The Kennedy Mine in California’s Gold Country, is famous for being one of the deepest gold mines in the world (at 5912 feet) and demonstrates how gold changed an entire way of life in California.
Prospected in 1860, reorganized in 1886 and continuously run until 1942, the Kennedy Gold Mine produced approximately $34,280,000 in gold. It still has one of the tallest head frames in existence today.
In 1928 a surface fire burned all the structures except two. All other buildings and foundations were built after 1928. The company operated the mine until 1942 when the U.S. Government closed gold mines because of the war effort.
On August 27, 1922, when forty-seven miners were trapped by fire in the nearby Argonaut Mine 4,650 feet below ground, rescue efforts were launched from the Kennedy Mine to connect the tunnels of the two mines. Unfortunately progress was slow and rescuers arrived too late to save the miners in the Argonaut. The Argonaut mine incident was the worst gold mine disaster in US history.
The head frame is 135 feet tall, and composed of iron beams. The original 100 foot tall wooden headframe burned (along with most of the surface developments) in 1928. Debris from the burning headframe fell down the main shaft, blocking any chance of exit for the miners still working thousands of feet below. In the aftermath of the Argonaut Mine disaster, a connecting tunnel was left in place at the 4,600 foot depth between the two mines. This tunnel allowed the miners to escape unharmed.
The mine office is the best preserved building on the mine property. It was built in 1908, and was one of the only buildings to survive the 1928 fire. The ground floor was the assay office, which tested ores at the end of every day, so the quality of ore was always known. The second floor contained mine offices, the safe, and the pay room. Miners made around $4 a day in the 1920s, and specialists (foremen, carpenter, assayers, and blacksmiths made almost twice as much). These were fairly reasonable wages for the time. The third floor contained four bedrooms which were used to house investors when they paid a visit to the mine. They mostly lived in San Francisco and the journey could be long and dusty.
Pioneer miners tribute.
The huge steel head frame whose pulleys guided the miners one mile down into the bowels of the earth. God I wish I could get down there.
There were two big blast furnaces located on the property, one for separating the gold from the mercury, and the second for melting the gold and producing ingots for delivery to the mint in San Francisco.
The explosives vault.
Ore was hoisted to the surface of the mine, and processed in a stamp mill on the slope below the headframe. The Kennedy Mine had one of the largest stamp mills in the entire Mother Lode, with 100 stamps. Each stamp weighed nearly half a ton, and they were in constant motion, vertical hammers rising and falling, crushing the ore into a sand-like consistency. Mercury and other “benign” chemicals were used to separate the gold from the waste material. Mercury combines with gold to form a solid alloy called amalgam.
The mine waste was a problem. It was full of sulfide minerals that converted to acids on exposure to the atmosphere, and water in the town below was being fouled. In the early 1900s, a system of buckets and giant wheels was constructed to carry tailings over a nearby ridge to a reservoir that could isolate the poisons from the domestic water supply.
The Kennedy Mine near Jackson, CA is open every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday from 10 AM to 3 PM, March through October. Admission is $10.00 for ages 13 to adult, $6.00 for youngsters 6 through 12, and free to those under 6. Admission includes a FREE guided tour. Guided Tours are recommended for an interesting, in-depth, and educational tour of the grounds [about 1.5 hours].