Nevada City, CA 95959 United States
Commemorate Malakoff Diggins’ Golden Olden Days as park staff and volunteers in period costume interpret our historic heritage at North Bloomfield, formerly Humbug, California. • Enjoy live music, games, crafts, food, and fun. • Tour the historic buildings and grounds, echoing with the ghosts of miners and early settlers or poke around the relics of by-gone horse & buggy days in the fascinating Ostrom Stable.Find out more »
Visitors can see huge cliffs carved by mighty streams of water, results of the mining technique of washing away entire mountains of gravel to wash out the gold.
In the heart of the park is the well-preserved ghost town of North Bloomfield. About a block of buildings, some dating to the 1850s, are restored or re-created in a Gold Rush style, including white picket fences.
The park comprises approximately 3,200 acres of majestic pines, cedars and oaks between 2,500’ and 4,000’ elevation in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills region.
Perfect for hiking mountain biking horseback riding
Approximately 20 miles of scenic trails range from very easy to strenuous and connect with the popular South Yuba River Trail.
Overnight visitors can choose between a shady, restful campsite in Chute Hill campground or a rustic “Miners Cabin.” The group campsite accommodates up to 60 people.
Brochure & Maps
Download the Park Brochure for maps, trails, building sites, and detailed information.
Plan Your Visit
The park is open 7 days a week, daily on a self-guided basis from sunrise to sunset. The visitor center and museum are currently open intermittently, please call ahead to check for availability. The visitor center and museum will be open seven days a week beginning Memorial Day weekend.
Pay fees at Museum – $10.00 per vehicle Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. $5.00 per vehicle the rest of the year.
Please make sure to check road conditions before you come to the park.
What should you wear?
Layered clothing is advised.
Check the weather forecast for Nevada City, CA before arrival. Nevada City is warm to hot in the springtime and summer; cool in the autumn; and often cold in the winter. Our rainy season usually lasts from November through May.
Comfortable shoes are important
Some of our trails are rocky and may be fairly steep.
Learn more about other impressive California State Parks at www.parks.ca.gov.
A friendly welcome awaits you at the Visitor Center
Visitor Center and Museum Hours
Thursday: 12-4 pm
Friday-Sunday: 10-4 pm
The visitor center and museum will be open seven days a week beginning Memorial Day weekend.
The restrooms are accessible. For accessibility updates, visit http://access.parks.ca.gov.
The campground is closed for the season as of October 31, 2019. It will open Spring 2020.
Or call (800) 444-7275
Chute Hill Campground
Chute Hill Campground is located just 1/2 mile north of the old historic town of North Bloomfield. The campground is a beautiful, peaceful and shaded area set amongst tall pine and cedar trees. The 30 family sites vary in size and most sites can accommodate two tents. Each site has a picnic table with benches, a bear-proof food locker, and a fire bin. Potable water is available close to each site as well as bear-proof garbage receptacles. Walk in, flush toilet restrooms are located a short walk from your campsite. There are no RV hookups or showers available in the campground.
Your reservation guarantees a spot in our campground but your reservation is not site-specific. Camp sites are chosen upon arrival. Non-reservation sites could be available on a first come, first served, basis if the campground is not fully reserved. Upon arrival, please check in at the Park Museum to complete your reservation, obtain a parking pass, learn about current conditions, and receive a park map. You will then proceed to the campground to pick your site.
If you haven’t visited our campground in the past, we encourage you to drive through the entire campground first to view the different sites that are available. Check-in time is 2:00 p.m with check-out at 12:00 a.m.
Fee: $45.00 per night, includes one vehicle. Additional vehicles will be charged an additional $8.00 per night, collected upon registration check-in.
Dogs are welcome in our campground. They must be on a leash and under control at all times.
Bear, deer and other wild animals have been seen walking through the campground and our hiking trails.
The group site is available for up to 60 campers and 16 vehicles. The site has its own heated bathroom, barbecue grill, fire pit and eating area, as well as bear food lockers. This secluded site allows for groups such as large families, scout groups or church organizations who wish to enjoy tent camping away from the individual family sites.
Black bears live in the park. They come in a variety of colors ranging from tan to black. They are intelligent and will eat almost anything that they can find. They are most active at dawn and dusk, generally have poor eyesight, and hunt with their keen sense of smell. Bears only approach people because we have food. You can usually scare them away by yelling and banging pots and pans. Please report all bear sightings to park staff at the Museum. To avoid having a bear visit your campsite…
Store all scented items in the bear-proof locker provided – this includes toiletries, trash,and recycling.
- Clean all dishes immediately after eating.
- Put garbage in the bear-proof cans provided. Do not hang in trees.
- Never take scented items, including toiletries into your tent.
You may receive a citation for leaving unattended or improperly storing your scented items.
The three rustic miner’s cabins are named after prominent characters from the town’s past. They are the “Carter,” “Smith” and “Condon” cabins, and are located right in the heart of historic North Bloomfield.
Your stay will be “like camping with a roof over your head.”
- The “Smith” Cabin offers accessibility for visitors with limited physical mobility.
- You will need bedding items for the bunk beds.
- There is no electricity or bathroom in the cabin.
- Restrooms are a short walk away.
Cabins can be reserved up to seven months in advance by calling “Reserve California” at 1-800-444-7275 or you can go to Reserve California for the reservation link.
- Extra vehicles will be charged $8.00 per night and fees will be collected at the park when you arrive.
- No tents allowed outside your cabin.
- Dogs are permitted in the cabins and must be leashed when outside and under control at all times. (This is strictly enforced to protect the wildlife and your dog)
Each cabin features
- Cabin size: 15′ x 20′
- Wood burning stove.
- Cold running water (turned off when freezing temperatures arrive.)
- Wooden table and benches, seats eight.
- Two sets of wooden bunk beds that sleep four adults.
- Accessible, heated restrooms with running water a short walk away. No showers available.
- Outside picnic table and fire pit with grill.
- Vehicle parking within 50 yards.
- Outside bear proof food lockers – size: 48″ wide, 30″ deep, 30″ high
For your comfort we suggest that you bring
- Warm, layered clothing and change of shoes, rain gear (winter & spring); sun protection & bug spray.
- Sleeping pads for the wooden bunks and warm bedding (pillow and sleeping bag).
- Wood can be purchased at the park. No outside wood is allowed due to possible pest infestation. (Call for availability at the park office before you arrive.)
- Small ax, newspaper, kindling.
- Lantern and flashlight.
- Camping stove.
- Cooking and eating utensils. Dishwashing supplies.
- Mosquito Spray
We hope to see you soon for a memorable stay in North Bloomfield!
or call (800) 444-PARK (7275)
Features of the Park
Town tours are conducted at 1:30 pm and guided gold panning is offered every Saturday at 3 pm, when the Visitor Center is open. Please call for available scheduled times.
Guided Tours of Historic North Bloomfield
Learn how the town became the location of our country’s largest hydraulic operation during the gold rush period.
1:30 p.m. – Town tours are conducted daily through October. Visitors will listen to a short talk about the history of hydraulic mining and how it pertained to Malakoff Diggins. Visitors will enter the historic buildings to experience shops and residential life from the mid-1800’s to early 1900’s.
Duration: One hour; meet at park headquarters/museum in North Bloomfield. Easy walk.
Find your fortune! We’ll supply the pans, instruction, and gold! During park operation hours/days you can visit the park headquarters to obtain a map and pan and try your luck on Humbug Creek.
Evening Campfire Programs Subject to staff availability…
Saturdays during the summer at 7:30 p.m. through Labor Day weekend.
One hour; Meet at the Chute Hill Campground Amphitheater.
Join the Park Ranger for a festive gathering and share songs, games and park tales. Occasional special guests include local talented musicians and Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release.
Self-Guided Programs for the Visitor
Junior Ranger Program
The self-guided Junior Ranger Program offers children ages 7-12 an exciting opportunity to explore and discover California’s over 270 state parks, including Malakoff Diggins! Inquire year-round at the park museum to obtain a Junior Ranger logbook and self-guided activity book. Upon completion of the activity book, a park staff member will review it with you and award you with a Junior Ranger poster, patch or pin.
Help keep our state parks clean and wild! Stop by the park’s headquarters and pick up a litter bag, gloves and instructions. Learn about nature’s recyclers and how they work. Receive an award for all your hard work!
Remember a plastic bag takes 20-30 years to decompose, an aluminum can 100 to 200 years, and a glass bottle many thousands of years!
Park Office 530-265-2740
Sector Office 530-273-3884
20 miles of scenic trails
Call the park to learn about available dog-friendly trails. Dogs must be on a controlled leash at all times.
There are approximately 20 miles of trails ranging from .11 miles to 3.29 miles with elevation gains from 13 feet to over 1,000 feet. A walking stick and plenty of water are recommended. Temperatures can reach over 100º in the summertime. Visit us in the park museum to obtain a park trail map. Dogs are not permitted on certain trails and must be leashed at all times. Please respect all animal and plant life while you enjoy your hike.
BLAIR LAKE TRAIL 1.28 miles – Gain: +21’ -290’ = -269’
(no dogs please)
Starts next to the campfire center and ends with a loop around the Blair Lake. It can also be accessed from the Blair Lake Parking area and the Upper Humbug Trail. Blair Lake is open during daylight hours for fishing and swimming. No lifeguard on duty. Age 16 and older must have a fishing license.
CHURCH TRAIL 0.21 miles; Gain: +8’ -44’ = -36’
A 5-minute walk from the picnic area to the cemetery, Saint Columncille’s Catholic Church, and the School House. The cemetery is still used today. Please be respectful of its present inhabitants. View the old church and school through the windows.
DIGGINS LOOP TRAIL 2.78 miles; Gain: +208’ -283’ = -75’
(no dogs or bikes)
The best way to see the interior of the Diggins. Located one mile west of the townsite. Can be accessed from the west point overlook, the Hiller tunnel, the main overlook or the cemetery.
HUMBUG CREEK TRAIL 2 .72 miles; Gain: +863’ -54’ = -809’
A scenic hike to the South Yuba River where it meets the South Yuba Trail. Primitive camping is available a short distance from the junction of the Humbug Trail and Yuba River.
MARTIN RANCH TRAIL 0.45 miles; Gain: +70’ -57’ = +13’
(no dogs or bikes)
A short hike to the Martin Ranch Home site. Makes a nice loop hike when combined with the Martin Ranch Road.
MISSOURI BAR TRAIL 1.36 miles – Gain: +0’ -1,127’ = -1,127’
(located outside the park boundary)
A moderately steep Forest Service-maintained trail. Meets the South Yuba Trail. Open to bikes, dogs, and hikers.
RIM TRAIL 3.29 miles – Gain: +865’ -483’ = +382’
This trail runs along the upper rim of the Diggins. Open to bikes.
SLAUGHTER HOUSE TRAIL 0.61 miles – Gain: +0’ -314’ = -314’
Provides access to the cemetery and the town from the campground. Open to bikes, dogs, horses, and hikers.
MAIN OVERLOOK TRAIL 0.14 miles – Gain: +56’ -9’ = +47’
(no dogs or bikes)
Location of the Parks Historic Landmark. A short walk to the Diggins Loop Trail.
SOUTH YUBA RIVER TRAIL 4.13 miles; Gain: +818’ -903’ = -85’
(located outside park boundaries)
Runs from the town of Washington to Purdon Crossing. May be accessed from the Missouri Bar Trail, the Humbug Trail, and several trailheads along Relief Hill Road and North Bloomfield road. Open to bikes, dogs, horses, and hikers.
NORTH BLOOMFIELD TOWN TRAIL 0.62 miles; Gain: +0’ -318’ = -318’
A nice hike from the campground to North Bloomfield town site where the park office/museum is located in Cummins Hall. Town tours available.
TUNNEL TRAIL 0.13 miles – Gain: +0’ -51’ = -51’
(no dogs or bikes)
Runs from North Bloomfield Road into the Diggins. Hikers have the choice of going over the top or through the Hiller Tunnel. Water flow in the tunnel is subject to change with the seasons and weather. You’ll need a flashlight and water shoes if you go through the tunnel.
UPPER HUMBUG TRAIL 0.56 miles; Gain: +188’ -0 = +188’
(no dogs or bikes)
Shaded hike along the Humbug Creek to the Blair Trail. There are two unbridged crossing of Humbug Creek. Trail forks to Blair Lake or continues to North Bloomfield Road and a short walk to the campground.
WEST OVERLOOK TRAIL 0.11 miles; Gain: +5’ -24’ = -19’
(no dogs or bikes)
Short trail access to the Diggins Loop Trail and the monitor display.
Park Office 530-265-2740
You can access the lake from the campground, an easy 20 minute walk, or drive and park a short distance on North Bloomfield Road, 1/4 mile north of the old town.
Bring your picnic lunch and enjoy a pleasant, relaxing day, while you fish or swim.
Blair Lake was originally a small hydraulic mine back in the 1800’s. Gold yield from the gravel was low so owners dammed the drain end to form a reservoir. The lake has been dredged several times and the water is tested annually. Mercury and other heavy metals are within normal and safe levels. It is safe to consume fish caught from the lake and swim.
Dogs & Horses
Dogs are welcome and permitted in the historic town of North Bloomfield as well as in the campground and cabins. They must be on a leash at all times and under control within the park boundaries.
Visitors may also take leashed dogs on the Slaughterhouse and North Bloomfield hiking trails during their stay here at the park. Keep your dog safe. Wild animals frequent the campground and cabin areas. Ticks are abundant in the spring and fall, and rattlesnakes are common in the summer.
- Owners are responsible for removing dog waste.
- Dogs must be on a controlled leash at all times.
- Call the park to learn about available dog-friendly trails.
Horses are not allowed in the park. The closest horse trail available to the park is Missouri Bar Trailhead off Relief Hill Road
Park Office 530-265-2740
En route Campsites
Day-Use Activities & Facilities
- Historical/Cultural Site
- Picnic Areas
- Env. Learning/Visitor Center
- Exhibits and Programs
- Guided Tours
- Interpretive Exhibits
- Vista Point
- Family Programs
The story of Malakoff Diggins SHP encompasses the experiences and voices of a variety of cultures from its first Native American inhabitants to its development and current use as a California State Historic Park.
Although the park is primarily associated with its gold-mining past, it also has a rich prehistory, European contact history, and effects of gold mining on Native populations.
Following the Gold Rush of 1849, gold miners pored over the streams and river banks, searching for gold, but most hopeful placer miners moved on as the supply of easy gold was soon exhausted.
Numerous engineering innovations were created in the quest for gold.
A few miners stayed in the area and developed a mining camp, and eventually discovered gold-bearing gravel deposits in ancient riverbeds. Numerous engineering innovations were created in the quest for gold. Technological advances and successful extractions drew more miners and support businesses catering to the needs of the miners.
In addition to the town of North Bloomfield, three smaller towns (all located in what is now the park) flourished by the late 1850’s–Lake City, Derbec, and Malakoff.
Entrepreneurs designed massive water systems and hydraulic ventures, opened hotels and businesses and planted gardens.
Recent study has found that the influence of French-speaking pioneers at Malakoff Diggins was widespread. Entrepreneurs designed massive water systems and hydraulic ventures, opened hotels and businesses and planted gardens. They dominated the local scene at the Park for 15 years, laying the groundwork for the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company, which was called the French Company for many years. Click here to see the full report.
Miners working their way up from Grass Valley and Nevada City in 1851 discovered gold in a creek located just south of town. Soon over 100 miners settled in the area and worked the nearby river and creeks. The miners called that original creek “Humbug” after all the top loose, placer gold was “played out” then they moved on to richer claims. Before the miners left they knew that there was plenty of gold in the hills surrounding Humbug if only they had a means to get at it. Thus, with a little ingenuity, three miners working in nearby Nevada City figured it out and…
The miners called that original creek “Humbug” after all the top loose, placer gold was “played out” then they moved on to richer claims.
In 1853, hydraulic mining was invented just outside Nevada City. This new invention boosted North Bloomfield’s (formerly Humbug) population to approximately 1,200-1,500 people during its heyday in the 1870s. Independent mining claims were purchased and consolidated in 1866 by the newly formed North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company.
Over 3.5 million dollars in gold was taken from the mountain during the company’s 44 year operation.
Hydraulic Monitors (Water Cannons)
During the time the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company operated, as many as eight monitors were in use at the same time. Fashioned after Civil War cannons, the large monitors could weigh as much as 1 1/2 tons. The large monitors in the Diggins were capable of using 25 million gallons of water in a 24 hour period or over one million gallons an hour. The wooden box toward the rear of the monitor was loaded with rock to raise the barrel of the monitor and act as a counter balance created by the bucking water pressure leaving the nozzle.
The large monitors in the Diggins were capable of using 25 million gallons of water in a 24 hour period or over one million gallons an hour.
The blasting power of a monitor or water cannon came from elevation drop alone. No mechanical devices were used. The water that came from a nearby reservoir exited in large pipes then graduated down in size until they reached the monitor and through a 10-inch nozzle.
A large monitor would blast water at approximately 5,000 pounds per square inch, enough pressure to move a boulder the size of a small car.
Different sizes of monitors had various functions. Large monitors were used to bring down the mountain, while small monitors were used to keep the debris moving down the sluice or long toms used to collect the gold and then on to the final exit point.
The miner who operated the monitor was known as the “piper.” He was paid the most since he had to know how to operate that big monster properly. If he didn’t, cave-ins occurred catching men unprepared thus causing injury and even death.
Legend has it that a miner with a dirty shovel set his tool into the stream of the water exiting from the cannon and the force of the water against the shovel moved the monitor’s aim with the greatest of ease and thus led to the invention of the ball and socket design we know today.
Monitors were made at the Joshua Hendy and the Parke and Lacy Company in San Francisco. Also, monitors and hydraulic equipment were made locally in the Nevada City Foundry.
In 1851, three gold prospectors discovered a rich gravel deposit in a nearby stream. In need of supplies, one of the miners was sent to town with instructions not to divulge their location.
After imbibing at a local saloon, he boasted of a great find and upon returning from Nevada City, was secretly followed by nearly 100 prospectors.
Despite their efforts, they did not find their fortunes and left the area calling the creek a “Humbug.” A few miners stayed and called the new mining camp “Humbug City.”
Other miners came into the area in 1852 and 1853: This second wave of miners employed newly created hydraulic methods and found gold in sufficient quantities to justify settling and expanding the camp into a full-fledged townsite.
By 1855, Humbug City resembled a small town with its first hotel, the Hotel de France. With over 400 residents, the town became known as North Bloomfield, California in 1857 when the post office was established. Humbug was a name given to “played-out” creeks and mining claims everywhere during the gold rush. The name was so common during this period that the post office required that the name be changed!
In 1856 North Bloomfield, formerly Humbug, also became the center of the 80 square mile township which included the nearby mining towns of Relief Hill, Lake City, Derbec, and North Columbia.
By 1860, A.L. Smith was operating a daily pony express, and the U.S. census showed 784 inhabitants of North Bloomfield.
By the early 1860’s the top placer gold was “played out” and gold discoveries in Canada and Nevada created a mass exodus of miners, leaving North Bloomfield and surrounding towns nearly depopulated. A drought during the mid-1860’s caused further declines. Enterprising businessmen from urban centers saw an opportunity to purchase and consolidate mining claims, leading to the eventual creation of large companies such as the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company.
North Bloomfield experienced its heyday from the late 1860’s to 1884, with nearly 1,500 inhabitants and more than 200 buildings serving as a supply base for the township.
These buildings included 5 hotels, 8 saloons, 2 livery stables, 2 dry goods stores, 2 breweries, 3 boot makers, 3 fraternal organizations, a school, a barbershop, a drug store, a butcher, a baker, a dairy, and 2 churches.
In 1884, the Sawyer Decision was handed down to curtail the wanton disposal of hydraulic mining debris into waterways. Hydraulic mining continued for many years but at only a fraction of the scale. Companies had invested millions of dollars into the hydraulic gold mining effort in California. These companies slowly folded and the miners and their families moved away to seek work elsewhere. North Bloomfield and the many towns born of hydraulic gold mining in the California gold fields slowly died.
North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company
Gold was discovered in 1851 in a creek located just south of town.
In the early 1860s there was a period of dormancy in hydraulic mining due to the lack of water from drought years. Many miners left to work mines in Canada and Nevada. During this period a miner, Julius Poquillion went to San Francisco to acquire investors to start a large scale hydraulic mining operation. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company (NBGMC) was formed in August of 1866 and over 1,500 acres were purchased in the Humbug Canyon area of North Bloomfield.
Realizing the need for a larger and continuous water supply to work their diggings, the NBGMC purchased the English Reservoir, the largest reservoir in the state at that time. They also purchased Bowman’s Ranch on Big Canyon Creek as a site for another reservoir and a created a ditch system to bring more water to the diggings.
The water held for disbursement came from eleven principle reservoirs totaling 11,600 acres with a capacity of over 2,195,000,000 cubic feet.
Total daily water consumption for the Company was more than 100 million gallons.
The need for more water also created the need of disposing the large volume of water and debris. The Hiller Tunnel, previously used to drain the debris from the diggins, became obsolete and to handle the needs of more gravel tailings and water the company built the North Bloomfield Tunnel.
In 1876 NBGMC began full operation of the mine, 12 hour shifts, 6 to 6.
The company employed over 800 Chinese and 300 whites in 1868. The Malakoff Mine became the premier hydraulic mining operation on the San Juan Ridge and is considered by many, in the nation. Research indicates that the name Malakoff came from the large population of French miners who came to this area, who commemorated the French victorious battle taking the Malakoff Tower in the port of Sebastopol, and ending the Crimean War.
In 1878 The Anti-Debris Commission was formed and petitions submitted to the Legislature regulating laws to control mining operations.
These laws were ineffective and in 1882 litigation was brought against the NBGMC by a farmer in Marysville to stop hydraulic mining. (See Sawyer Decision page.)
In 1886 the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company was found in contempt of the Sawyer Decision as they had been operating their monitors at night and they were fined heavily. Also in this year the company installed an elevator system that would pull debris from the tailings and retain it in holding ponds. This extra step in the process greatly hindered the production capabilities and reduced the profit margin. However, this did satisfy the Sawyer Decision, in that the debris was retained, and not discharged to waters of the state.
The company installed an elevator system that would pull debris from the tailings and retain it in holding ponds.
In 1890 the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company was the only hydraulic mine in operation in the South Yuba River area.
In 1893 Congress passed the “Caminetti Law.” All hydraulic mines must be licensed. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. at this time was in accordance with Sawyer so they disregarded this new law and did not file for a license. However, in 1896 the U.S. District Court declares that mining without this permit was illegal. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. was found in contempt and again fined heavily. Litigation expenses became immensely expensive to the company and depleted a large amount of the company’s assets.
In nearly 40 years of operation the NBGMC, which was commonly called the French Company, invested approximately $3,500,000.00 with expenses equaling the same amount. But this was expected. The company planned to work for many, many more years. What wasn’t expected was the restrictions placed on hydraulicking and the price of gold regulated by the government. With expenses outweighing the profits, the company shut down its operation around 1900 leaving a pit that was 6,900 feet long, 3,800 feet wide and 600 feet deep. The company excavated 41 million cubic yards of dirt and gravel from the diggings.
It is estimated that 80% of the gold is still present in the Malakoff hills.
The state mineralogist calculated that 300,000,000 cubic yards of auriferous gravel still remain.
Hydraulic gold mining at Malakoff was abandoned in 1910 with occasional “outlaw operations” which continued sporadically for a few more years where rich gravel deposits had been found.
The tunnel was built between 1851 and 1856. It was financed by Dr. Hillerscheidt and D. Albert. This original mining debris drainage tunnel was later purchased by North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company and can still be seen today.
North Bloomfield Tunnel
To handle the needs of more gravel tailings and water volume, the miners needed to build a longer and deeper tunnel. In 1872 W. Hamilton Smith designed and began construction on the 7,878 foot North Bloomfield Tunnel.
This drainage tunnel, built 200’ below the Hiller Tunnel, was constructed to drain away the huge volume of rock, gravel and mud washing out of the mining pit. It took the miners only a year and a half to complete the tunnel. It was considered an engineering marvel, utilizing two crews in each shaft. Once miners reached the bottom of the shaft the men would separate and work in opposite directions to connect with the crews working from the next shaft. There are 8 shafts leading to the bedrock below.
The tunnel has long since filled in with water and debris. It is no longer navigable, but you will see the tops of some of the air shafts as you walk down Humbug Trail.
First Long Distance Telephone Line
Built in 1878, the San Juan Ridge (located between the Middle and South forks of the Yuba River) was the site of the first successful long distance telephone line in the world.
It is designated as California Historical Landmark #247 with a plaque at French Corral.
The Milton Co. and the North Bloomfield Co. were joined with the Eureka Lake and Yuba Canal Co. (a water delivery service) who controlled over 200 miles of ditches. Together they formed the Ridge Telephone Company.
They contracted with California Electrical of San Francisco to build and start up a 60 mile-long telephone line that ran from French Corral up the San Juan Ridge to Milton Reservoir, high in the Sierra.
The company spent 6 months stringing wire across canyons and up almost perpendicular mountain faces along the San Juan Ridge, with over 3,000 feet in elevation climb. There were 30 Edison phones installed; 20 phones were installed in toll offices located in the post office in towns traversed by the system and 10 more were installed on mining company property.
The cost was around $6,000.00. It cost .25¢ to send a 20-word message or “dispatch.”
The message was given to a toll station operator who would then send the message by voice to another station operator where it would be received and transcribed. The line continued to work with a minimum of service until replaced with a heavier duty system 30 years later in 1903.
AT&T claims that the first long distance line was built in 1880 (two years after San Juan Ridge had theirs) and stretched 45 miles between Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. That line, however, was unsuccessful and was taken down almost immediately.
The Sawyer Decision
All the debris from the hydraulic mining had to go somewhere and almost immediately, with the invention of hydraulic mining, came the effects of the removal of many layers of ancient gravel beds laid down millions of years ago.
People down below the diggins, in the valleys and all the way to San Francisco Bay, felt the impact of the mountain’s destruction.
Eventually, outraged citizens of Marysville met and formed the Anti-Debris Association and gathered information to be used in lawsuits against hydraulic mining companies.
The legislature debated the mining debris question and finally passed legislation authorizing the creation of a State Engineering Office with authority to examine the water problem, particularly as it related to matters of irrigation and debris.
They attributed negligence on the part of the hydraulic miners.
The group presented factual evidence to support its claims and the miners threatened to boycott valley businesses.
In the fall of 1882, Edward Woodruff of Marysville filed suit in the United States Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco seeking a perpetual injunction against the North Bloomfield and other mines on the Yuba River. On the morning of June 18, 1883, at 5:00 a.m. disaster struck when the English Dam gave way. This was a wood and stone structure built in 1859 on the Middle Yuba River and was more than 130’ high. Capacity was 650,000,000 cubic feet and full at the time the dam broke. Water poured down the channel of the Middle Yuba River and swept away everything in its path. It took an hour and a half for the dam to drain dry. By 3:00 p.m. levees broke near Marysville, causing flooding.
The flood deposited thousands of tons of sediment in the Feather River.
The dam was inspected just days before and no problems were detected. It has been theorized that sabotage was the cause of the break.
On January 7, 1884, after two years of litigation in the case of Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company and over 2,000 witnesses with 20,000 pages of written testimony taken during the trial, Judge Lorenzo Sawyer’s decision was handed down.
This decision did not stop miners from using the big water cannons but it did prohibit the discharge of debris in the Sierra Nevada regions.
It imposed strict laws regarding any debris sent downstream and it did close all loop-holes. In essence, the ruling stated that “all tailings must stop.” The Sawyer Decision was 225 pages long. This decision, however, did not affect the Klamath-Trinity Mountains, where hydraulic mining continued until the 1950s.
The legal action of Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company became known as the first environmental law in our country!
Malakoff Diggins SHP commemorates the site of the nation’s largest hydraulic mine. The park also contains significant cultural, and natural resources that offer invaluable lessons in history, geology, nature, and the environmental impacts of human activity.
The devastation caused by decades of hydraulic mining at Malakoff Diggins is evidenced by the dramatic landscape that exists today. The exposed walls of the hydraulic mine reveal the Sierra Nevada foothills’ underpinnings and serve as a window to the region’s geologic history.
Although the hydrology of the park has been largely shaped by human intervention and manipulation during the active mining period, the Humbug Creek watershed remains one of the park’s most valuable natural resources, providing permanent riparian habitat and fresh water for the ecosystem.
The Humbug Creek watershed drains to the South Yuba River, a state-listed Wild and Scenic River.
The forested hillsides of Malakoff Diggins SHP are dominated by Ponderosa pines, with incense cedar, white fir, black oak, Douglas-fir, big leaf maple, sugar pines, and Fremont’s cottonwood adding to the diverse forests. Whiteleaf manzanita, deerbrush, buckbrush, and huckleberry are common in the forest understory, and native flowering plants adorn the landscape in the spring and late into the summer months.
The park is home to abundant wildlife including mountain lions, black bear, black tail and mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and many smaller mammals.
The bird life makes its presence known with song and flashes of brilliant colors through the forest, especially in the early morning and evening hours.
As you look out into the surrounding hills of Malakoff Diggins, you will see a heavily eroded landscape that was once representative of a mountain range developed from sedimentary and volcanic rocks of the Paleozoic age.
This mountain range eroded rapidly when the bedding plane tilted westward when granite plutons* lying to the east were tilted upward during the late Pliocene and continued through the Quaternary period.
This uplifting occurred between one million and five million years ago.
During this period, the drainage system of rivers that had previously flattened the landscape cut deep perpendicular gorges, bringing the present configuration of rolling hills on flattened ridges dissected by steep-walled canyons 300 – 1,000 feet deep.
*A pluton is an intrusive igneous rock body, typically kilometers in dimension, that crystallized from magma slowly cooling below the Earth’s surface. The most common rock types in plutons are granite, granodiorite, tonalite, and quartz diorite.
Malakoff Diggins is representative of the “auriferous gravels” deposited by the wide ancestral Yuba River that ran through the area prior to the uplifting of the Sierra Nevada. When the Sierra Nevada Mountains were formed and tilted, the ancient river channel which held the gold-bearing gravel became dry. After millions of years of erosion, the gravel beds became buried.
Hydraulic mining exposed the different layers of the ancient gravel beds. What you see today in the cliff walls along the Diggins Loop Trail are the many layers of sedimentary rocks and gravels.
The red color on the walls is from iron oxide. When the mineral iron is exposed to air it turns red.
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park has been recognized by State Parks and the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Mines and Geology as one of California’s GeoGems. To read more about Malakoff’s geological significance, click here. To read more about all of the State Park GeoGems, visit: the State Parks website.
Malakoff Diggins is representative of needle-leaf “Sierra Yellow Pine” and “Sierra Montane” forests.
The area consists of dense conifers, including ponderosa pine, white fir, sugar pine, and incense cedar as well as black oak, live oak, and big leaf maple.
The shrubs consist of manzanita and buck brush (ceanothus.)
Ground cover is dominated by annual grasses and bear clover (mountain misery.)
Black tail and mule deer populate the region.
The largest carnivore is the american black bear. The grizzly bear has been extinct in California since the late 1920’s.
Smaller mammals consist of mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, and grey fox. Ring tail cats are occasionally seen.
The last recorded porcupine sighting in the park was in 1996. Grey and ground squirrels, douglas squirrels (chickaree), cottontail and jackrabbits are common.
Both mountain and valley quail are present, as are the non-native turkey.