© Richard Nielsen
Golden Crown Mine buildings, 1896, at Union Gulch. Hoist is visible at upper roof. Destroyed by fire in 1904.
Sometime in the 1850s, shiny copper pyrite was first noted near Dogtown in the stream bed of Gregorio Creek (now known as Pine Gulch Creek) by early pioneers including Charles Lauff. The pyrite was traced back to what became known as Union Gulch, today referred to as Copper Mine Gulch. Union Gulch drained the west side of Bolinas Ridge near Dogtown. As early as the 1860s, crude copper mining operations began in Union Gulch. The external openings of least two of the 1860s shafts are still visible, although entrances were blocked by Point Reyes National Seashore due to serious safety concerns.
In the mid-1860s, a group of local men -among them Pablo Briones, William Ewing, U. M. Gordon, Charles Lauff, Edward Nelson, and William Miller- incorporated the Union Copper Mining Company. Mining operations started there in 1863, about the same time that mining began at Pike County Gulch, just south of Union Gulch. The Union Mine operated for several years, although unsuccessfully due to the fact that the price of copper had dropped, and, at least initially, ore had to be sent to England for processing.
The Pike County Gulch Copper Mining Company was organized in 1863 by Samuel Clark of Bolinas to mine in the gulch immediately north of the Audubon Ranch. Whether Samuel Clark’s initiative was based on an actual finding of copper ore or wishful thinking due to the nearby findings at Union Gulch, is unknown. Nevertheless, a shaft was punched into Bolinas ridge. Unlike the mine to the north, only low grade copper ore presented itself in metamorphosed sandstone, probably greywacke. Mining was abandoned after three years during which time a 700 foot shaft was developed but no copper ore was found.
On June 11, 1864, the Marin County Journal reported that "Two companies are organized and running full blast---the “Union” and the “Pike”. They are each driving a tunnel into the Tamalpais ridge with a fair prospect of soon reaching the main ledge or vein."
In 1865, the Union Copper Mining Company embarked on another approach and tunneled 400 feet horizontally into the hillside at the base of the ridge near Dogtown. Timber structures supported the tunnel and a small railway was laid to carry waste and ore out of the tunnel. This change in the mine approach may have been done to facilitate drainage of the mine. In January 1866, a minor cave-in occurred. Debris was quickly cleared away, and fortunately, there was no loss of life. Despite the Union Mining Company's efforts, a lode of copper ore wasn't uncovered.
One last effort was made to find rich ore. A contract was awarded to two men, Cantrill and McCormack. In May 1867 they extended the tunnel of the Union Mining Company another fifty feet, at a cost of $11.50 per foot. They had already bored eight hundred and forty feet. However, by the following month they encountered extremely hard rock and abandoned further efforts.
During the next three decades feeble efforts were made toward reestablishing mining in the Union Gulch area. In 1875, a Mr. Mann from Napa prospected in the area, and an unknown individual prospected the area in 1880. This last effort may have prompted the owner of the Wilkins Ranch to employ two laborers in Union Gulch to collect rock specimens for assay over several days in 1881. The California Academy of Sciences displayed specimens of copper ore in October of 1882 that had been obtained from Oak Ranch near Bolinas. In 1891, Wilkins, who owned the Union Gulch mining property, claimed that he had discovered copper on his property. Nevertheless, no mining activity of significance seems to have occurred between the late 1860s and the mid -1890s.
Captain Thomas Whitelaw of San Francisco acquired the rights to initiate mining at the former Dogtown copper mine and formed the Golden Crown Mining and Milling Company. Late in 1895, the Golden Crown reopened mining operations in Union Gulch. Captain Whitelaw hired John Pearson, Jr., a Stanford University engineering student, to be superintendent of mining operations. Events would prove the wisdom of this choice.
Six men were employed at the mine by December of 1895. In mid-December W. F. Grider and Sam Clark brought in a hoisting engine and other mining equipment, once used in Santa Rosa’s Mark West Mine. Shortly after Christmas, Pearson and Clark returned to Santa Rosa to pick up additional mining equipment. A news article called it “ancient mining equipment”; it was probably outdated but affordable.
In 1896, the Golden Crown began mining in earnest, sinking a vertical shaft into the south side of the gulch. Assay of the copper pyrite ore yielded 12.5% copper and small amounts of gold and silver. In a Petaluma newspaper, Grider claimed that the ore assayed at 24%. However, this is likely to have been after just partial processing of the ore.
By the time the shaft reached a depth of 110 feet, an initial shipment of 28 tons of ore was sent for smelting. The Selby Lead Company of San Francisco was contracted to smelt the ore. The ore was shipped out from Bolinas wharf. Ore amounting to 28 tons should have yielded 7,000 pounds of copper, if indeed the assay of 12.5% was correct.
Pearson employed Grider, a partner in the prospecting firm of Grider & Grass, to explore further in the nearby Olema Valley. Grider and several other prospectors made a bold claim in early 1896 that they had discovered gold, silver, and copper in the coastal mountains near Bolinas. However, nothing further was heard of this gold discovery.
Relations between the mining company and residents of Bolinas were not the most congenial. There were willing workers among Bolinas citizens looking for employment. However, the company only hired outsiders to work the mine. Naturally, this exclusion built resentment among the town folk. An incident in early 1898 further escalated the tension. In January, mine superintendent Pearson contracted with John and George Poma of Bolinas to supply firewood to run the boilers. However, the Poma brothers failed to meet Pearson's expectations, which called for the wood to be corded. Pearson wouldn't pay until the contracted firewood was corded.
The Golden Crown Company was taken to court. Judgement of the court was awarded in favor of the mining company. Under Bolinas Constable McCoy, a group of angry men from town entered the mine premises when the mine workers were away on a Sunday in late May, and removed everything, including the hoist engine, to a barn near Dogtown.
STAY TUNED FOR PART II!