Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Santa Ana Tin Mining Co.

The members of the “Green” cult tell us that today is “Earth Day.” So I'm acknowledging their religious holiday with a story about a hole in the ground. (Hard to get closer to Mother Earth than that!) The photos above show the shafts of the Santa Ana Tin Mine, in Trabuco Canyon, on March 20, 1903. Tin was first discovered in the canyon in 1877, but it was over a decade before anything was done about it.
In A Boy’s Book of Bear Stories (Not for Boys), Jim Sleeper writes, “In April of 1901, J. A. Comer located 54 claims (purporting to have tin) in Trabuco Canyon. …The Santa Ana Tin Mining Co. was incorporated two months later … By November, the mill and most of the major buildings… were erected.”
The company was owned by geologist J. A. Comer, his brother, L. C. Comer, and New York dairy magnate Gail Borden, III of the Borden Milk Company. Borden wanted the tin for containers to replace wood buckets, which had recently been outlawed for milk storage purposes. (To this day, an eagle appears on cans of Borden’s Milk – The same eagle that served as the logo of the Santa Ana Tin Mining Co.)
Unfortunately, no tin was ever taken from the mine. Some say it was too difficult to separate the tin from the various other minerals in the ore. Others say there wasn’t enough tin to bother with. Either way, after an investment of $1.5 million, tin mining operations ceased in 1906. After digging more than 1,000 feet of shafts and tunnels, it took only a month and a half of ore refining efforts to determine that the mine was a failure.
That did not, however, keep the mine from being sold and re-sold to a series of hopeful owners, each with their own scheme for getting rich. For instance, one owner, Glenn S. Gunn, tried to extract mercury from the ore. None of these efforts proved enormously fruitful either.
Assistant District Forester L. A. Barrett wrote in a 1912 report, "I have had personal knowledge of these claims for twenty years and know that the only money ever made from them has been secured through sale of stock and transfer to new owners."
Eventually, the Santa Ana Tin Mine did produce at least one mineral treasure – a small sample of an extremely rare mineral called arcanite. It was not found in the ore however, but was embedded in a pine railroad tie in Tunnel #1.
In 1969, the Orange County Historical Landmarks Project panel concluded, “Of the many mines and mill sites that have existed in Orange County, this one is the best preserved. Not only are the old shafts and cut tunnels preserved, but the old mill, laboratory, black smith shop, and a few other old buildings still stand.”
I'm told the site has since been scraped clean by the National Forest folks.


outsidetheberm said...

Nice post. Where in Trabuco Canyon was this mine?

colony rabble said...

I understand Obama is about to bail them out.

Captain said...

On the left hand side of Trabuco Creek Road about .5 mile or so after you enter the part where the canyon narrows, on the way up to Holy Jim Canyon.

To Chris: I was friends with Glenn Gunn and his wife... a couple of bona fide canyon characters as you'd ever want to meet.

I miss those two old farts.

doug said...

Great post; the photographs especially are much appreciated! Just a few months ago, on my own blog, I got to wondering about the tin mining in Orange County:

Thanks, Chris! You've satiated my curiosity!

dr.bell said...

The tin mine is not in trabuco, but in corona, ca.
Take Lincoln to Skyline drive trail and follow the creek one and a half miles to the first tunnel, it will be obvious. There are five tunnel openings spread out over several thousand feet. They are barred with steel grates. YOU CAN LOOK IN THEM WITH FLASHLIGHTS.

Chris Jepsen said...

Dr. Bell: Perhaps you're thinking of another mine.

leslee riddell said...

We were told when we bought our cabin in Holy Jim, that cabin 28 used to be a bar for the local tin miners upstairs and the downstairs was a house of ill repute. I don't know if this is true but the previous owners told us that story like it was the absolute truth. Did you hear anything about this in your research efforts?

Chris Jepsen said...

Jim Sleeper wrote a history of the cabins in Holy Jim. It's unpublished, but I'll bet (hope) some of the longtime residents out there still have copies. If Jim wrote it, you can take it to the bank.