The butler admitted the small group of us to the "cottage" where we were greeted by Mr and Mrs. Bourn, dressed to the nines. Mrs. Bourn asked if we had come by train since we weren't dusty! We'd been warned that the people in this house were living in 1905 and we'd have to step back into their time.
The "cottage," of Cottswald design, was a 4600 square foot house the Bourns resided in for two or three weeks each year when they visited their property, the Empire Mine. It was the largest and richest of the California gold mines, producing more than $35,000,000 in gold between 1850 and 1956.
Once gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1848, 49ers poured over the hills of the Sierra Nevadas. The Empire began as a claim on Ophir Hill, one mile southeast of Grass Valley. Through a succession of owners and purchases, the claim grew. More than 300 miles of tunnels honeycombed the claim to a depth of just short of two miles. Its most prosperous time was under W. B. Bourn, Jr., owner, and George Starr, superintendent.
The mine is now a California State Historic Park and worth a visit. The grounds near the cottage are lovely. Tall, old-growth Ponderosa dot the lawns, fragrent rose bushes line the walks. Besides the living history tour of the cottage, you can tour the gardens and the mineyards. Check the schedule and hours; tours vary by day and season. You can wander around the mine yard by yourself. Blacksmiths were working in that shop during our visit. On some occasions you can buy a "pasty" for lunch. These are the meat pies that miners took with them down into the mine for their meals. And you can take numerous walking trails to explore the park. In the works is an underground tour to actually experience the same environment, sights, and sounds as those experienced by working miners.
Besides chatting with Mr and Mrs. Bourn and George Starr, the superintendent,about the latest discovery in the mine plus the wonders of electricity in the cottage, the maid led us through the library and into the province of Katie, the live-in housekeeper/cook. We saw her splendid stove, fired by wood that cost $26- $10 more than the plain style of the day.
It you are in the mood to step back into time and to experience this vital part of California's history, put the Empire Mine State Historic Park on your list. Leave your RV where you are camping, though, and drive your toad or towed vehicle. Bring a picnic lunch and your walking shoes and enjoy the day! Jaimie