A sketch of this enterprising mining town cannot be written in detail without re-stating many similar points described in the sketch of Gold Hill. Both towns being contemporaneous in time of discovery and settlement, a history of one is almost essentially a history of the other. The parallel goes still further; many of the earliest settlers prospected and worked in both towns at about the same time.
Virginia was opened to mining in the year 1852, by the discovery of gold on the adjoining hills and ravines. The want of water during the dry season retarded the work of miners for two or three years subsequent, which was finally remedied by the introduction of water by the same canal which conveyed water into the Gold Hill district.
In 18-53, a company of miners, of which Capt. John Birston was an active member, built a railroad track from Virginia Hill to the Auburn ‘ravine, for the transportation of mineral earth; and mining was successfully carried on by the means of this road for several months of this summer. This road was certainly the pioneer railroad of Placer, if not the first laid down in the State for any purpose. This work was finally abandoned by the company, and its labor was better and more properly directed towards the introduction of water, through canals, direct to the tops of the various hills lying in and composing the Virginia district.
In the same summer a wild project was inaugurated, and a stock company organized, to build a railroad from Virginia to some point on Bear river, twenty or twenty-five miles from the town, for the purpose of carrying the “pay dirt” for washing. Stock was issued by the grand financiers of this extensive mining company, and several persons invested money in the chimerical movement. But the .project was so impracticable that the bubble soon exploded of its own absurdity.
On the completion of the Gold Hill and Bear River Ditch, this town began to assume an importance as one of the safest and surest mining localities in the State. Thousands upon thousands of dollars were Shined from the hills and ravines of Virginia, and subsequently paid in as assessments to tunnel companies, prospecting the hills at Iowa Hill, Dutch Flat, Todd’s Valley, Folest Hill, and other successful mining camps in the upper end of the county. Virginia and Gold Hill were the ” banks,” where for years the honest and industrious miner recuperated his wasted means, and from which, annually, he returned back in the fall, to the mountains, to prosecute his labors to obtain possession of a more permanent and lasting “paying” claim. The miners in and about Gold Hill, Virginia, Ophir and Doty’s Flat, were as migratory as the antelope, who came down upon the foot hills and plains, after the subsidence of the rainy and snowy seasons. The miners, after a summer’s labor in these sure diggings, returned to the hills with a well filled purse, and with light hearts and strong arms, re-entered upon their prospecting labors. So time passed along with the early settlers of Virginia, and in this manner many of those rich hills in upper Placer became early developed of their mineral wealth. Early settlers of Virginia thus also became permanent residents of the mountain towns.
After the exhaustion of the more prominent and first opened hills in this district, the attention of miners was called more particularly to the Auburn ravine and to the large and small fiats in the vicinity. Auburn ravine, as at Gold Hill, was considered too deep to be mined with profit, but as the gold placers most easily worked became in a great measure exhausted, companies of miners were organized with the view of opening up drain ditches through this ravine, and preparations made for removing the surface, either by water or by the hand barrow. On some of the claims the horse scraper was advantageously used as early as the year 1854. Where draining was considered impracticable, water wheels were erected and large pumps put into motion for the purpose of keeping the claim dry while the rich bottom dirt was lifted with a shovel into the tom or sluice box. In this district, at about this time, the “sluice box” was first introduced, and which soon supplanted the celebrated “long-tom,” and which improvement contributed so much to the value of shallow and easily mined surface diggings.
“Quartz Flat,” a large territory lying under the very eaves of the town, also about this time began to be prospected; and subsequently was found to be extensive and profitable mining ground. This flat being covered with a hard conglomerated gravel, cemented together by a clayish compound, it was found to be safe to tunnel, especially when timbered with light material. The pay dirt being near the rocks, this mode of mining Quartz Flat was generally adopted, the miner drifting his subterranean chambers with a view to labor-saving and not with due reverence to the dignity and importance of his lungs. This flat contributed its full quota towards the fair mining reputation of Virginia, although the Auburn ravine to-day still tenaciously contends to contribute its share in holding good its original claim.
The Auburn ravine, it will not be disputed by any intelligent man, has contributed more gold dust, pro rata with its area, than any auriferous ravine in the Golden State; and its wealth has been the main-spring of building up town after town, from its head at and near the high lands on the North Fork of the American river, half a mile east of Auburn, to its terminus in the plains, a few miles east of the Sacramento river, near the boundary line of Sacramento and Placer counties. At its head, lump or coarse gold was found, and gradually the gold diminishes in size and specific gravity, as the miner follows the winding stream to the plains, where it is lost by its own deposits. All these towns have passed the meridian of mining prosperity, though Virginia, from her contiguity to the agricultural lands of the county, perhaps, to day wears her old garbs of prosperity, and is sill, to use a miner’s phrase, “not played out.”
Virginia No. 2, or Chinatown, ought not to be passed by without a notice. For years after the first settlement, John Chinaman was not allowed to hold a claim in this district, but latterly the cupidity of merchants, and the interests of ditch proprietors have forced John to amalgamate with the white man, and a large Celestial population is now found here. The error of this policy will grow more apparent as time progresses on its cycle.
The agricultural wealth bounding Virginia. on the north and west will continue to add to the growth and prosperity of both Virginia and Gold Hill; and when this section shall fully recover from its miasmatic vapors, and its early reputation for health shall have been restored, a more permanent and’ steady growth will be inaugurated.