The property surrounding the Gold Rush Museum is home to several artifacts that illustrate Placer County’s unique history. Even on days when the museum is closed, visitors are welcome to explore the grounds and discover pieces of history too large for the museum.
Start at the silver bollards and walk toward the Museum. This short hill takes you back to the geological beginnings of Placer County and the Sierra Nevada.
#1 Granite Boulder
Granite makes up the backbone of the Sierra Nevada. These mountains were created over millions of years as tectonic plates collided and one dove under the other, lifting the region up out of the sea. Volcanoes formed and erupted, and glaciers expanded and retreated over time. The magma that pushed up and out of the Earth created the mountain’s base – called the Sierra batholith, a solid granite core.
While gold is what brought many to the region, the Placer County granite industry went on to build a lasting legacy in the state.
#2 Granite Slab With Holes
To break up granite, either for hard rock mines or for quarrying efforts, men had to drill hundreds of holes. Before pneumatic or power tools, one man would hold a metal drill while the second struck it with a sledge. This was called “double jacking.” Once a deep enough hole was drilled, black powder or dynamite was packed in and set off.
The Gold Rush Museum is located in Auburn’s historic train depot, which is situated along the route of the Transcontinental Railroad. This rail line, which came through Auburn in 1865, was instrumental in shipping goods across the State and country.
This included large slabs of granite, like those that left Griffith Griffith’s Penryn Granite Works, 12 miles south of Auburn. These would have been drilled, blasted, and loaded on to railroad cars to be shipped to building projects all over the State.
#3 Dredge Bucket
This is a 20th-century dredge bucket from the gold fields of Yuba County which are situated along the Yuba River, upstream of Marysville. After the discovery of Gold in Sutter’s Mill, miner’s flocked to the rivers to find placer gold where they used gold pans, rockers, long toms, and sluices boxes to find surface gold. But soon, these first gold deposits were depleted and the development of faster and more effective forms of prospecting were created.
With hydraulic mining in the Sierra, millions of tons of sediment were washed downstream and river dredging opened up an opportunity to rework this valuable material.
Dredging in the Yuba River began in 1904 by Wendell P. Hammon, the “Dredge King.” A dredge system consisted of large buckets, like this one, attached to a continuous circular chain. The machine was installed on a shallow floating barge which allowed the buckets to access river deposits.
#4 "The Chinese Coolie"
This iconic statue, one of several created by Auburn dentist Kenneth H. Fox, was finished in 1972 and stood for decades outside his practice before being moved to this site in 1989. The statue is 22-ft tall, 33-ft long, constructed from 35 cubic yards of concrete, one mile of reinforced steel concrete, and weighs 70 tons. Titled “The Chinese Coolie,” the statue represents to Fox the “historical significance of the Chinese worker in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad through the Sierra Mountains of California.” The term “coolie” however is considered denigrating today but was used to describe the unskilled Asian laborers pouring into California in the second half of the 19th Century.
The statue’s location outside the Gold Rush Museum is a visual reminder of the integral role played by the Chinese immigrants of the 19th Century. Many of the Chinese who came to California or “Gum San,” the Gold Mountain, never intended to stay. Civil unrest, foreign conflict, and natural disasters had disrupted the lives of many.
Most young men came to earn money to send home before returning to China. The tens of thousands of immigrants who arrived from China worked mining claims, formed communities, and were employed by the Central Pacific to finish the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Their contributions to mining, agriculture, and transportation left an indelible mark on Placer County history.
#5 On the Tracks
The Gold Rush Museum currently occupies the historic Auburn Depot. Constructed in 1902, this building was Auburn’s fourth railroad depot at this site.
The first depot was built to serve the new track of the Transcontinental Railroad that was completed through Auburn on May 13, 1865. This revolutionized travel, shipping, and communication in the country. The depot received passengers, luggage, shipments, and news.
Along these tracks, fruit shippers, the Towle Brothers Lumber Company, hotels, and many other businesses grew to benefit from the rail travel along this historic line.
The caboose, railcars, and luggage cars along the westbound track of the railroad, harken back to this period of travel. This is still a live track, and trains come through town daily.
#6 Penryn Canal Flume
Water is another important resource which has allowed industries like mining and agriculture to thrive in Placer County.
This artifact here is a segment of The Penryn Flume, which was part of the Penryn Canal, and is a recent donation to the Museum from the Placer County Water Agency. The canal still runs through Penryn today, nearly parallel to Taylor Road, 11 miles south of Auburn. During the Gold Rush, this canal started as small ditch used to transport water to miners. These ditches were common throughout Placer County, and became more elaborate, moving larger amounts of water, longer distances, to mining operations.
Over time, as mining operations decreased and agriculture increased, the extensive network of ditches, flumes, and canals were repurposed for irrigation. Canals such as these can still be seen running near the Gold Rush Museum. North, along Lincoln Way near the I-80, and south, along Railhead Park. These Gold Rush era waterways can be found throughout Placer County.
#7 Ore Bucket
Hard rock and drift mines required hours of back-breaking work to blast away rock to reach gold veins. Oftentimes, these mines operated continuously, night and day, to remove ore (the natural rock debris containing gold) from the mine shafts.
This cast-iron ore bucket, from the Mount Pleasant area, would have been loaded with debris by miners and hoisted out of the tunnel. There, it would have been transferred to a processing area to be prospected. Roughly 2100 tons (4.1 million pounds) of ore were removed a week from the Hidden Treasure mine near Foresthill.
If you’re interested in learning more about mining operations, visit our page on the Hidden Treasure Mine or come back to the explore the inside of this museum when it is open.
Why stop now?
To continue your outdoor adventure, follow our tour of Old Town Auburn to explore more aspects of our areas rich and varied history.