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Owens Lake Silver-Lead Furnace (No. 752 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District
Remnants of Swansea, location of the Silver-Lead Furnace of 1870s. – Peggy B. and Pat Perazzo

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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Colonel Sherman Stevenson built the Owens Lake Silver-Lead Furnace in 1869 to create silver bars from raw ore taken from the rich mine of Cerro Gordo. He operated the furnace only a year before James Brady took it over and continued operation until 1874. The Colonel also built a sawmill nearby to cut trees in Cottonwood and provide charcoal and lumber for the mine. All the trees near the Cerro Gordo had been cut down. Please see the Cottonwood Creek Charcoal Kilns California Historical Landmark No. 537 for more details.

Brady built the town of Swansea over time while he was managing the furnace. The output of the furnace was recorded to be 150 silver bars, weighing 83 pounds each, every 24 hours. However, the life of the furnace and the small desert town was short lived. The Lone Pine earthquake of 1872 (estimated to be similar in magnitude as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire) caused so much land displacement that the pier at Owens Lake was no longer usable. The remainder of Swansee that had not been destroyed by the earthquake was wiped out by a tremendous thunderstorm and flood two years later.

Today Swansee is remembered in old shacks standing in various stages of decay.. The California Historical Marker is located 300 feet west of Highway 136 (P.M. 9.5), 3.1 miles northwest of Keeler, the closest town.

Inyo County

Inyo means “dwelling place of great spirit” in Paiute Native American language. Inyo County has many “greats.” Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States and Death Valley, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere, are both within Inyo’s boundaries. Great earthquakes have left their mark in recent history, changing the course of the Owens River and exposing ancient sedimentary rock.

Time Period Represented


Nearby Places