Placerville’s Gold Bug mining museum | NevadaAppeal.com

Placerville’s Gold Bug mining museum

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Old mine shafts have a certain allure — we all wonder what’s in there and what was it like to work down there — but it’s usually not a good idea to go crawling underground.

At Placerville’s Gold Bug Park, however, visitors are allowed to wander into a few of the dark holes that once yielded thousands of dollars in ore.

Gold Bug Park is in Placerville, which is located about three-and-a-half hours west of Fallon via U.S. Highway 50. To reach the park, turn right on Bedford Avenue, then travel a mile north on a small, narrow road that passes through an older section of the town filled with picturesque Victorian houses.

The Gold Bug Park is Placerville’s largest park with 61 acres that include the remains of about 250 mine shafts that were once part of the Poverty Ridge Mining District, which produced some of the richest deposits in the Mother Lode.

According to an information display at the park, in 1848, three men extracted more than $17,000 in gold from the district (when gold was valued at $16-19 an ounce). By 1852, however, the area was producing little and was abandoned until the early 20th century.

The park includes a bubbling small stream, picnic grounds, barbecue pits and a replica of a stamp mill that serves as a small museum, which is open daily 12 noon to 4 p.m. in the winter months.

Ironically, the same features that made the area difficult to mine, namely that the hillsides consist largely of hard, solid quartz rock, also make crawling into these shafts much safer than most such tunnels carved in softer stone.

The Gold Bug is one of thousands of small mines that once dotted the Sierra foothills. Called “neighborhood mines,” most of these small holes were developed in the 1920s and 1930s, long after the heyday of the California Gold Rush (mid-19th century).

These small mines were not developed by large mining corporations but were worked by small partnerships using relatively crude tools, such as picks and shovels. The miners would take the ore easily available from the enriched quartz veins.

The history of the Gold Bug indicates it was never much of a success—its owners didn’t even quit their regular jobs while working on it.

Originally called the “Hattie Mine” in honor of a daughter of one of the original owners, it was renamed the Gold Bug in 1924, a name it carried until it was closed in 1942 during the Second World War.

The tour of the mine is interesting, offering a chance to wander through the hand-dug, hard-rock tunnels that once occupied the countless hours of its hard-working but ultimately hapless owners.

Adjacent to the mine is a peaceful picnic area beside a small stream. Here the stream has been dammed to create a small pool.

A wooden walkway takes you above the Gold Bug to another mine, the Priest, which is generally open for tours during the summer months. This mine was originally dug in the 1850s, but was abandoned after it produced little ore.

The Priest is somewhat unique because the walls are smooth and arches, resembling the work done by Welsh coal miners (who are thought to have also done some digging in California).

The unusual name is derived, according to local legend, because a Catholic priest allegedly conducted services in the cathedra-like tunnels, but there is no proof this happened.

The surrounding hills are filled with smaller tunnels, each abandoned after proving to be barren of gold. Just east of the Priest is a small shaft into which visitors can crawl.

About a half mile up the road from the Gold Bug are a few other open shafts, including one you can walk into, year-round. This street-level 15- to 20-foot shaft offers another example of the hand-cut tunnels found in the park.

For more information go to http://www.goldbugpark.org/.

Rich Moreno covers the history of Nevada.