Beautiful certificate from the Empire Consolidated Quicksilver Mining
issued in 1902. This historic document was printed by the John A. Lowell & Company and has an ornate border around it with a vignette of the company's name. This item has the orignial signatures of the Company’s President, William Henry Dowe and Treasurer, and is over 111 years old. This certificate was issued to and signed on the back by Stilson Hutchins, founder of the Washington Post.
The Sulphur Bank Mine is located near Clearlake Oaks and Clear Lake in Lake County, California. The 150-acre (0.61 km2) mine became one of the most noted mercury producers in the world.
During the 150 years since the Sulphur Bank was discovered, the area has drawn geologists, inspired unique scientific theories, established constitutional case law and now attracts environmental scientists who study the impact of mercury contamination within the Cache Creek watershed of northern California and the Sacramento River-Delta Region and San Francisco Bay.
Beginning in 1856, the mine was first worked for borax. Mining for sulfur began in 1865, and produced 2,000,000 pounds (909,090 kg) in four years. Mercury ore was mined intermittently by underground and open-pit methods from 1873 to 1957. Sulphur Bank Mine was credited with a total output of 92,400 flasks (7.02 million pounds) by 1918. The mine was an important producer during both world wars
The mine closed in 1957 and is a California Historical Landmark (#428). Sulphur Bank Mine became an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) superfund site in 1990.
Although the hot springs of the Sulphur Bank contained borax, the search led Veatch to nearby Borax Lake where the California Borax Company established the first commercial borax mining operation in the U. S. beginning in 1860 and ceasing in 1868. The company established land claims to Borax Lake, the Sulphur Bank and Sulphur Springs in Colusa County.
The officers of the California Borax Company included physicians Veatch, William Ayers and Robert Oxland; and lawyers Henry Halleck, Archibald Peachy, William Billings and Solomon Heydenfeldt. The fascination with borax resulted from the fact that boric acid was critical as a flux in metal working. All borax at that time was imported, mostly from the Tuscan Lakes area of Italy. The California Borax Company did engage in sulfur mining at Sulphur Bank (extracting 2 million pounds in 4 years) for a time before the company’s collapse in 1868 and the sulfur was discovered to be contaminated with cinnabar.
Between the time of Veatch’s discovery and the working of sulfur, a minor mining excitement led to the discovery of cinnabar in the northern reaches of Napa County (of which Lake County was then a part). The Silverado rush in the winter of 1858–59 caused “every unemployed man from Soscol to Calistoga turned prospector. Blankets and bacon, beans and hard bread rose to a premium,” reported William T. Montgomery in a light-hearted sketch of the great silver rush that resulted in enormous finds of worthless iron pyrites. But the rush did result in the discovery of cinnabar in 1860. Montgomery, who became a stockholder in the X.L.C.R. (pronounced excelsior) mine, is the only known source of the often-repeated tale of Seth Dunham and L.D. Jones discovering cinnabar in a road cut of the Barryessa-Lower Lake Road (now Morgan Valley Road) in what became known as the Knoxville mining district, about a dozen miles south east of the Sulphur Bank in present-day Napa County. The X.L.C.R. became known as the Redington mine a decade later and was second only to the New Almaden mine in production.
Another account of the discovery of cinnabar in the same region is contained in the December 1861 edition of Scientific American magazine. “There has been recently opened an extensive cinnabar vein, in Napa County, which promises to be rich. This was discovered by John Newman, of Pope’s Valley. The cinnabar was discovered by means of the fires which are made to burn off the chaparral,” the magazine reported.
Newman became a stockholder of the Phoenix mine in that location. These early discoveries of mercury-bearing ores did not become viable mercury producers until 1872, when the price of mercury and improved smelting methods resulted in the establishment of many mines in Lake and Napa counties.
In 1873, the defunct California Borax Company was acquired by Tiburcio and John Parrott, William F. Babcock and Darius Ogden Mills, for the purpose of quicksilver mining at Sulphur Bank. Until 1875, when the mine shipped 5,218 flasks of mercury, it operated under the name of the borax company but then changed the name to the Sulphur Bank Quicksilver Mining Company.
Tiburcio Parrott was controlling partner of the new company, and it was he who was later jailed when the company refused to abide by a state law excluding Chinese from employment.
Tiburcio’s father, John Parrott, was a wealthy banker. Parrot and Company, of San Francisco was a major landholder and banking firm. John Parrot’s weekend retreat consisted of 17,000 acres (69 km2) in San Mateo County, California. John Parrot also owned 8% of the giant New Almaden quicksilver mine in Santa Clara County.
Babcock was an officer of Parrott and Company and was a partner with Tiburcio Parrott in an import-export company. Mills was also asset rich, founding the Bank of California, but who had stepped down as bank president by the time of the Sulphur Bank mercury mining era. It was Mills who later saved Bank of California with his personal assets when it failed under William Chapman Ralston.
The period of 1875 to 1883 was the heyday of the mining activity. The Sulphur Bank Quicksilver Mine often had the highest output after the New Almaden, the New Idria (San Benito County) and the Redington. However, profits were tempered by the temperature of the underground workings. The Chinese miners, who did most of the underground work, had to endure temperatures of 176 °F (80 °C) because the ore body followed the path of at least three hot springs at the site.
The mercury was shipped in iron flasks weighing about 90 pounds each and containing 76.5 pounds of mercury. The closest rail service was 45 miles (72 km) away in Calistoga. The wagon trip over the crest of Mt Saint Helena via the Lawley Toll Road to the rail head could take a week or more.
Just how much mercury was shipped from Sulphur Bank is a matter of some estimation. The History of Lake County 1881 puts production at 12,341 flasks in the two-years 1874-1876. Walter W. Bradley, state mineralogist, estimated total output to 1918 at 92,400 flasks. The mine was only sporadically worked after 1883, so the majority of the output can be attributed to the Parrott era.
The township of Eastlake was established next to the mine. The mining superintendent, Ferdinand Fiedler listed his address at Eastlake as did assistant superintendent, J.E. Tucker. The German-born Fiedler was the furnace operator and postmaster at the New Almaden mine before taking the post of superintendent at Sulphur Bank. The mine’s owner-investors all lived in San Francisco. Eastlake was directly adjacent to the mining property. After the mine closed, Eastlake was abandoned.
Those who worked at the mine in 1880 constituted an ethnic soup of foreign-born workers. The 1880 federal census, dated June 22, 1880, listed 218 Chinese-born men and 40 Occidentals associated with the mine. Only a few of the white miners were born in the United States. Immigrants from Sweden and Norway constituted the bulk of the European miners. A few of the miners were Irish born as were two Mexicans. Most of the miners had no families present but some of the managers had families and children living at Eastlake. None of the Chinese miners had families present.
The quicksilver mine was partially an open pit and partially a tunneling operation. Three shafts and a series of lateral tunnels known as drifts comprised the underground works. The shafts were known as the Hermann, the Fiedler and the Parrott. From historical documents it appears only the Wagon-Spring Cut and Bath-house Cut (open pits) and the Parrott shaft were used for mining until 1880. By 1881 the other two shafts were also in place, one of which reached 260 feet (79 m). Bath-House and Parrott flooded then and were not further used.
"At Sulphur Bank tunnels were used in developing and mining the ore just under and in the basalt capping. In depth, development and mining proceeded through shallow shafts. Operations from any one shaft were carried on until the hot water and gas made conditions intolerable, when the shaft was abandoned and a new one was sunk a short distance away." Curt Schuette, the author of the US Bureau of Mines bulletin #335 observed.
The cinnabar ore, known also as mercury sulfide (84 parts mercury to 16 parts sulfur), was treated in furnaces and retorts near the mine. The essential refining method was to turn the mercury into gas and recondense it to quicksilver. The sulfur would burn and convert to carbon; the waste rock associated with the ore is known as calcine, or burnt rock, would be dumped near the lake shore, out of the way of the mining works. All of the furnaces at all of the mines in the vicinity were wood fired.
The heyday of quicksilver mining came to an end when the price of quicksilver dropped to $25 per flask from a high in 1874 of $120. The Sulphur Bank Quicksilver Mining Company was bankrupt by 1883. Tiburcio Parrot’s biographer states the company’s stock went into default, which suggests the stock was pledged against loans to cover operating expenses. Who the creditors were or to whom the mine was sold is unknown. A specialized census report indicates 2,283 flasks were produced there in 1890, which was a fraction of the output reported during the census of 1880 (10,706 flasks).
The township of Eastlake, which included a dry goods store, post office and a hotel-restaurant was abandoned after the mine’s closure.
The mine was apparently inactive through the remainder of the 1880s. Geologist George F. Becker visited the mine several times between 1883 and 1888. Becker’s survey of quicksilver mining in the western United States usually includes the names of watchmen or mine personnel at the sites he studied, but no names are mentioned during his visits to Sulphur Bank. The Fiedler shaft was flooded and overflowing into Clear Lake in 1887. The mine was operated sporadically in the 1890s, evidenced by the presence of mine superintendent Richard White.
John Parrott died in 1884, and his widow, Abigail inherited control of Parrott and Company. Abigail was not the mother of Tiburcio Parrott. He was born 1842, the bastard child of John Parrott and Deloris Ochoa. John Parrott was the American Consul to Mexico at Mazatlan. The War with Mexico in 1845-1846 put a temporary end to the diplomacy business. John Parrott then set up his banking and real estate business in San Francisco in 1848 or 1850.
Tiburcio Parrott was educated in the United States and Europe. After the failure of the mercury mine, he spent the last decade of his life founding and operating a wine estate, near the township of St. Helena, California. There he became closely associated with the German-born Beringer Brothers: Frederick and Jacob. Tiburcio Parrott died in 1894.
In 1901, the Sulphur Bank mine was sold to a group of New York bankers.
By 1902, Sulphur Bank mine was operating as the Empire Consolidated Quicksilver Company and a new shaft, the Empire, was sunk. Riley A. Bogges was listed as owner/ general manager. “It is greatly to be regretted that the management of this property has not taken pains to preserve geological descriptions of the underground works, which are all caved in, except the Empire shaft, now in progress of sinking. The latter is so tightly timbered, owing to bad ground, that it offers no opportunity’ to study the formations through which it has passed,” wrote William Forstner, of California State Mining Bureau. He also observed that Sulphur Bank had the appearance of an abandoned hydraulic mine.
Boggess, often spelled as Bogges, (the 1900 census gives the spelling as Boggess got the mine mired in court battles in the state of New York, where he also lined up his investors. “Riley A. Boggess had been connected with the mine, and in 1901 he promoted the formation of the Empire Consolidated Quicksilver Mining Company, floated a considerable amount of stock in the East and secured the names of prominent New York capitalists for directors. The new company purchased the Sulphur Banks and the Abbott mines in Lake county, and the Central and Empire mines in Colusa county. The mines were never opened, and the stockholders’ money was wasted. The record of the Sulphur Banks since has been constant litigation and abandoned works, but it is believed by many that rich ore still exists there,” as the history of Mendocino and Lake Counties summarized events.
The summary appears reasonably accurate based on New York Times reports: “A big deal in California quicksilver mines was made today when New York capitalists bought for $1,000,000 the Sulphur Bank and Abbot mines in Lake County and Empire and Central, in Colusa County, which are among the largest producers in the world. From the first two mines $2,000,000 in quicksilver has been taken but the Colusa mines are only partly developed,” the paper reported on October 11, 1901. The article lists the buyers as bankers William Dowe, William Kimball, William Scherer, and iron monger Henry Adams as director.
The deal began to unravel a year later. The broker of the first deal, John T. Reed, won a suit against Boggess, the Times reported July 25, 1902, and in the July 6 edition, the paper noted a lawsuit filed by Katrryn Plumer, of Brooklyn alleging Boggess, Reed, and others had defrauded her of her 1897 investment in the mines. In addition, a July 17, 1902 article related a series of complex stock manipulations involving the Empire Consolidated Quicksilver Mining Company.
There is no evidence how Plumer’s claim was resolved, but the millions of dollars allegedly on or under the table boiled down to $750 in cash by 1903. “United State Marshal Henkel sold by auction yesterday 379,985 shares of the stock of the Empire Consolidated Quicksilver Mining Company , which was bid in for $750 by William Hughes of 100 Nassau Street. The stock was seized ... to satisfy a judgement ... against Riley A. Boggess. The stock had been pledged with the North American Trust Company to secure loans. ... ” The Times reported April 21, 1903.
 George Ruddock
The Sulphur Bank mercury mine next became the possession of George T. Ruddock, a mining engineer and amateur botanist, who lived in Alameda in 1910 and San Francisco by 1920. How he came into possession of the property and surrounding acreage is unclear. Walter W. Bradley’s report on quicksilver mining in California lists Ruddock as the owner of Sulphur Bank by 1918 and that Ruddock had the mine under lease to an H.W. Gould.
State mineralogist W.W. Bradley indicated Sulphur Bank had not been worked or de-watered since 1906. The old Empire Consolidated Quicksilver Mining Company was now headed by Riley Boggess’ wife, Emma, which still held possession of the Abbott and other mines near Sulphur Creek in Colusa and Lake counties. Neither the Abbott nor Sulphur Bank were being actively worked. “For the present at least, no underground work is planned, there being several hundred thousand tons at the surface, estimated as material available for treatment ... Practically all of the dumps in sight and some over the hill on the north side, have concentratable values in cinnabar. The material can be cheaply excavated with a steam shovel and transported to the mill by motor trucks, as it will have to be moved distances up to mile and raised to the top of the mill bin,” Bradley reported.
Whether the plan for mining exclusively by open-pit methods proceeded is uncertain but that method was employed a decade later when the Bradley Mining Company acquired the Sulphur Bank mercury mine.
A young Frederick W.Bradley, or "Fred", honorary graduate of University of California
Frederick Worthen Bradley, the head and founder of the family-owned Bradley Mining Company, became both famous and infamous in 19th Century American history, unknowingly surviving two assassination attempts and setting records for low-cost ore production. His history is well documented on both the internet and print.
There is no known connection between Bradley Mining Company and Walter Wadsworth Bradley, who would become the California State Mineralogist.
Frederick's father, Henry Sewall Bradley came to California to work the gold fields, became a land surveyor instead, and died in 1881 when Frederick Bradley was mid-way through his education at the University of California.
Frederick Bradley dropped out of school, borrowed $5,000 and took over ownership/management of the existing Spanish mine on the south fork of the Yuba River, setting a record for low-cost ore production. He was inducted into the Mining Hall of Fame in 1988.
"Fred" W. Bradley, founder of Bradley Mining Company
By 1893, Frederick Bradley assumed management (but not ownership) of the Bunker Hill lead mine, near Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. Between 1894 and 1904 Bradley made the money-losing low-grade ore profitable but at the cost of a civil war between the mining company and the Western Federation of Miners union. Testimony at the 1906 murder trial of Big Bill Haywood, the union treasurer disclosed the two assassination attempts against Bradley in San Francisco in 1904. Bradley then went off to Alaska to turn two money-losing gold operations into profitable ventures. Mt. Bradley in Alaska is named for him.
Bradley Mining Company first optioned Sulphur Bank mercury mine from Ruddock in 1927 and then purchased the mine and surrounding 700 acres (2.8 km2). The mine was operated under the name, Sulphur Bank Syndicate, but eventually operated as the Bradley Mining Company. Worthen Bradley, Frederick’s son, became assistant superintendent of the mine soon after he was graduated at the University of California, Berkeley in 1926. He eventually served as president of the Bradley Mining Company.
In later years, Worthen Bradley recalled the Bradleys’ interest in the Sulphur Bank mine was generated by a rise in the price of quicksilver. During the Depression years of the 1930s the mine was active or inactive, dependent upon the price, he told a local newspaper in 1955. “We are trying to do with one shovel and two shifts, what we did with several in World War II," Bradley said in 1955. “We are still in the stage of getting started and hope to begin plant operation this month, September. Unfortunately the quicksilver market has declined somewhat since we began work,” The Sulphur Bank mercury mine closed permanently in 1957.
Frederick Worthen Bradley, the founder of the company, died in 1933. The son, Worthen then took over operation of the mine and developed a summer estate known as Rancho Solfatara on 800 acres (the mine included 700 acres (2.8 km2); another 100 acres (0.40 km2) was added in the 1950s) adjoining the mine. Rancho Solfatara, was used first for stock raising to feed the 100 miners who lived there during World War II. During the war, the demand for quicksilver skyrocketed because of its use in detonators in munitions.
Worthen Bradley died at age 55, in 1959. Helen Pope Bradley, who wed Worthen in 1929, engaged in raising show stock, known as Polled Herefords in 1943. Helen lived until 2006, a month before her 100th birthday.
Worthen Bradley was born Frederick Worthen Bradley but used Worthen as his first name. A son, Frederick Worthen Bradley, an attorney, is now the president of the Bradley Mining Company. The Sulphur Bank Mine and Rancho Solfatara are held by the company and the Worthen Bradley Trust.
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