JACKSON, Calif. — Highway 49 was named after the gold miners of 1849. The historic route is essentially a tour through California's gold country.
One of the most profitable and deepest gold mines along the highway is the Kennedy Gold Mine in Amador County.
“The mine is 5,912 feet deep and a lot of it is straight down,” said tour guide Doug Ketron.
The Kennedy mine was named after prospector Andrew Kennedy. He was the man who discovered gold in the area, but he didn’t actually do the hard rock mining.
“Kennedy got down to the hard quartz and found out he couldn’t do anything with it, so he sold his interest to a group of businessmen in Jackson who formed the Kennedy Gold Mine,” said Ketron.
The arduous task of digging though the hard rock took dozens of men digging straight down. The only way down was on head frame elevators which were essentially a bucket on the end of a cable.
“Nine guys got in the bucket, then they put a wood platform over them and another seven or eight guys got on top and held on,” said Ketron.
Work in the mine was pretty miserable. Shifts were often more than 10 hours a day. It was also dark, dangerous and hot.
“By the time they got to the bottom it was near 100 degrees and it was almost 100% humidity,” said Ketron.
Accidents happened regularly in mines along Highway 49. In fact, one of the largest mining accidents in California occurred just across the street from the Kennedy Mine.
In 1922, the Argonaut Mine caught fire and trapped 47 miners. Workers at the Kennedy Mine attempted to bore a hole from their mine to save them.
“Ultimately, it took three weeks to get from the Kennedy into the Argonaut because they had to dig through 315 feet of collapsed tunnel,” said Ketron.
Sadly, all 47 trapped in the Argonaut Mine died before rescuers could reach them.
The search for gold at the Kennedy Mine ended in 1942 because resources were needed during WWII. In total, the mine produced more than $34 million worth of gold.
Today, the mine is protected and open to the public so you can experience how that gold was extracted and processed. You can even explore the replica mine in the museum where you will learn how much more gold still lies beneath your feet.
“The mine hasn’t bottomed out yet,” said Ketron.
The Kennedy Gold Mine is open every Saturday, Sunday and holiday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., every weekend through October. Admission is free, although fees vary for guided tours.
ANOTHER GOLDEN ADVENTURE ON THE BACKROADS: Placerville is the only municipality in the United States that owns its own gold mine. Once home to countless mine shafts, only one still is open for visitors.