By Denise Seith
With the price of gold on the rise, many recreational gold prospectors are turning their hobby into a serious business. After all, at $1,600 an ounce, you don’t need to find much to cover the cost of your equipment, and all the rest is pure profit! If you’re not one to buy a gold mine, or do any wading in a cold stream hoping for a flash in your pan, then visit Gold Bug Park in Placerville, California instead. Touring the Gold Bug Mine and Joshua Hendy Stamp Mill inside the park might be a better way to satisfy your “gold fever” — or at least get a good history lesson.
Although modern day gold miners use many of the same principles as the California 49ers in days of yore (but with better equipment, thankfully) hard rock mining practices have pretty much remained the same. Touring the Gold Bug Mine shows exactly how mining companies dug drifts to follow the veins of gold into the sides of hills. The 352-foot Gold Bug drift now has wood flooring and lights to make it easy for a self-guided walk through history. When you buy your ticket, you’ll be given a hard hat and a hand-held audio device. As you make your way through the mine, the voice of an old-timer tells the story of the Gold Bug and the California Gold Rush.
William Craddock and John Dench started the Hattie Mine (now called the Gold Bug) in 1888. It was named Hattie for Craddock’s eldest daughter. The mine is safe and well ventilated now, but it is believed that no more than 2-3 men worked this mine at a time, and after a day's work it would take 24 hours for the air to exchange so the men could start to work again. No records were kept, so unfortunately no one knows exactly how much gold was removed, but eventually it stopped producing. John McKay took over the mine in 1926 and found a more prominent gold vein that made money. To help remove the ore, McKay laid tracks for ore cars. The ore was then taken outside and run through a crusher to extract the gold.
A short walk from the Gold Bug Mine is the eight stamp Joshua Hendy Stamp Mill, still sitting on its original foundation. If you’re not familiar with how a stamp mill worked, interpretive signs explain the gold extraction process, and a working scale model demonstrates how the ore was reduced. Built around the turn of the century as a community crusher for miners in the area, each stamp on the mill weighs approximately 1,000 pounds. It was so loud it could be heard in downtown Placerville a mile away! Also check out the amazing Cornwall Mineral Collection containing specimens from all over the world.
Located at the back of the Hendy Stamp Mill, is a blacksmith shop also in its original location. The shop worked to keep the stamp mill and adjacent Silver Pine Mine (now closed) in operation. Without the tools that blacksmiths produced and repaired during the Gold Rush, most mining outfits would not have survived. Depending on the day and time you visit Gold Bug Park, you may catch volunteer blacksmiths pounding away at the anvil.
During World War II, the mines throughout the Mother Lode were considered a non-essential industry and were closed. Gold Bug Park is now owned and operated by the City of Placerville— the only municipality in the state of California to own a gold mine. If you’ve never toured an underground gold mine before, this is your chance to learn about the entire gold extraction process from mining to milling. But be careful— you might just get bitten by the Gold Bug while you’re there, if you haven’t been already!
Gold Bug Park is located 1 mile north of Highway 50 on Bedford Avenue in Placerville, CA, at 2635 Gold Bug Lane.
There is NO CHARGE for entrance into the park or for day use of picnic areas and trails. Parking is FREE, with ample room for RVs. Admission to Gold Bug Mine (adults $5 and kids $3 at press time) includes a self-guided audio tour, a hardhat, and admission to the Joshua Hendy Stamp Mill. Gold Bug Park is open 8:30 am – 5:00 pm year round, but mine tours are available only on weekends during the winter.
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