Gold Mountain Mine (Baldwin Mine), today (Photo Courtesy Frank Lai)
Discovery of placer gold in the streams of the San Bernardino Mountains was reported as early as 1855. However, rough conditions in Bear Valley—including difficult access and harsh winters—limited its appeal to would-be opportunists. As gold discoveries became less frequent, many began looking for other precious metals and resources. Individual placer mining yielded to corporate mining (especially quartz mining) and the Chinese were one of the primary groups to be hired. In 1873, while on a silver prospecting trip, Barney and Charlie Carter stumbled upon gold and quartz. Millionaire mining tycoon, Elias “Lucky” Baldwin, owner of the fabulous Ophir Mine in Virginia City, Nevada heard about “Carters’ Quartz Hill,” the modern-day Gold Mountain just north of Baldwin Lake. He purchased it for $30,000 to open a gold/quartz mine and invested $250,000 to get the mine started. Just around that time the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Bear Valley and the rumor of potential riches brought prosperity to the area, especially the town of Belleville. Baldwin hired Chinese workers to build the road connecting the mine to the nearest road at Cactus Flat. More than 150 men, many Chinese, also dug a five-mile flume with a 300-foot tunnel through solid granite to supply water for the 40-stamp processing mill that would be in operation for about eight months. By this time the Chinese were well-known for their skill in digging irrigation ditches and flumes and blasting through granite to create tunnels. A stamp mill is used to crush mountain ore to fine particulates for the water that would flush, or sluice out, the gold.
On August 26, 1875, the financial structure of California collapsed and Baldwin lost $2,500,000 because of his investment in the Bank of California. It took years for the California economy to rebound. In the meantime, Baldwin’s Gold Mountain mine, only eight months in operation, closed but then opened intermittently until it closed in 1895.
In 1899, after much of the resources in the first mine was depleted, J.R. DeLaMar approached Baldwin to construct a second 40-stamp mine in the same vicinity. The mines were active by various companies as late as the 1940s, though yields were disappointing for the most part. In the modern day, that enterprise became the Gold Mountain Mine in the San Bernardino National Forest, now dormant except to hikers.
Off Highway 18, stop at Holcomb Valley Road (Forest Road 3N16); if you have 4-wheel drive then turn left uphill and continue for about 2 miles to the Mine. For additional recreation opportunities, stop by the Big Bear Discovery Center off of Highway 38.
City: Big Bear City
Submitted by: S. Chung, et al., Chinese American Citizens Alliance
Chinese labor site, Mining