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Kennedy Mine

kennedymine2In its heyday, the Kennedy Mine included today’s Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park.  At its birth, however, in the mid-1850s, it became three quartz claims stretching about 2,000 feet southerly from the already prosperous Oneida Mine, opened in 1851.  One claimant was Irish immigrant Andrew Kennedy.  By 1857, Kennedy and others claimed 600 longitudinal feet 500 feet wide on the same lode as the Oneida. Their claim straddled a ridge running southwesterly toward Jackson named Negro Hill, after pioneer black miners who were there first.  For years Kennedy and others almost fruitlessly tunneled and dug shafts looking for the elusive vein throughout the 2000-foot claims.  At last, in the 600-foot Kennedy section did miners find paying ore - but not for long.  Those shafts, 200 to 300 feet deep, hit a quartz horse, or hundreds of vertical feet with no vein, and went broke.  By the late 1860s, the various claims coalesced into one mine, the Kennedy. In the mid-1870s, a new corporation of local businessmen formed the Kennedy Mining Corporation, indicating a belief if not evidence the mine would soon pay off.  They sank two more shafts easterly of the old ones, and built a stamp mill.  That corporation spent more than the ore yielded and in a few years the mine stopped, and the pumps were turned off.  Mark 1885 as the turning point after 30 years of mostly unrequited prospecting.  Francis Reichling and other major investors created the Kennedy Mining & Milling Corporation in 1886.   Mainly through a new east shaft, begun in 1898, 2,000 feet easterly of the north and south shafts,  until 1942 the Kennedy reaped over $34 million in gross revenue, with the Central Eureka in Sutter Creek, the richest gold mines in the Mother Lode.  Their production helped Amador finish second to Nevada County as the leading gold producing county in California.  That vertical East shaft when it closed during World War II was the deepest gold mine in the United States if not the world.  It was over a mile deep.  Read about the need for the Kennedy Wheels in another adjacent section.

kennedymineWhile other mines produced more gold, probably no other in California was more celebrated, fabled, and extensive.  Its Kennedy Tailing Wheels system (See adjacent panel for its full story) was unique and its giant wheels became the most photographed mining relics in the state.  When the Kennedy ceased operations in 1942 its eastern shaft was the deepest in the northern hemisphere, plunging over a mile straight down still exploiting its rich, descending gold veins.  The Kennedy was the second richest in the most productive twenty miles of the Mother Lode. It helped small Amador produce more bullion and dividends than any county except Nevada.  Moreover, it became known world-wide in 1922 when rescue teams tunneled from its depths trying to reach 47 miners trapped in its neighbor, the Argonaut Mine.  The world read, listened and waited.  When the exhausted crews finally reached the doomed 47  miners after arduous days of tunneling, all had died, not long after the fire began.  Even today, 70 years after the mine’s closure, its towering headframe and glistening white office building are the most visible symbols of hard rock gold mining along Highway 49, the Golden Chain Highway.  Paradoxically, despite such superlatives and bounty during the mine’s century and a half history, few know that the Kennedy was claimed late, bankrupted several early owners who simply couldn’t locate consistent, dividend-paying ore from the mid-1850s until the mid-1880s.  By then, mining engineers knew the Kennedy had bountiful rich ore in sight. That’s when the historic Kennedy Mining & Milling Company took ownership, backed by millions in investment. To operate the mine better, crews dug the deep, vertical east shaft and built a 100-stamp mill to process the ore.  That company operated it successfully until its closure during World War II and various circumstances prevented it from every opening again. wheel (1)Its early history began in the mid-1850s when the mine was three groups of claims measuring about 2,000 lineal feet between the Oneida Mine, already opened and making money in 1851, and the Negros’s claim, later named the Pioneer and finally the Argonaut.  Abutting the Negros’s claim was the Original Kennedy group of claims named after Irish immigrant Andrew Kennedy, one of many claimants. That 600-foot long, 500 feet wide claim straddled Negro Hill or ridge.  Besides the Kennedy claim, various fruitless shafts and tunnels were dug in the other 1,400 feet of claims. Only a shaft in the Kennedy portion found paying ore  but then hit a “horse” where the ledge stopped or pinched out.  By the late 1860s all those claims between the Oneida atop Humbug Ridge and the Negros’s claim on Negro Hill were consolidated and named the Kennedy.  In the 1870s, the new Kennedy Mine Company sank two new and deeper shafts, rediscovered the ledge or vein, constructed a mill and set the stage for the Kennedy to prosper the next half century.