To hear the mining guys tell it, finding gold in “them thar hills” is as likely as finding a pine tree in Nevada County. When the 49ers left in the 1800s, the miners left but the gold did not.
Some say miners’ tales are as tall as the pines, but one thing is sure: gold is selling at $1,260 an ounce - and it’s still around
“Less than 10 percent of the region has been mined,” said Tim Harrington, owner of Harrington & Baldwin Mining Equipment & Supply Co. “During the Gold Rush they only got about a third. All the gold that was left is still here.”
Harrington, along with co-owners Sam and Jeff Baldwin, have been mining all their lives, as did their fathers before them. And they are preparing the next generation with plastic pans and pick forks.
“Modern day miners are still mining the same areas as they always have,” Harrington said. “It’s still a big part of this community.”
Their mining supply store on East Main Street in Grass Valley is part equipment sales, part museum and part demonstration room. The owners’ love of mining translates into all they do, everything from locating and securing claims for prospectors to rescuing artifacts from rivers.
“One day we said, ‘Let’s open a mining shop to supply the miners with supplies, repairs and products. We all met out mining and became good friends, and now business owners,” Harrington said.
The trio has a long collective history of mining. But there was not a place where miners could meet, exchange information or purchase supplies until Harrington & Baldwin opened. “The closest place was in Auburn,” Harrington said.
On a recent rainy weekday, young and old dropped by to read old maps, pan for gold in the demonstration room and pick the brains of old-timers. There was River Rat Matt Nicholas who told tales of mining in the “olden days,” there was Olaf Bleck, an engineer who knows his way around a quartz boulder, and Evan Harrington, 11, who showed some out-of-towners how to sort the silt from sandy minerals.
Every local schoolchild knows the history of the Gold Rush. Although the mineral was discovered in other California towns before 1848, it was that year when James Marshall, a carpenter building a sawmill in what became known as Sutter Creek, discovered gold in the running water of the mill.
Although historians don’t know how, word leaked out. Legend has it that a promotion-minded merchant ran down the streets of San Francisco waving a bottle of gold dust, yelling “Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River.”
Within a few days, boats filled with townspeople were heading up the Sacramento River searching the glittering mineral. Word also reached the East Coast, and on 1848, President James Polk declared in a message to Congress that there really was gold in California, and in abundance.
Placer mining, or the excavating of streams for minerals, was a time-consuming and labor intensive process. Hydraulic mining, using high-pressure nozzles that practically washed away mountains and devastated the environment, was the answer to this problem but the cause of many other problems. Farmers were incensed that fields and rivers were befouled by dumping large amounts of silt into streams, creeks and rivers.
Hydraulic mining was banned in California in 1884.
What many residents don’t know is that the creeks and rivers are often still the site of hobbyists and hopeful prospectors panning for gold.
According to the Harrington & Baldwin owners, thousands of mining districts still exist throughout the state and an equal number of miners still pan for gold.
“There’s gold everywhere,” said Harrington. “This part of California is one of the richest gold deposit on Earth. There’s a lot more than we think.”