlooking the next one on our lists.

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Stamp Mill Remains

(8) Stamp Mill Remains – This is where the gold was extracted from the quartz rock. To free the gold from the ore, stamps crushed rock into fine sand Liquid mercury was introdcued into the stamp area. This formed a chemical bond with the gold creating an amalgam (like the silver amalgam previously used for tooth fillings.) The amalgam was then taken to the mine office to be separated, and free the gold.

(9)View of the Kennedy mine Tailing Wheels – Four 58 foot wheels were used to lift the mining debris (tailings) over two small hills to be stored behind a holding dam. This was to prevent the tailings from washing into the downstream creeks and rivers.

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Tailing Wheel

Those two mentioned above were quite far from where we were and it required a hiking or walking to go to those areas. But the area where they had the marker placed was a nice area to view the stamp mills and tailing wheels. After looking and trying to figure it out what it looked like years ago we turned around and faced the rusty equipment lying on the ground, with the yellow grasses growing around them.

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Original Blacksmith and Machine Shop Site 

(10) Original Blacksmith and Machine Shop Site – May pieces of equipment were manufactured or repaired at this site. The forge base can still be seen in the back center of the foundation.

(11) Air Compressor Building Site – Three large Ingersoll Rand air compressors were located in this building. The compressed air was used to power the drill in the mine for blast holes and other equipment. The large metal stack in the back was the air intake for the compressors.

We crossed to the other side of the trail were remnants of a cemented building used to stand I think. We took a couple of pictures and I read the information about it.

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Hoist

(12) Hoist – Two large eight foot Allis Chalmers drum hoists sat on this foundation. It was used to wind and unwind the cable. The hoist lifted and lowered skips into and out of the shaft. When steam power was used, the hoist could drop the skips at speeds up to 2200 feet per minute. When the hoist was converted to electricity in 1926, the skip traveled at 1500 feet per minute, similar to the speed of a modern elevator.

(13) Office of the Surface Foreman – All above ground mining operations were directed from this building. It currently serves as the Foundation office.

(14) Office of the Underground Foreman – All . below ground mining operations were conducted from this building. When a miner came on duty, he would report to this building and pick up his “brass,” an identifying tag, so that the foreman could tell who was in the mine at all times. At the end of the shift, the miner dropped his “brass” into the square slot in the brick wall to the right of the door.

(15) Auxiliary Hoist Site – This is a smaller version of the hoist mentioned at Station #12. It was used as a back up to the larger hoist and to change the cables when necessary. A spool of hoisting cable sits in front of the hoist.

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Head Frame

(16) Head Frame – The 135 foot East Shaft head frame is the only one of its size still in existence in the Mother Lode. It was assembled entirely with hot rivets – no welding – after a disastrous fire in 1928 burnt the original wooden head frame. The head frame supports the cable and contains the mechanism for dumping the contents of the skip bucket into the water rock bin or ore bin. The shaft had three compartments, two for skips and one for equipment – air, hoses, electrical lines, bell wire and a ladder system. The skips worked together as a counter balance. When one skip was at the top, the other was at the working level in the mine shaft.

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Head Frame

We have looked underneath the huge head frame and took a little break by sitting on the bench. The weather was getting hot because of the summer heat and our next stop on our tour was an open area. We walked around and took some pictures but we hurried to the shade of the large tree in the middle, the only tree in the area.

(17) Sawmill Area – Stack of logs were kept here. The logs were used for supports in the mine tunnels. In September, 1928, a fire started in the log piles and quickly spread to the then wooden head frame. The fire destroyed the head frame and all the nearby buiidings. Over 100 miners escaped unharmed through the Argonaut mine.

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Sawmill Area

(18) Rock with Drill Holes – Holes were drilled into the working face of the ore. These were then loaded with explosives which broke the rock into pieces that could be put an ore car and carried to the shaft for hoisting to the surface.

(19) Ore Car- This ore car was used in the Kennedy Mine around the turn of the century. The car holds about one ton. On average, one of ore produced 1/3 ounce of gold.

(20) Rock Crusher – a rock crusher was located in the Head Frame which reduced the oversize ore. readying it for the stamp mill.

(21) Equipment Skips – these skips would be used to transport the equipment, lumber, and mules into the mine. Mules were used to pull the ore cars in the tunnels underground.

(22) Water Skips – The mine employees worked three shifts. Two shifts were for mining while the third was a maintenance shift that included bailing water from the mine. These two 1,000 gallon skips bailed up to 80,000 gallons of water every night. Water remains in the shaft today.

(23) Trestle to Stamp Mill – After the ore was crushed, it would be released from the ore bin into two ton ore cars. A mule or a man would move the car along this trestle to the stamp mill. The ore would then be dumped into large storage bins above the stamps. From there it would be dropped into the processing mill.

(24) View of Argonaut Mine – details about the Argonaut mine later on.

(25) North and South Shafts – Looking west, you can see the location of the old North Shaft, just below the highway and next to the entry road to the mine property. It was in that area where Andrew Kennedy discovered a quartz outcropping. Six hundred feet to the south is where the South Shaft was located, just west of Highway 49. Beyond the South Shaft areas is the Argonaut mine site.

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Electric Power House

The electric power house was the only building in that area and once again the heat of day prevented us from exploring the house. The grasses were all yellow and like I said before the only tree was the one on the middle. So we went to the shade and I read the information.

(26) Electric Power House – When the East Shaft was sunk in the early 1900’s, electricity was used only for lighting. The use of electric power to run the heavy equipment would not be in full usage until 1926, when high voltage power was brought to the mine. This building housed the transformers and switches that dispersed the power for the varied uses on the property.

(27) Powder House – This underground storage building was used to store dynamite. It has a tin roof so if there was an explosion all of the blast would be directed upward.

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Powder House

The Powder House was quite far from the usual route of the tour. It was on the way of the vehicles, I and Ta Gie walk there to see the Powder House. Then we follow the others who went to the Kennedy Gold Mine Office. The building was the most standout site. Sitting on top a hill and it was beautifully preserved. They sat outside while I walk around and even though we were not allowed to go inside me and Mom went in,

(28) Kennedy Gold Mine Office – Built in 1908, this three-story concrete building was the business center for he Kennedy Gold Mine. The west room on the first floor is the retort room. This where the fold was separated from the mercury by heating in a n enclosed retort oven. Mercury was recycled to the mill, and the melted gold was poured until bars firm shipment to the San Francisco mint.

The east room on the first floor is the assay room where the richness of the ore was determined. Each day about 3000 tons of ore were mined The rooms on the second floor were offices. On the east side us where the miner went at the end of his shift on Saturday to receive his pay. On the third floor were guest roos fro visiting dignitaries.

On the side was the stairs leading upstairs and they all went upstairs while I took a pic from below. Once again we broke the rules so when we saw the next tour coming from the other area we hurriedly went down. Walking down the stairs of the hill and saw the beautiful view.

(29) View of the city of Jackson – One can view the city of Jackson from this spot. Notice the little white church with its steeple. It s the Mother Church of North America fro theSerbian Orthodox religion. The church was built in 1894. While many of the miners at the Kennedy were Serbian immigrants, others came from all over the world.

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Stamp Mill Model

We went back to the souvenir store and look around the exhibits from the mines. I looked around while Dad and the others went to buy their souvenirs. Since its fully funded through donations the things they sell was very cheap. They bought a bunch of things and after that we asked for the direction of the Argonaut Hill. Here is the history to end the era of the gold mines and the birth of a park.

“The Kennedy Mine operated successfully until the U.S. Government closed all major gold mines in 1942 due to the war effort. The Kennedy was the deepest gold mine in North America when it closed in 1942 at 5,912 vertical feet (meaning as measured straight down below the surface). It had well over 50 miles of underground excavations. 

Order L-208 was lifted in 1945, which allowed the gold mines to resume operations. Management at the Kennedy chose not to reopen the Mine because of the extensive water that had accumulated in its numerous deep underground excavations after remaining idle for three years. Gold production of the Kennedy by that time had totaled over $28,000,000.

For a time, during and after WWII, the Anaconda Mining Corporation toyed with purchasing both the Kennedy Mine and the nearby Argonaut Mine, but decided against it. The factors they considered were: the low price of gold, miners were not available after the war, the cost of labor was high, both mines were flooded and would require years to pump out and re-timber, plus maintenance costs. Unfortunately, the costs of re-opening exceeded the expected profit.

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Tailing Elevators

The property lay idle until Sybil Arata, a ceramics teacher in San Francisco, bought the 154-acre Kennedy Mine at a liquidation sale in 1961 for $41,600.00 and retired to live there.

Sybil lived in the historic Bunkhouse Manager’s Residence on the mine grounds for many years. She died on May 12, 1994 leaving a will that stipulated two wishes. (1) The Kennedy Mine property was to remain as open space for wildlife habitat; and (2) the Mine was to be maintained for its historical value.

The Kennedy Mine Foundation was formed in 1996 to fulfill those wishes. Today the mine is open for tours of the historic grounds. School tours, and Special Group tours are available. Experienced guides tell the fascinating story of this historic mine whose operation helped build the State of California.”

Argonaut Gold Mine

We all rode the car and Dad drove back to the highway. From the Kennedy Mine we could see the head frame of the Argonaut Mine so we tried following the Argonaut Road. It went kind of curve and we were surprised to find ourselves on a residential area. We were confused because we didn’t even see the head frame in the area. So when we Passed by the Que Sera Sera street we finally decided to check in the GPS. I typed it in my GPS and fortunately it was there and Dad made a U-turn in one of the houses. We followed it to Spunn Road and it was dead end to the Argonaut Gold Mine. Here is the history.

“Originally called the Pioneer Mine, the claim was discovered in 1850 by two freed slaves who became miners, William Tudor and James Hager. They worked the claim until the 1860s, and sold it to the Pioneer Gold & Silver Mining Company in the 1860s. The Argonaut Mining Company purchased the mine in 1893. The Argonaut Mine produced more than $25 million in gold before World War II, making it one of the richest mines in California.

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Argonaut Underground

This mine is the site of the worst mining disaster in the Mother Lode. Forty-eight immigrants were trapped at 3,500 feet below ground in August of 1922. All of them died from deadly gas that was released during a mine fire. The cause of the fire was attributed to unsafe working conditions. The fire burned 2 ½ days before it was extinguished. Rescuers worked for two weeks to descend to the level where the miners were trapped. All recovered victims were buried at local cemeteries.”

During one of the rescue attempts, rescuers equipped with oxygen tanks brought a canary with them. The canary died. Rescuers were led to believe that the miners died soon after the fire started from lack of oxygen. The phrase “canary in the mine” has since become a common method for describing or predicting hazardous conditions.”

It was closed and No Trespassers. Only me and Dad went down and took a couple of pictures then we head on to the Jackson Casino where we would be having our lunch. The history of the gold mines were interesting because we caught a glimpse of the mining days in the Golden State. Also, the preservation of the area was necessarily for one to totally imagine the life during those days. Hopefully, they got more funding and as of now most of the workers there were volunteers and they were still raising money to renovate of the of the Kennedy wheels.

Here are the links for more information:

https://www.sierranevadageotourism.org/content/argonaut-and-kennedy-mines-no-786-california-historical-landmark/sie54edf3804b79cf17c

http://www.kennedygoldmine.com/

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