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Stories from the valley

Gold Country History from Afar: Stanford, Sutter Creek,and Water Safety

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

Stanford University is playing a role in the testing and treatment of the coronavirus that has altered life for many of us. You mighthave heard that Leland Stanford, who established that prestigious university, got his start selling groceries to gold miners, but did you know he also owned—and almost gave up on—a lucrative gold mine in Sutter Creek? Although visiting that picturesque town isn’t possible right now, we’re giving you a virtual tour. We’ll also take a peek at twin tailing wheels in nearby Jackson and learn how they helped keep that town’s water safe.

From Loan Payment to Lucrative Profit

While operating his grocery store in Sacramento, Leland Stanford accepted an interest in the Union Mine in Sutter Creek, later known as the Lincoln Mine, as settlement of a debt. When the losses mounted up and he was determined to sell the mine, the foreman, Robert Downs, convinced Stanford to wait a little longer, which he did. That proved to be a wise decision. Between 1860 and 1873, $2.2 million in gold was taken out of the mine. Stanford sold his interest in it for $400,000. He went on to partner in the Transcontinental Railroad that changed the course of history.

For a time, Stanford called Sutter Creek home. I wonder if he enjoyed its beauty and charm as much as I do. If you plan a future visit, you might want to check out Knight Foundry and the Monteverde Store. (You’re sure to have fun while learning about the town’s rich past.

Keeping Jackson’s Water Safe

Gold mining produces pulverized rock debris, which was the case in Jackson. The piles of waste didn’t pose a big problem until heavy rains fell in January 1911. The deluge of 20 inches sent slickens—a slime and sand mixture—into creeks, flooding or washing away valuable farmland. Some ranches and farms were covered with inches of the slickens. The farmers banded together, bent on seeking flood damages.

Even before an agreement was reached in March 1913, the Kennedy Mine had begun construction on four tailing wheels to deal with its waste. Standing 68 feet high, each wheel held 178 buckets that lifted the mining waste up and deposited it into flumes that transported it downhill to a dammed impound basin.

Although two of the tailing wheels collapsed after mining ceased in 1942, two remain standing to this day. One is out in the open, and the other is protected inside a glass structure. They’re a sight to behold. With Jackson located about four miles from Sutter Creek, you could easily take in both sights in a single outing. Should you choose to do so once we’re free to travel again, I’m sure you’d have a great time soaking in this Gold Rush history.