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Guide to the Plumas-Eureka Collection
321.1  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Legal Status
  • Administrative Information
  • History of the Plumas-Eureka Mines and Johnsville, California
  • Collection Scope and Content Summary
  • Indexing Terms
  • Bibliography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: California. Division of Parks and Recreation. Plumas-Eureka Collection, Plumas-Eureka State Park,
    Date Range: 1866 - 1952
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1880 - 1920).
    Collection number: 321.1
    Collector: California State Parks

    Plumas-Eureka State Park

    Blairsden, CA 96103
    Extent: 72 cubic ft. (69 boxes)
    Repository: California State Parks
    Plumas-Eureka State Park
    310 Johnsville Rd.
    Blairsden, CA 96103
    510-836-2380
    Abstract: The Plumas-Eureka Collection is a collection that illuminates the history of gold mining and its impact on the settlement of the Plumas County region of California during the great decades of the California Gold Rush. It consists of materials, including legal records and a nice collection of photographs, that reflect the history of the Plumas-Eureka region, and life in the mining towns of Johnsville and Jamison City, California.
    Physical location: For current information on the location of these materials, please contact the Plumas-Eureka Ranger Station at 530-836-2380.
    Language: English.

    Legal Status

    Public

    Administrative Information

    Access

    The collections are open for research by appointment only. Appointments may be made by calling 530-836-2380.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Plumas-Eureka State Park.

    Preferred Citation

    Suggested citation of these records is: [Identification of item], Plumas-Eureka Collection, Plumas-Eureka State Park, 321.1, California State Parks.

    Acquisition Information

    This collection was accumulated over a number of years from many donors, including the descendants of the Maxwell and Sorracco families of Johnsville. Many of the maps and other mining records in the collection were acquired from Mr. C.A. Lundy, who bought and consolidated mining claims on Eureka Peak in the 1950s.

    Processing History

    The collections had limited processing work done by Park Association volunteers in 2001. In 2002, the Department of Parks designated funds to hire an archivist to organize, arrange, and house the collection according to established archival procedures and produce a finding aid for the collection contents. During the processing of the collection, items that had been individually foldered were consolidated with like items to reduce bulk, all metal fasteners were removed and replaced where necessary with inert plastiklips, all photographs were sleeved in PAT-passed polypropylene sleeves and photocopied, documents in need of cleaning were surfaced cleaned using an archival-quality document cleaning pad, and the collection was housed in archval-quality containers, additional containers ordered when needed. The containers were labeled with an archival-quality acid-free label using an inert adhesive.
    The collection was organized into three major record series with subseries as appropriate to give a sound intellectual organization.

    History of the Plumas-Eureka Mines and Johnsville, California

    (The history of Johnsville and the surrounding area of Plumas County, California, is inseparable from the history of gold mining operations in the area in the mid to late 19th century. This narrative, adapted from histories compiled by George Ross, Plumas-Eureka State Park docent, lays out the general chain of events surrounding the discovery of gold on Eureka Peak (Gold Mountain as it was formerly known), the establishment of the Plumas-Eureka and Jamison Mines, and the founding of the town of Johnsville and other communities organized around the mining operations.)
    Plumas County as a region had been virtually bypassed by the hoards of people flooding into California at the news of the gold discovery at Sutter's Mill in 1849. Since the major gold discoveries were on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada, the closest many 49ers got to the region was more than fifty miles away, along the trail forged by Peter Lassen a couple of years prior that wound across Nevada through the Feather River Canyon on its way to Oregon, with forks in a pair of places reaching south to the gold mining regions in the foothills. Lassen's trail traversed the area of today's Plumas County most significantly at Big Meadow, an area now covered by the waters of Lake Almanor. It was at Big Meadow that weary wagon trains would stop to rest and feed their animals in preparation for the final push to the coast.
    History has it that a man who got lost discovered gold in the Plumas County region. A '49er of questionable intelligence and integrity named Stoddard had gone hunting one day and promptly lost his way. His wagon train not willing to wait, he and a companion were left to fend for themselves. In their wanderings, they chanced upon a lake and discovered gold in the sands, theirs for the taking. With winter approaching, however, the men had more pressing needs and decided that the riches of their "Gold Lake" would have to wait until the spring.
    Stoddard spent the winter of 1849-50 visiting the gold camps of Nevada City, Grass Valley, and Downieville, all the while telling magnificent stories of his "Gold Lake" just waiting to be rediscovered. "The Gold Lake Excitement," as it came to be known, was not altogether convincing to many, but by the spring of 1850 Stoddard had a hand-picked party of 25 miners ready to accompany him back up to the high country along old Maidu Indian trails in search of the lost lake of gold.
    Over a month of searching got them nowhere, and many of the party lost faith in their leader Stoddard. By June they issued an ultimatum that Stoddard took as a threat and he stole out of camp one night, this time not getting lost as he made his way out of the region. The rest of the party, deciding to head back homeward, stopped to pan for gold in the streams along the way. They were not disappointed. Although they did not discover the famous Gold Lake of Stoddard's tales, they did discover a number of placer streams and many of the party were richly rewarded for their efforts. Too ill equipped to last the winter in the high country, they journeyed to the Central Valley to stay the winter and plan a return to the region with the spring thaw.
    The spring of 1851 saw the original group return, along with a group of nine additional miners following. Not finding much panning room along the streams, the nine decided to cross the crest of the mountains. Setting up camp in the shadow of a mountain, along a creek on the east side of the crest, two members of the nine set off to inspect the surrounding terrain. What they found was nothing less than miraculous. The two men, Meriwether and Peck, had stumbled across an exposed ledge of rose quartz about 20 feet wide that slanted uphill about 400 feet. The ledge was full of gold.
    The fortunate nine sent word of the discovery along the trails to men still panning the creeks, and within days, by June 5, 1851, the Eureka Company was formed with 36 men. A flood of people followed and the rush to Eureka Peak had begun. The creek was named Jamison Creek and more surveying and prospecting begun. 76 men came together to form the Washington and '76 Mine Company, laying claim to another outcropping not far from the Eureka. A half-mile south, 40 more began the Rough and Ready Mine. To the north, another 80 men started the Mammoth Mine. Within a month of the Eureka discovery, Eureka Peak was being blasted and tunneled in a series of claims along its surface.
    The progress was not easy. Of the four mines established that June of 1851, two put far too much capital into infrastructure and the failure to gather enough gold-bearing ore the first year left them insolvent. The '76 Mine had invested heavily in an expensive stamp mill near Jamison Creek and a wooden chute over 1500 feet long to bring the ore down the mountain. They also developed a small town, the City of '76. When the following spring's ore produced only $200 in gold the mine folded, the company disbanded, and assets were sold for cash, with only a handful of men willing to stay and work the claim. The Rough and Ready also lived up to its name, investing in its own mill and suffering through a series of starts and stops. While the claim was worked until 1854 with meager success, the company eventually disbanded, leaving its claims unworked for many years.
    The men of both the Mammoth and Eureka Mines persisted, however, and their persistence eventually brought its rewards. Not invested in the overhead of the other two companies, relying on rudimentary tools and learning from the experiences of miners from other regions, the companies both built arrastras, mule-driven grinding facilities that were a less expensive means to pulverize and pull the gold from the ore, a slower but wiser process. The arrastras were used until the blasted ores produced enough revenue to merit the building of stamp mills, although use of the arrastras did not cease entirely.
    The formation of the mining companies introduced the need for a host of support. The town of Jamison City, just below present day Johnsville, started along Jamison Creek and soon gathered a reputation for wild living and easy women. Activities related to mining soon sprang up all along Jamison Creek, with claims along the stream supplementing the claims further up the mountain. Prospecting took place all over the region, with gold strikes along the Yuba River, the three branches of the Feather River, tributary streams and other rock outcrops. With the flood of miners came additional people laying land claims, and soon farming was in place to provide the area with foodstuffs that would otherwise require transport from distant communities such as Marysville via mule train. The building of mills, flumes, outbuildings, and homes helped a logging industry take hold that still persists today. Over the next decade, as the industries took hold the population grew from a fledgling 200 people to over 5000.
    By the 1870s, ownership of all of the mines had undergone changes as miners discovered they were not necessarily the best managers and wealthy interests from San Francisco and other financial centers moved in. With new ownership came better management and efficiency, and soon the mines were producing thousands of dollars a month in gold. John Parrott, a wealthy San Francisco banker, had been the first of the major owners to buy up and consolidate mining operations, his Eureka Mine competing with the Mammoth as to who had the richer tunnels. Eventually he was bought out by the Sierra Buttes Mining Company, a London-based outfit, which then proceeded to buy the Mammoth Mine and other claims along Eureka Peak. At the time of the sale, the Eureka Mine employed about 70 men for eight months out of the year and Jamison City was still lively.
    When the Eureka Mine's stamp mill at Eureka Lake collapsed in 1872, the Sierra Buttes Mining Company built a new and much-improved mill near the mouth of the Upper Mammoth Tunnel further up the mountain. This resulted in the enlargement of the tunnel and development of an entirely new town, Eureka Mills, on level with the tunnel workings. Not long after the new mill went into operation Eureka Mills became a substantial community, with a boarding house for 200 miners, a school, a church, two stores, a hotel with a saloon, two additional saloons, a livery stable, a blacksmith, company offices for the mine, and several homes.
    Later in 1873, the mines were put under the charge of William Johns, a brilliant manager of mining operations, who, through a series of moves and processes made the mines much more efficient, and a string of 25 successful and profitable years began. With an influx of capital to build the mill and a pair of other improvements, the mines gave up a prodigious amount of gold. Even old tunnels that were thought to have been played out were discovered to have more "paying ledges." In less than a decade, the London investors had their original investments returned and shares of the company increased in value, making them very wealthy indeed.
    Life in Eureka Mills was very different from that of its sister town further down the mountain. More families lived there year round, as the mine continued work through the winter to extend the tunnels, lay track from the tunnels to the mills for mule-drawn ore cars, and maintain a sawmill. By 1873 there were over 300 men on the Plumas-Eureka payroll, nearly a hundred of them Chinese. Their community was patriotic and religious, more of a family town than the wild Jamison City. With prosperity and the stream of gold came improvements in their way of life. The Central Pacific Railroad crossed the Sierra Nevada at Truckee in 1869, making Eureka Mills closer by days to a major source of supplies. A wagon road was opened from Jamison City to Eureka Mills, and in 1874 the telegraph line reached the town via Downieville and Sierra City.
    William Johns planned and built a second stamp mill, the Mohawk, a 40-stamp mill completed in 1878. As with the Eureka Mill, an adjacent town was organized. Johns laid out a town site in 1876 and a Jamison City man named John Banks claimed land and built the first building, a hotel, in the town that was first called Johnstown. Two conflicting stories circulate to this day as to the original naming of the community of Johnsville, whether it was named for John Banks or William Johns. No definitive evidence survives. Johnsville didn't grow much until work on the mill was begun in earnest, but by 1878 Johnsville was a community. As the stamp mill began its work and gold ore was crushed by the ton, Johnsville grew and flourished. In 1882, Johnsville was a thriving town with two hotels and stables, three general stores, two meat markets and a number of saloons.
    The mines on Eureka Peak were successful for a number of years, but by 1887 much of the gold had been taken. Dividends, for so long up in the 15% range, for the next couple of years dropped to a meager 2-3%. The shareholders, knowing that profits were not much longer in coming, decided to withdraw their investments in the Sierra Buttes mines and put the properties up for sale. Other owners, lessees, tributors, and miners in several combines continued to work the Plumas-Eureka until the turn of the century, but mining was essentially over by 1897. Persistent hopefuls into the 1940s produced a trickle of gold. When all was finished, Eureka Peak had given up some 18 million dollars in gold and another 2 to 3 million came from Jamison Creek placer mining. Today there are some 62 miles of tunnels in the mountain, many of which are still intact but off-limits.
    With the decline in the mines, so went the towns. Jamison City and Eureka Mills did not survive, and Johnsville nearly went the way of the gold dust. The hardy families who loved the town, were born and raised there, persisted as long as they could. Johnsville shrank to a town of 15 people by the Depression years, but in the 1970s, new blood infused the town with life. A group of local homeowners was formed to help preserve many of the original structures that had fallen into disrepair and today Johnsville is a community of some 100 people, completely contained within Plumas-Eureka State Park.

    Collection Scope and Content Summary

    The Plumas-Eureka Collection at Plumas-Eureka State Park consists of records, artifacts, and memorabilia connected with the historic Gold Rush-era town of Johnsville, California and the surrounding region, as well as the primary gold mining operations that took root on Eureka Peak in the mid-19th century. The collection contains a good selection of material relating to two of the major gold mining companies of the area, the Sierra Buttes Mining Company and its Eureka Mine, as well as the Jamison Mining Company. Life in the town of Johnsville is reflected in the many photographs in the collection, along with journals of various social clubs and school memorabilia. The Sorracco family, first of Johnsville and later the town of Portola, were successful merchants as well as involved with the mining industry, and their records reflect information about social life and activities in Johnsville, the centers of trade for the region, along with the types of goods and services supplied to the community.
    Significant items of note are the pair of maps of the Plumas-Eureka Mine and its labyrinth of tunnels, rises, and drifts drawn by the surveyor and rail man Arthur W. Keddie (1877-1921), as well as a complete log book filled in meticulous detail with data on the daily operations and production at the Plumas-Eureka Mine and its major tunnels.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in a library's online public access catalog:
    Library of Congress Subject Headings

    Personal Names:

    Keddie, Arthur W., 1877 - 1921.

    Subjects:

    California--History.
    California--Pioneers.
    Gold mines and mining--California--Plumas County--History.
    Historic buildings--California--Johnsville.
    Johnsville (Calif.)--History.
    Plumas Eureka Mine.
    Plumas Eureka Mining Company.

    Bibliography

    Additional information about Plumas County, the Plumas-Eureka Mine, other mines on Gold Mountain, and Johnsville may be found in the following publications:
    Bancroft, Hubert Howe, 1832-1918. History of California. San Francisco, CA: The History Company, 1890.
    Blodgett, Peter J. Land of Golden Dreams: California in the Gold Rush decade, 1848-1958. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1999.
    Braasch, Barbara. Californi's Gold Rush Country: a Guide to the best of the Mother Lode. Medina, WA: Johnston Associates, 1996.
    California. Division of Beaches and Parks. The History of Mining in the Plumas Eureka State Park area, 1851-1890, by W. Turrentine Jackson. Sacramento, CA: State of California, Division of Beaches and Parks, 1960.
    Holliday, J.S. Rush for Riches: Gold Fever and the Making of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
    Nadeau, Remi A. Ghost Towns & Mining Camps of California: a History and Guide (5th ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Crest Publishers, 1999.
    Shoup, Laurence H. A Century of Gold Mining in the northern Sierra: history of the Gibsonville region, Sierra and Plumas counties, California, 1850-1942. Oakland, CA: L.H. Shoup, 1985.