Argonaut and Kennedy Mines (No. 786 California Historical Landmark)
California Historical Landmarks Program
Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region
2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California
3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder.
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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Between 1848 and 1858, California transformed from wilderness to “wild” with gold fever. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma in 1848, the “world rushed in” and the California landscape changed virtually overnight.
Amador County was one of the most productive counties in the Mother Lode. From the early 1850s until World War II, it was reported that Jackson’s three main mines – Eureka, Kennedy and Argonaut – produced more than 4.5 million ounces of gold – a yield of more than $105 million in gold at price levels of the Gold Rush era. This yield represents more than half of all the gold discovered in all of Amador County’s 19 mines.
Argonaut and Kennedy mine shafts both dropped more than 5,500 feet under ground. They were reported to be the largest shafts in the United States. The operations of these two mines led to changes in mining methods across the Mother Lode. When miners were called to support World War II, both mines closed in 1942.
Originally called the Pioneer Mine, the claim was discovered in 1850 by two freed slaves who became miners, William Tudor and James Hager. They worked the claim until the 1860s, and sold it to the Pioneer Gold & Silver Mining Company in the 1860s. The Argonaut Mining Company purchased the mine in 1893. The Argonaut Mine produced more than $25 million in gold before World War II, making it one of the richest mines in California.
This mine is the site of the worst mining disaster in the Mother Lode. Forty-eight immigrants were trapped at 3,500 feet below ground in August of 1922. All of them died from deadly gas that was released during a mine fire. The cause of the fire was attributed to unsafe working conditions. The fire burned 2 ½ days before it was extinguished. Rescuers worked for two weeks to descend to the level where the miners were trapped. All recovered victims were buried at local cemeteries.
During one of the rescue attempts, rescuers equipped with oxygen tanks brought a canary with them. The canary died. Rescuers were led to believe that the miners died soon after the fire started from lack of oxygen. The phrase “canary in the mine” has since become a common method for describing or predicting hazardous conditions.
The Argonaut is located on Highway 49 at the top of the hills between the city of Jackson and Martell.
The Kennedy Mine was discovered in 1856 by Andrew Kennedy and mined almost continuously from 1860 to 1942. By the time the mine closed, it had produced more than $34 million in gold. The price of gold at the time was valued between $20 and $35 per ounce.
According to the Kennedy Mine Foundation, between 1942 and 1961, the Kennedy Mine lay idle. Sybil Arata, a teacher from San Francisco bought the property in 1961 and lived in a mine house until her death in 1994. Her will stipulated that the Kennedy Mine remain as open space for wildlife habitat and maintained for its historic value.
The mine is open for classroom and public tours. Visitors can see the 125’ metal head frame, tour several mining buildings and learn the history of the mine. Volunteers guide visitors through the property at Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park.
The historical marker is located at the Hwy 49 Rest Area across from Kennedy Mine, near Jackson.
Amador County was one of the most productive of the “Mother Lode” counties. The mine shafts were reported to be among the deepest in the world. Mining continues in select areas today. The eastern slope of Amador County begins at Kirkwood’s historic stage stop. The relatively narrow county is aligned between the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers and roughly follows an important emigrant trail route. Gold rush camps and boomtowns abound in the history of the area. Amador County is also recognized for its dozens of vineyards and wineries.
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