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Catalog number 1997.2.1639
Object Name Clipping, Newspaper
Date 1949
Description TITLE: Town on the Hill Recalls Days of Quicksilver Wealth SUBTITLE: More Historic Explorations AUTHOR:
PUBLISHER: San Jose Mercury News, May 15, 1949
No ghosts walked the empty streets of the Town on the Hill last Sunday, and there was no sound of Cornish song rising out of the old mine shafts. But not too many years ago the dead town was inhabited by hundreds of miners and their families, and tons of red ore were dug from the labryth of tunnels that honeycomb the hill.
Cousin Jacks and their Mexican neighbors worked New Almaden during its many years of production. Activity all but ceased after World War I, and little has been done in recent years owing to the low price of quicksilver and greater importation from Italy and Spain.
The Hacienda and Town on the Hill were visited last Sunday as one of the tours of historic land-marks being conducted by the Adult Education Department. Permission to go up the hill, now private property, was obtained by Clyde Arbuckle, city historian con-ducting the tour.
After eating picnic lunches in between occasional showers, the group started up the hill, stopping just above the Hacienda. All that remains of the old "place where the work was done" is part of an adobe building which once housed the company office. Evidence of recent dredging operations may be seen in the tailings to the south of the main town of New Almaden along Arroyo de los Almaitos.
Here stood ore reduction furnaces, the manager's residence, stores, the school, and adobe and wooden houses of the miners.
And here Arbuckle told the story of New Almaden, "richest and first workable quicksilver mine on the North American continent, second largest producer in the world."
Prior to 1824 only Indians knew of the red earth. They dug into the hill for the ore, using it to paint their faces and bodies. Their caves were found in later years, some of them containing skeletons of Indians who died in cave-ins.
In 1824 Antonio Sunol, wealthy landowner and San Jose's first postmaster, began working the hill a silver mine. This failed, however, and it was not until 1846 that the red ore was identified as quicksilver.
The discovery was made by Don Andres Castillero, Mexican governmental commissioner to California, who tested ore samples at Mission Santa Clara. He immediately formed a company, filed a claim, and named the mine "The Santa Clara."
William Chard was named superintendent. He fashioned retorts from gun barrels and later used whalers' try-pots he bought in Monterey. These pot furnaces formed the nucleus of the Hacienda. Timber from the surrounding hills was cut for fuel. Arbuckle pointed out that the timber on the hills around New Almaden today is nearly all second growth.
In the Winter of 1846-47 Barron-Forbes Co. bought Castillero's interest in the mine and renamed it New Almaden after the quicksilver mine at New Almaden, Spain.
Two settlements grew up about a mile apart - the Hacienda and the one on the Hill (Mine Hill as it is called.) The latter was really two towns. English Town on the north side of the hill, Spanish Town on the south side.
Both towns had their share of dance and gambling halls, and they had their colorful celebrations and holiday programs. Many a San Josean drove out to New Almaden for an all-night dance, at which there was likely to be a fight or a shooting before the night was out. At Christmas time the Cornish miners sang their famed songs, and there are many old timers who will remember names of some who lived in the Town on the Hill in its heyday.
Water, wood, and provisions to stock the store, part of which is still standing in English Town, had to be carried up the hill, Arbuckle said, and for a while all who lived in the town were discouraged from "shopping around" rather than buying from the company store.
In 1850 successful wood-burning furnaces were built, taking the place of retorts.
Federal injunctions in 1858 closed the mine for two years, while claimants battled for title. Then in 1861 boundary disputes arose. Finally the fight was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1864 and the Quicksilver Mining Co. was formed with J. B. Randol, manager.
From 1865 to 1879 the mine was at its greatest peak production staying in the million dollar bracket. In 1865 the population of the Town on the Hill was between 1700 and 1800 persons.
Over 100 miles of tunnel honeycomb the hill. The deepest work ings are said by Jimmie Schneider custodian of the property now, to reach 2400 feet below the surface. The Randol shaft, now partially overgrown by vegetation, its rotting timbers visible above the deep hole in the hill, was the greatest producer.
On Sunday the Adult Center group were shown ore samples and old photographs of Mine Hill and community life at New Almaden some 70 or 80 years ago. Schneider explained the cross-section maps, showing the various levels of the various workings through the entire hill.
Although several buildings stand in English Town, only the schoolhouse on the hill and part of the old store building date back to the peak years. Cottages that once dotted the hill are now gone and wild lilac, sage and other vegetation has begun its working covering the scars.
Last Sunday's clouds made the view from Schneider's porch especially magnificent, as shadow played across the valley and eastern mountains as far as the eye could reach.

Insert: Today the Adult Center tour historic points of interest, led by City Historian Clyde Arbuckle, will leave the Adult Center, Seventh and San Fernando Sts. at 10:30 a.m. enroute to Mission San Juan Bautista. There the group will eat picnic lunches before starting back toward San lose. On the way north they will visit Sargents, Gilroy points of interest, old San Martin, Morgan Hill's home, still standing in the own which bears his name, and other points.

Photo Caption: GHOST TOWN - Looking east toward the Mt. Hamilton range, this was the Town on the Hill in its heyday more than half a century ago, when Cornish miners worked the miles of drifts at New Almaden. Only part of the store seen in the center of the picture, and the school on the hill (not shown) remain of the old town today. The Adult Center group visited the old town site last Sunday, and were shown maps of the old workings and early-day pictures of the community by Jimmie Schneider, custodian of the property, and owner of this picture.
Cataloged by Boudreault, Art