The North Star Mine, located on Auburn Road in Grass Valley, encompassed over 700 acres of land and contained two main mine shafts, many operational buildings, stamp mills, and was a very active mine property from 1851-1956. In 1851 a rich gold vein was discovered two miles south of Grass Valley on the Auburn Road; it was called the Lafayette Hill Claim.
The Lafayette Hill claim was worked, bought and sold several times. In 1860, Edward and John Coleman arrived in Grass Valley, purchased a large interest in the mine and changed the name to North Star. John Coleman was from England and brought with him considerable knowledge of hardrock mining. The North Star mine continued under a succession of owners, with additional claims being purchased to expand the mine. In 1875, the mine was shut down and remained idle for almost 10 years.
William B. Bourn had purchased the nearby Empire Mine and restarted that operation. In 1884, encouraged by his success with Empire, he purchased and re-opened the North Star mine. Mr. Bourn continued the practice of acquiring other claims to expand the mine. In 1886, the main Incline Shaft was down 1500 feet and a 40 stamp mill was built on Auburn Road. Mr. Bourn created a new water system to supply both the Empire Mine and the North Star Mine.
On February 18, 1887, Mr. James Duncan Hague, a mining engineer and New York City financier, purchased the North Star Mine from Mr. Bourn for $245,450. The corporate headquarters, first in San Francisco, was shortly moved to New York City. Hague consolidated many local mines including Massachusetts Hill, Boston Ravine, Gold Hill and New York Hill. The mine became more productive when the cyanide process was developed allowing for more gold to be removed from the crushed ore.
In 1887-1888, a complex of buildings were created at the site of the Incline Shaft: The Assay House and several business buildings, the head-frame, the Gardener’s Cottage and the North Star Cottage. The North Star Cottage, a Victorian style building, was the home of E.R. Abadie, the North Star Mine superintendent. It was a duplicate of the home of George Starr, Empire Mine superintendent.
The Old Massachusetts Hill mine was filling with water and Hague realized he would need a power plant to take care of all future developments. In 1895, he sent for his brother-in-law, Arthur De Wint Foote. Foote, a hydrologic civil and mining engineer, had worked on the Nevada Sutro Tunnel and an Idaho irrigation project. Foote designed and built the powerhouse and a 30 foot Pelton Wheel on Allison Ranch Road, using the water supply system created by Bourn to power the equipment used to remove mine water. In 1991 Foote’s North Star Mine Powerhouse was designated an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. It is also on the National Register for Historic Places.
In 1896, it was decided to sink a vertical shaft to intersect the Incline Shaft about ¾ mile from the Incline headframe. This shaft, called the Central Shaft, necessitated the construction of a new stamp mill, head-frame, cyanide plant, assay house and business office. By 1904, the operations at the Incline Shaft ceased. Almost all of the old operations were demolished except for the Assay House, the Gardener’s Cottage and the North Star Cottage, where the Footes lived from 1895 until 1905 when the North Star House was completed.
In 1904, A.D. Foote’s son, Arthur Burling Foote, returned from a mining job in Korea to replace Gerald Sherman as North Star Mine Assistant Superintendent. A.B. Foote became Superintendent when his father retired in 1913.
In 1929, Newmont Mining Company, a large, American mining business with holdings in many countries, purchased both the North Star and the Empire mines. The business operations were combined into the Empire-Star Mine.
In 1956, gold mines including the Empire-Star, ceased operation. Reason: the price of gold was fixed at $35/ounce, but the cost of labor and materials continued to rise.
The North Star Mine was one of the top producing gold mines in California. The “big three” in Nevada County were: North Star, Empire and Idaho-Maryland. Nevada County was the top gold-producing county in California … by a significant margin. Not surprisingly, the Grass Valley area was a focal point of innovation in the gold mining field. A.D. Foote and James Hague, talented mining engineers with vision and the courage to try new things, played an important role in that accomplishment.