Thursday, July 20, 2017

Answer: Digging into the past of long-vanished towns

You never know what you'll find in the hills...  

In my case, I found the remnants of two 19th century mining towns! 

How did we do this week?  Remember that the Challenge questions were:   

1.  What were the names of the towns located near 
37.1832161, -121.8543355 ?  Where did the inhabitants come from? 
2.  Did these two towns have churches?  If so, what denomination were they? 
3.  What was the most common disease / syndrome at these towns?  What would you do to cure the disease / syndrome? 
4.  (Optional / extra credit)  Can you find any pictures of these town taken at their prime? 

As AlmadenMike was the first to point out, this photo location is in Almaden / Quicksilver County Park.  Just drop that lat/long into Google Maps and you'll find that out. 

When I'm doing historical and location-based research like this, I like to look at the place on a map.  You'll often pickup clues (placenames, etc.) that can be useful in future searches. 

When I did this, right away I can see two places that might be useful--"English Town" and the New Almaden Quicksilver Museum.  

My first hopelessly optimistic search was for: 

     [ "English Town" ] 

but that gave me way too many misses.  (There are just too many "English Towns" in the world. I should have known that ahead of time.  I told you, I'm an optimist.)  

So I added "Almaden" to the search to narrow the scope a bit: 

     [ "English Town" Almaden ] 

and that was pretty good.  There are lots of good hits there, including an article in the local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, from 2015 that told me that the name of the town, "English Town" was also known as "English Camp"!  That article also mentions a second town, "Spanish Town." (Note the variation in the names: "English Town" vs. "English Camp." This might be useful to remember later on.)  

In this same first-pass search, I found a link to the New Almaden Wikipedia page, which mentions both "English Camp" and "Spanishtown."  "English Camp" is described as having "....housing for the up to 1,800 miners, [which are] are scattered about the park, with the biggest concentration at what was known as English Camp, established by Cornish miners in the 1860s."  

Oddly, the Wiki article does NOT have a link to a page about English Camp, but it has a link to an article about Spanishtown. Unfortunately, that link is broken.  This is where you can use the Google cache to your advantage.  To get the cached version, just use cache: as an operator.  If Google has a cached version of the page, this will show it. (The text in red below is the URL I copied from the Wikipedia article.)  


This book, Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California by Jose Pitti, Antonia Castaneda & Carlos Cortes (December 1988) has an entry about Spanishtown.  The relevant part of that text reads: 

"Spanishtown, with its homes, school, church, and cantina, where Mexicanos, Californios, and Chileno miners lived and worked, no longer exists. The 5.6-acre site in Santa Clara County is now covered with meadow grass and bushes. The area where Spanishtown and Englishtown were located is closed to the public. The only remnants of Spanishtown are a picket fence surrounding one of the overgrown cemeteries and a number of large cacti planted by miners near their homes.... 
In the fall of 1847, Alexander Forbes arrived from Mexico with a large crew of workers and equipment, and with John Young, who would superintend the operation.... Next, workers built small houses over several low ridges in a large, open ravine. The ravine area, known as Deep Gulch, became the location of the Spanishtown settlement, which accommodated the Mexican mining crews and their families. Eventually, three settlements would exist at New Almaden: Spanishtown, Englishtown, and the Hacienda. Spanishtown was the largest of the three. The majority of Spanishtown's people were married and in their younger years.
Mexican labor and Spanish/Mexican mining technology developed the New Almaden Mine during its early years. Most of the early miners were imported from Sonora [Mexico]; their numbers were increased by native Californios and some Chilenos..."

This explains where the Spanishtown miners came from--mostly Mexico, some local Indians (Californios), and Chile.  

What about "English Town" or "English Camp"?  Where did those folks come from? 

That first Mercury News article mentioned "Cornish miners" and the Wikipedia article about New Almaden tells us that around 1800 Cornish miners were settled there by the 1860s.  

A search for: 

     [ "English Camp" Almaden ] 

brings you to a number of sources, including the Almaden Quicksilver County Park site, which tells us the same thing.  (More Cornish miners...)  But the best hit in that SERP is the link to the book Geology and Quicksilver Deposits of the New Almaden District (1964) which has a very nice history of the entire site, including the detail that 

" English Camp, largely populated by Cornish miners trained in the Almaden mine in Spain, had grown up around the company store on Mine Hill.  Apparently there was little, if any, friction between the Mexicans and the English.  Each group recognized the other's special abilities; the Cornish miners were experts on sinking shafts and running long straight drifts, whereas the Mexican miners excelled in following and mining the ore...."  

Amazingly, this book also has an image of both English Camp AND Spanishtown.  It's a bit hard to see in this image, but you can see some of the houses for both locations.  

P/C Pg. 186 of Geology and Quicksilver Deposits of the New Almaden District...
This book is a remarkable document of the mines.  I can't help but include this image from page 188: 

The image in my mind's eye of the miners singing "Jesus, Savior, pilot me" as they descended into the Almaden hills is compelling.  The lyrics to the first verse are: 
Jesus, Savior, pilot me,Over life’s tempestuous sea;Unknown waves before me roll,Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal;Chart and compass came from Thee:Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

It's really a mariner's hymn asking for protection from unknown dangers, but just as applicable for miners descending on a sketchy elevator into the wave of rock that makes up the Almaden mine.  

This book also has some images of Spanishtown (aka "Spanish Camp"): 

P/C ibid, p. 184
Are there more good pictures to be had of English Camp?  

I went back to the SERP of my previous query and followed a link to a different book The New Almaden Quicksilver Mine (1964), which told me that it had a "Bird's-eye view of English Camp"!  Sounds promising... but that book isn't in Full View mode, and you can't see the picture.  

Hmmm.  I really want to see that image, so... what to do?  

Answer: Search for that image title.  

That phrase, "Bird's-eye view of English Camp" sounds suspiciously like the title of an image from the 19th century.  So I tried doing this search: 

     [ "bird's-eye view of English Camp" ] 

When I did that, I discovered a treasure trove of images from the New Almaden quicksilver mines, including this remarkable photograph--all from a single photo album at a library.  (Bless them for digitizing these images!)  

Bird's Eye View of English Camp, ca. 1885.  P/C: Photographer:  Bulmore, Robert R.; Winn, S. W.  In the Bulmore-Winn Album.  Held at  the DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.  This image is part of the Views of New Almaden album, which is full of wonderful images of the mine and the area nearby. 

Here's another image of "Spanishtown" AKA "Mexican Camp" from that same series: 

 Looking at this image you can see the church just above "Mexican Camp," the building near the hillcrest with the faint cross on top.  

We've done nearly all of the Challenges.  We just need to identify the church denomination (and check to see if English Camp had its own church), and find a hospital (if any).  

My next search for the church information was: 

     [ "english camp" almaden church ] 

and this time, I just jumped directly into Google Books.  This quickly led me to the Report on Mineral Industries in the United States at the Eleventh Census, 1890.  Searching inside the book told me that 

"...there is a Catholic church in Spanishtown and a Methodist Episcopal church at the English camp.  A Methodist minister resides at the camp.  The Catholic church is attended on Sundays and great holidays by a priest not resident at the place."

Surprisingly enough on the same page is a description of the local hospital at the mine, and how it's funded (by miner contributions):  

"The sanitary department is represented by a resident physician and surgeon, assisted by a competent druggist and a complete drug store..." 

"Hospitals.--2 hospitals are provided, 1 in the English camp and 1 in Spanishtown, although their use is very rarely required.  Nurses are paid for from the miners' fund..."  

This entire section is fascinating, but I found the section entitled "Physician's Report at New Almaden for the Year 1890" section to be really interesting. It points out that they had 33 cases of "mercurialism" (10.44% of all miners).  And, "The above table [of data] shows a decided difference in the salivation rate at the mine in comparison with that at the works, and, being so remarkable, is well worthy an inquiry as to its cause."  

There's a short analysis that points out how different the work is between miners (who have extended direct contact with the ore) and the "works," where the work is very different (it's primarily office work). 

This is fascinating.  But what are mercurialism and salivation rate?  

A quick [ define mercurialism ] tells us that it's "..chronic poisoning with mercury (as from industrial contacts with the metal or its fumes)—called also hydrargyria, hydrargyrism."  At a quicksilver mine, there are plenty of both fumes and mercury metal.  

That makes sense.  But now, when I do  [ define salivation rate ] I get all kinds of definitions of salivation.  BUT... I noticed that result #5, from mentioned calomel.  Remember calomel??  We ran across it in our earlier SRS Challenge about "Mercury where?"   

It's an odd sentence:  "The calomel was nearly sure to salivate the patient and cost him some of his teeth."  I remembered that calomel had something to do with mercury, and the use of salivate as a verb was funny.  So... 

If you click on that link, you'll read in the second definition:  "verb (used with object), salivated, salivating.  2.  to produce an excessive secretion of saliva in, as by mercurial poisoning."

And what was the treatment for mercurialism / excessive salivation?  

If you keep reading in that book, you'll find that the best treatment is, of course, avoiding exposure... and the "use of a saturated solution of potassium chlorate as a mouth wash after the slightest exposure..."  


I did a search of: 

     [ potassium chlorate mouthwash ] 

hoping to find its use at the time as a therapy for mercurialism, and was rewarded by finding Sajous's Analytic Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine, Volume 7.  On page 582 you can find the recipe for a potassium chlorate mouthwash that's recommended for treating "mercurial salivation."  

I have no idea whether it was effective or not, but that's what they did at the mines.  (Remember that at the time, mercury was used in all kinds of medicines. Even so, overexposure was a recognized problem, especially with all of the salivation and tooth-loosening that happened in conjunction.)  

That's a fair bit of searching to answer our Challenges.  Let's summarize with a few lessons... 

Search Lessons 

1. Looking at a map of the region can give you useful search clues.  As we saw, place names on maps are often historically interesting. But as we also saw, don't assume that's a complete list of all the places!  (Spanishtown was missing on the map! Some ghost towns are better remembered than others.) 

2. Remember to use cache:  operator when you want to get to a backed-up version of a web page that's missing.  The National Park Service is going through difficult times these days and don't seem able to keep their web sites working.  So when a page you want to read goes dark, remember this trick. 

3. Read carefully, noticing things that seem a bit different.  We have two cases where the text that "sticks out" was important.  The image we couldn't see labeled "Bird's-eye view" was a big clue about how to search for that particular image.  Also, the use of "salivate" as a verb--that should make your SRS antennae go up!  

4.  Sometimes you have to know stuff--or be willing to search it out.  In that definition of "salivate" we noticed the word calomel, which was a huge tipoff that mercury poisoning was involved in the production of excess saliva.  If you see a strange word like that... take the time to look it up.  The chance that this will prove to be useful is pretty good.  

5. Place names can vary by a LOT, take note of variations in spelling and names over time. Take note of the variations as they might change your searches significantly.   "English Camp" and "English Town."  Or "Spanishtown" or "Spanish Town" or "Mexican Camp"  or "Spanish Camp."  I saw them all.  (And if things got difficult, I might have used an OR operator to give me synonyms of the place names.)  

And, to finish for today, a YouTube video of English Camp as it is today.  This drone video gives you a good sense of what it's like up there today... 

A great page to read about the New Almaden area in general, with lots of geology background is Andrew Alden's page about New Almaden and mercury at KQED's Science blog.
Search On! 

(And a reminder:  No Challenge this week.  I'll post one early next week.  Stay tuned!) 


  1. repost…
    …could the Silicon Valley go the way of the Almaden mining district… 60-70 years, weeds, historical societies & dust…
    …in case you want to mine while taking a running break…
    Geology and quicksilver deposits of the New Almaden District, Santa Clara County, California
    New Almaden district, 18 plates
    hmmm… whats on the distant mount?(Mount Umunhum, fourth-highest peak in Santa Cruz Mountains) pan right for the New Almaden Dam, one of a least ten area reservoirs
    off subject, but I had to add some 'Russian collusion' to the mix - geological in nature, no apparent running trails nearby… ;-P
    why out of focus?
    Irkutsk, Siberia
    Fire Eagle Nest

  2. thanks Ramón… found a few other bits — post mining time…
    a big band tie-in to the New Almaden/Hacienda Cemetery… that took me to a headstone in Texas…
    part one of five… Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum - The Guided Tour
    "A famous big band musician named Ben Black wanted to subdivide his property and connect Bertram Road through the graveyard, but the law would not allow it. So Black, in the middle of the night, drove a bulldozer through the cemetery and began to build a road of a few hundred yards. Today, the cemetery is divided into two halves, and the same road is paved — with bumps.
    “What do you think is under those bumps?” Boulland asked. “Bodies!
    That question really gets the fourth-graders” he has taken on tours, he said. “They skip down the road trying not to step on the bumps,” Boulland said."

    page 19 - 'Post Mine Ownership' 1928-1949
    look for Ben Black
    Richard Bertram Barrett & bumps in the road

    Dating back to the early 1850's, this cemetery was in use until the 1920's when Musician Ben Black, who wrote the then popular song, “Moonlight and Roses”, bought some of the mining company land at the Hacienda and subdivided it. Bertram Road was cut through the cemetery over the tops of an unknown number of graves.

    [bertram road new Almaden, ca]
    hard to get to the "bumps" with street view
    there appear to be houses over the graves…
    fwiw, big band in bay area
    a more contemporary tale - Cactus House
    a 1925 rendition by John McCormack - Ben Black claim to fame
    the Jim Reeves take… same year as his death
    Reeves crash
    Carthage Panola County Texas
    tear jerker - he had a dog named Cheyenne
    ground truth

    1. Hi Remmij! Thanks for the new links. I'll check them in a few minutes. I also found this new one related with past of places and timelapse Barcelona since Barcelona 92 Olympic Games