Ruth Mikkelsen and Mike Schuster have lived directly above a gold mine in Browns Valley for about 20 years. They might not have been around during the mine’s heyday in the late 1800s, but they are working to preserve its history so that generations to come can learn about the precious metal that drew so many to the Yuba County foothills years ago.
The couple owns over 100 acres on a hillside in the small foothill community. The Donnebrough Mine isn’t the only one located on their property, but it’s the biggest — with past owners having removed approximately $10 million worth of gold during the years it was active.
“In the 1850s, gold was discovered here. These are hard rock mines, where gold was found underground in quartz,” Mikkelsen said.
Much of the gold discovered in the mine couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. Schuster said miners drilled into rock looking for quartz — a crystal-like mineral. If found, the rock was pulled out, smashed and mixed with a chemical to extract tiny gold pieces.
The 1,800-foot-deep Donnebrough Mine has been closed since the 1950s after it became too costly to continue operations. Schuster said the mine has since flooded and would take months to pump. Much of the outer bones of the structure have begun to rot and are starting to crumble.
When Mikkelsen first moved to the property in the 1970s, she bought five acres and a house. Another person owned the land she and her husband own today. She recalls many of the structures that used to be located on the property before the past owner either demolished them or let them fall into disrepair.
There used to be a hotel, a dynamite shack, a general store and many other structures that showed just how the location was once a bustling gold mining area. Much of that history has been eliminated. What’s left, Mikkelsen and Schuster are trying to preserve.
They have paid out of pocket over the years to refurbish a large A-frame structure at the mouth of the mine shaft, the foundation of the ore hoppers, a pulley system used to extract ore carts, and an old air compressor used to help drill into the rock.
It’s been a labor of love for the two.
“It’s a constant job,” Mikkelsen said. “We reached out to numerous people about helping us rebuild, but they said they couldn’t do it. We’ve been doing little by little over the years.”
The couple have caught people sneaking onto their property — some innocently to play on the structures, others looking to chip away at quartz found on the property. They don’t mind the company, they would just rather people ask first.
For the past 17 years, Mikkelsen and Schuster have welcomed visitors to take tours of their property and to learn more about the mines.
“At one point we thought about tearing down the A-frame, but one of the historical societies in the area contacted us about having people out here,” Schuster said.
Schuster was surprised initially that people were so interested in learning about the mines. Both of them now love learning about its history and teaching others about it.
“The research aspect for me is the most interesting,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s fun finding stuff around the area they used. Rebuilding this place has been fascinating.”
Mikkelsen and Schuster, together with the Yuba County Historic Resources Commission, will host visitors next month for what they are calling An Afternoon at the Donnebrough Mine.
The event is scheduled for Oct. 6 and will be open to the public.
“We’ll set up tents, have lots of displays, old photos, artifacts and maps. We’ll be here to talk about it and take people around the property,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
This article provided by NewsEdge.