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The Blue Ridge Copper Mining District
April is absolutely the best month to make the challenging hike from Hunting Hollow up to Steer Ridge to admire the fabulous wildflower display. While you are there, take a few moments to check out the odd excavations in the serpentine outcrop; they are all that remain of the Blue Ridge Copper Mining District.
After the Civil War began in 1861, copper was in great demand for the manufacture of cannons, bullets, and shell casings. Problem was, one of the largest copper mines in North America, the Burra Burra Mine in Tennessee, was controlled by the Confederacy, and suddenly there was an urgent need to find more sources of this precious mineral in the Union.
Early in 1863 two prospectors found malachite, a copper ore, in the blue schist rocks that are abundant on the southern slopes of Burra Burra Peak. They named their claim the New Burra Burra Copper Mine, after the Confederate controlled mine in Tennessee. The claim was incorporated in April, 1863, and the list of trustees bore some impressive names; Josiah Belden, first mayor of San Jose, Levi Goodrich, one of the first professional architects to practice in California, P.K. Dow, and David Huber, a Gilroy physician, and other prominent members of the Gilroy community. With profit in mind, and to fund their enterprise, they proposed the sale of $990,000.00 in stock to be sold at $100.00 a share.
Meanwhile another claim was made along the ridgeline of what is known today as Steer Ridge. Named for the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee where the original Burra Burra Mine was located, the Blue Ridge Copper Mining District was incorporated in August, 1863, and the trustees, once again prominent men primarily from Gilroy, proposed to sell $510,000.00 of stock at $100.00 a share.
Apparently neither venture proved successful, as any mention of these mining operations disappears from local history within a year after their discovery. There were several possible reasons for failure. One may have been the expense of shipping ore to the smelter. Ore was freighted by wagon to Stockton, transferred onto riverboats and shipped to San Francisco. Once there, it was loaded onto sailing ships and taken to smelters in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The war ended in 1865, and the price of copper fell from a war-time high of 55 cents to 19 cents a pound. The combination of these two factors most likely made these mining ventures unprofitable.
Over time, the name of the Blue Ridge Copper Mining District migrated north to a ridgeline east of Pine Ridge, and became simply Blue Ridge. The New Burra Burra Mine loaned its name to the peak on whose slopes it was located. The Burra Burra mine shafts, there were two, were covered over by landslides years ago, but tailings of excavated material can still be seen on the peak’s southwestern slopes.
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