The Beeman-Martin House, home of the Gold Hill Historical Society’s museum. The museum is located at 504 1st Avenue in Gold Hill, Oregon and is open Thursday – Saturday, from Noon til 4 PM. For more information, please contact the society at: P.O. Box 26, Gold Hill, OR 97525, Phone: 541-855-1182
The Gold Hill Historical Society has done an excellent job preserving the mining history of the famous Gold Hill Mining District through their museum which is located in the Beeman-Martin House on First Avenue in downtown Gold Hill, Oregon. The house was originally built in 1901 by Josiah Beeman who leased and later purchased the well known Lucky Bart Mine which was located on nearby Sardine Creek. The Lucky Bart was first discovered in 1890 by Bartholomew Signorritti and Joe Cox. Beeman obtained the mine in 1892 and did well enough that he was able to build a fine two story home (which had the first indoor plumbing in Gold Hill), and was to stay in his family until 1993 when his descendants offered it to the Gold Hill Historical Society for the purpose of establishing a local museum. According to the society’s official history, the old building is presumed to be haunted after several members of their staff reported hearing heavy footsteps upstairs and there were numerous instances of the opening and closing of doors, objects being moved and pictures being “thrown” off the walls. The society affectionately refers to their ghost as “Willie”, but he did not introduce himself to me.
In addition to the usual things we see in local history displays, the Gold Hill Historical Society, has devoted a more than usual amount of space to local mining history. Though this is not only fitting and probably to be expected of such a famous gold mining district, it is not by any means typical of local historical societies here in Southern Oregon, many of which seem to regard mining as little more than a novel curiousity, if not a dirty little secret. Yet even in a town where some residents have actually began to organize against what little small scale mining does take place within their community, the volunteers here seem to take great pride in explaining how Josiah Beeman built this house with the gold he took out of the hills above Sardine Creek and how much gold was actually recovered from the nearby streams and hills. In Gold Hill, mining history finally takes center stage and although the displays
and efforts of these volunteers is still very much a work in progress, in no other place open to the public in Southern Oregon will you see as many local mining relics gathered together in one place. Admission is free, but I’m sure they appreciate donations.
Starting on the first floor of the Beeman House, we are gradually given a taste of local mining history with a set of pocket scales from the 1860’s here, an old vial of gold there and a photo here and there, but once we reach the gift shop, we are instantly confronted by all sorts of trinkets pertaining to local mining, ranging from gold panning concentrates to old photos of mines, from post cards to refrigerator magnets and right up to square nails that were saved from some old ore carts that must have rotted away on a nearby hillside somewhere. A look on the gift store book shelf and what we actually find is that the majority of their offerings have something to do with mining. For example, you can buy copies of Tom Bohmkers books on gold mining in Oregon here in the shop, booklets on panning gold and mining history, as well as copies of the Diary of Charles Anderson who was a placer miner on Foots Creek in the 1880’s.
In the stairwell (which Willie is said to frequent), we can find a number of revolving kiosks that are stuffed with local information hand outs that visitors are free to take home to study. Included are maps of the old Gold Hill Mining District, handouts on gold panning, a brief overview of local mining history, tidbits about old mining camps and much more.
From here, we head downstairs into the basement and are met with a large mining display that looks more like an old timers basement than it does a historical display. Unlike other museums, you can actually touch a lot of this stuff. Included are old mining tools, rusty gold pans, framed location notices, mining claim maps, mineral samples, miners lights and helmets, old photos, gold dust bags, a reproduction of a gold brick which was found locally and more. In one display case, there’s even a pretty nice mounted nugget that was taken from a local creek.
From here, we can go outside onto the back porch and get to the really good stuff, including the ore cars, the chilean mill, an ore crusher, several monitors, rocker boxes and of course, the 5 stamp mill from the famous Lucky Bart Mine. A brief tour follows.
The Chilean Mill or “Trapiche”, was an improvement of the arrastre. This one was manufactured in California around 1910 and was used at the Brush Creek Mine near Downieville, California. The Rue Family brought it to their mine on Butte Creek near Eagle Point, but never used it. It is powered by electric engine and belt, seen at lower left. This machine may be the only one of its kind in Oregon. A look inside the Chilean Mill. Heavy weights were attached to the chains which were drug across the ore and slowly ground the mineralized quartz into a fine powder so that the gold could be easily separated by washing. These machines were not very efficient and worked very slow, making them suitable only for small operations.
View of the mill battery. The round rods are called “stems”, while the spool shaped pieces are called “tappets”. The curved “fins” beneath the tappets are the “cams”. The bar with the horse-shoe shaped tip that is at an odd angle appears to be a “latch finger” (four more are laying at the base of the mill, uninstalled). The latch fingers, also called “lifters”, “latch bars” or “finger bars”, are used to “hang up” the tappets into place when the millman wished to stop the machine. To accomplish this, he would take a “cam stick”, which was a wooden wedge with a piece of belt on its upper side (to prevent slipping) and grease on its underside, and he would place this on top of the cam. This forced the cam to rotate at the top, which would raise the tappet higher. Once the tappet reached its peak, he would push the latch finger into place underneath tappet. This stopped the stamp from dropping without shutting the engine down and he would then repeat this process with the remaining stamps. (Note that the tappets are in the down position). As you might imagine, millmen could often be easily identified among mining crews just by counting their fingers, because if he wasn’t careful it was very easy to get his fingers or an entire hand pinched off while locking the tappets into place!
Unlike other stamp mills, this one did not rely on amalgamation plates and mercury was apparently not used at the Lucky Bart. (This is supported by DEQ reports on the site of the Lucky Bart, which have yet to turn up any mercury in the soils). Once the ore was crushed to powder, it was washed down the metal slickplate and then onto what appears to have been an early shaker table which was powered by a belt and pulley. A set of belts and wheels (which are really pulleys) make the stamps rise. Gravity makes them fall, crushing the ore.
Though this stamp mill was probably originally powered by a waterwheel, later on, this John Deere tractor engine provided the power. This engine was manufactured in 1936, so long after Josiah Beeman gave up his interest in the Lucky Bart in 1916, this stamp mill was still hard at work. When you consider that this is a tractor engine and that the top of its smokestack is about 5 feet high, it gives you a little bit of an idea of the size of this stamp mill.
All in all, a visit to the Gold Hill Historical Society is well worth the trip and a fine way to spend part of your day.
Josephine County, Oregon