There are, or at some time in the past have been, at least 270 mines in Jackson County, Oregon (Mindat) In the Jacksonville District there are the Grace Diggings, Jacksonville Placer, Norlin Mine, Opp Mine, Opp Placer, Town Mine, Williamson Mine, Winchester Housten Placer Mine, and Yellow King Mine. Gold mining in Oregon had its beginnings in Jackson County. Gold was discovered in 1852 on Jackson Creek. Here are some of the places from which 500,000 ounces of gold have been mined—and where today you can go and try your luck at finding more gold:
- Applegate River: There are numerous hydraulic placer along this river. Below the old hydraulic mines is an excellent place to dredge as most of this mines lost around 40% of the gold that went through there sluices. Also try the tributaries Forest, Sterling, Humbug and Thompson Creeks. All of these streams were excellent producers.
- Ashland: In the Ashland Area, all the creeks have gold in them. Some of the better placer locations are Bear, Ashland, Anderson, Wagner, Arrastra Creeks and Yankee and Horn Gulches.
- Central Point: At Willow Springs on Willow Creek there were some very rich placers.
- Elk Creek: Near the head of Elk Creek in T31S R2E sec. 29 is the Al Sarena (Buzzard) Mine. Elk Creek has produced considerable placer gold.
- Gold Hill: All the area creeks produce gold. Some of the better locations are: Foots, Sam, Galls, Sardine, Kane, Evans and Pleasant Creeks. The Gold Hill pocket near top of hill was the most famous of all gold pocket discoveries. It had a mass of nearly pure gold in a very few cubic feet of earth. Numerous other pocket locations in the area.
- Jacksonville: Along Jackson Creek there were some spectacular discoveries. Also along Sterling Creek. Most of the creeks in the area contain gold.
- Phoenix: Along Bear Creek there was some extensive early placers, still being worked today
Thanks to Google. Earth we can see many of these mines without leaving our desks. Along the southern part of Interstate 5 is Medford, Oregon, a dense urban conglomeration of roads and more roads. A short way to the west along Route 238 is Jacksonville, no larger than the area devoted to the Rogue Valley Airport or the Centennial Golf Club in Medford. The first sign that mining and waste disposal have occurred in and Around Jacksonville are the names of the roads: Placer Hill Drive, Granite Pit Road, and Dump Road. To the northwest of town, up Granite Pit Road, we see on Google.earth what looks like a large complex of pits, rock pile, waste dumps, and impoundments, none of them reclaimed. Southwest of town, just off the Jacksonville Highway there is what looks like a large, active quarry. Clearly there is and has been a lot of mining around the town.
Jacksonville is now another of those little towns that depends on tourist to come and drinks expensive coffee, eat even more expensive ice cream, buy innumerable crafts and artifacts called artistic, and go away suffused with emotion and admiration for a beautiful little, original mining town. The bolder tourists walk one of the old mining trails, one of which is described thus:
Sterling Mine Ditch Trail: This trail tours a remnant from Oregon’s colorful prospecting era. Placer gold strikes in the early 1850s led to the founding of Jacksonville, and in 1877, miners fashioned an artificial creek to draw water from the Little Applegate River to the mineral-rich Siskiyou mountainsides. The 26.5-mile-long, 3-foot-deep ditch, completed in 6 months, remained in use until the 1930s. Now, a stream of hikers flows alongside the ditch. The historical route passes through deciduous-evergreen transition forest and across oak-grassland hillsides. In the spring, wildflowers abound, but beware because poison oak is at its peak potency. Common wildlife sightings include deer, grouse, and ravens.
Correspondent Chris Lehman reports from southwest Oregon (I edit for brevity and relevance): Investors are trying to re-open the nearby Opp Mine. The owners are asking the county to re-zone the land to allow them to mine gravel and possibly gold. Opponents complain the trucks going to and from the mine would destroy the ambiance that brings tourists and their money to town. But isn’t this the same mine that put Jacksonville on the map in the first place? Joseph Hutchins is a vocal opponent, saying: “That’s history. This is today. We have a lot more people living here than we did a hundred years ago. We know about the toxic effects of mercury, lead and arsenic in our water and in our air. We know about those things. They didn’t know back then.”
Wes Mather family bought land next to the original (closed) Opp Mine. He says re-opening the mine would make his home impossible to live in: “The mining that was historically on the site is far different from what they’re proposing, which is an open pit and rock crushing industrial operation. When the Opp mine was being mined, there was no such thing as trucks. Nothing left that site except a few bars of gold.”
Co-owner of the proposed new mine, Bob Robertson says they’re trying to be good neighbors. “There’d be very little noise pollution or dust pollution that would bother or interfere with the neighbors’ use of their properties. We intend to build a berm between us and any homes close by.” Robertson says the town’s original residents got it right when they built a mine there. He disputes the notion that the old Opp mine was little more than a bunch of prospectors digging for gold nuggets. “Gravel and rock was taken off of this property, the mine tailings, trucked to, or in railroad cars, to Medford and Jacksonville. And the first streets of Jacksonville and Medford were gravel with the mine tailings from this property.”
Talk about sustainable development gone askew. Are we to turn all of the western United States into a mining museum? Maybe this is as good a reason as any to develop new mines in far-flung exotic locales—first the mine, and then unlimited new tourist opportunities for travel & tours to foreign mining museums.