Mercury mining at Lookout Mountain

Mother Lode Mine

By Steve Lent, Museum Historian

The Mother Lode Mine is located on the northern slope of Lookout Mountain near the head of Canyon Creek. The mine was first established as a gold and copper prospect in 1899 by H.S. Cram. It was not a productive mine for those minerals. However, quicksilver was discovered at the site in 1900 and in July 1901 the American Almaden Quicksilver & Gold Mining Co. was organized to operate the mine. A small Scott furnace was erected and production was first recorded in 1906. The mine received its name for the abundance of cinnabar as a “mother lode” for mercury production.

The mine had several corporate groups that operated the mine through the years up to the 1960s. Much of the work on the Consolidated adit level was done during the 1928-1930 period. Several adits were added in the following years. An adit is an excavated entrance and tunnel to a mineral source, usually on a horizontal level. It is estimated that 3000 feet of underground work was done from six adits.

Later operations used bulldozers to scrape slopes to mine the surface ore. A 12-ton furnace was erected to treat the cinnabar ore. During World War II the Gilkey Brothers erected a plant utilizing jigs in an attempt to concentrate large tonnages of low-grade ore. The peak production of mercury was from 1935 to 1940. The mine was inactive from about 1943 until 1954 when claims were relocated and the operation was renamed the Canyon Creek Mining Co. The property was leased to the Werdenhoff Mining Co. in 1958. A double D-retort was erected and six flasks of mercury were produced in 1959. Erection of a Herreshoff furnace of 50 tons per day capacity was completed in 1960.

The mine produced 352 flasks of mercury since mining operations began. Each flask contains about a half-gallon and weighs about 76 pounds. The last mining activity occurred in 1986. In the mid-1990s the mine again came to attention when it was discovered that the environment may have been contaminated by mercury from the mining operations. Cleanup operations were conducted. The old furnace is still standing at the mine and is a historic relic of past mine operations.