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Echoes at Dawn Mine

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

One Sunday afternoon while skimming through newspaper clippings about the Mt. Lowe, California area, I came across an interview a reporter had with a conductor of the scenic railroad. The conductor, from memory, proceeded to recite his spiel and so the reporter wrote it down.

A part that particularly caught my attention went like this; "We have now passed around the Cape of Good Hope and are entering Millard Canyon. Just ahead is the longest stretch of straight track on this section of the trip. It is 225 feet long. Millard Canyon below you now is a beautifully wooded canyon with a small stream at the bottom. Below us in the canyon at this point is the Dawn Mine, an early-day gold mining venture. Several of the tunnels still remain but are boarded up and used as part of Pasadena's water supply system."

Well, now that opened my eyes. A gold mine in Millard Canyon, imagine that. Once upon a time I prospected around Randsburg, the Cajon Summit and the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, moving on only to research more about our Mt. Lowe Railroad. Now the railroad seemed to be bringing me back to my golden beginnings.


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The Dawn Mine District is located in the southern part of the San Gabriel Mountains, which separate the Southern California basin on the south from the Mojave Desert on the north. Its boundaries are Eaton Canyon on the East, Bear Canyon on the North, Arroyo Seco on the West, and to the south of Altadena. The entire district covered roughly sixteen square miles and is some of the most rugged terrain in the region. The area reached its current elevations by several stages of uplifts since the late Pliocine time. In the southern extremities of the San Gabriel's the elevations range from one thousand to two thousand feet, while in the northern end the height of 6152 feet is reached at San Gabriel Peak.

The Dawn Mine District was compromised of four mines, Saucer Canyon Mine, Dawn mine, Eagle Lutch Mine and Upper Dawn Mine. The first three of these mines were all located on the same vein, the main ore body being about two miles long.
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Saucer Canyon Mine being the first along the vein in the small tributary of Millard Canyon. Here the surface shows the appearance of a hematite in quartz vein, dark brown to red in color 100 feet in width. The brave miner that operated this claim had his cabin suspended in the air by steel cables, which held it against the face of a sheer rock wall. The auriferous vein of the Eagle Lutch Mine is at the upper end of the first ravine to the west of Las Flores Canyon. It is believed to be a branch of the main vein that heads in a southwesterly direction from just above the Dawn Mine. The Upper Dawn Mine is located on the south side of the trail from Dawn Mine to Switzer-land, about one and one-half miles north of the Dawn Mine.

The main mine of the district was the Dawn Mine. Dawn is deep in the folds of Millard canyon whose walls rise 1000 to 1500 feet. Access was gained to the area by way of Millard Canyon Trail or from above by means of the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railroad. From Millard Canyon it is a pleasant two and one half-mile trip.

This prospect is said to have been found by a Spaniard, though I would venture to guess the Gabrielino Indians of the area knew it earlier. The first owner of record was Bradford Peck. Peck had come from the Randsburg Mines where he was a partner with a man named Ehrenfeld, whose daughter Peck was quite fond of. Her name was Dawn and hence the Dawn Mine was named. Peck operated the mine for a number of years with limited success. Although a minor gold rush of sorts was occurring in the area the booming explosions of men blasting their way through granite while creating the Mt. Lowe railway bed overshadowed the mining ventures.

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On July 10 1902 an experienced miner from Australia, Michael T. Ryan purchased the Dawn Mine. Ryan extended the tunnels further into the mountain and actually ran a profitable venture for a time. Ryan built a narrow trail that switched back numerous times up the steep walls of Millard Canyon to where it met the Alpine division of the narrow gauge railroad. Ryan's two faithful and sure-footed burros were appropriately named Jack and Jill. Once having traversed the precipitous trail the mules had their load of ore transferred to a railroad car where it was eventually brought down to Echo Mt. and then lowered again by way of the great incline to Rubio Canyon and finally brought to market. Assays at the time put the sulfide ore of the major vein at $25-27.00 a ton while the limonite ore from a lesser ore ran $13-17.00 per ton.

The Pacific Electric Railroad, owners of the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railroad, built a station stop at the top of the trail and called it Dawn Station. For a time the trolley would stop at Dawn Station and the adventurous tourists riding the rails would tramp down to the lower reaches of the canyon to visit the workings of the gold mine. This became a problem for the railway as the arduous trek back up caused numerous delays. I'm told that someone had a phony gold mine built just a ways down the trail to avoid future delays.

By 1927, according to the Report of the State Mineralogist the Dawn mine was idle. Perhaps Ryan was ill, as it was two quick years later that Michael T. Ryan died. Ryan's widow let several miners work the claims until 1933.

At that time Ryan's wife leased the mine to a group headed by L. L. Hunter, H. L. Comstock, and L. L. Hilton. The group invested large sums of money boring new tunnels into the mountainside bring the total workings to a distance of 1200 feet. In 1935 after an extremely wet season washed out some of the Mt. Lowe Railroads track, the Hunter group built a small mill site one-half mile downstream from the mine. At the mill there was a grizzly with one inch openings; elevator to small bin, two vibrating screens, 20 and 30 mesh; oversized to combined crusher and rolls, followed by one sand and one slime table. It took four men to work the mill site.

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The Hunter group developed and sunk a wince 55 feet on the vein 3-4 feet wide. The ore values in this wince are said to be $20-30.00 per ton. A raise was also put in to connect with an upper tunnel where the vein is said to reach five feet in width and contain better values. One year the team hit a kidney pocket, which yielded $3400.00. Although values were better and occasional good pockets brought prolonged dreams of riches, the team's small profits went to larger losses. Building the mill and other expenses simply ate up all hope of making a profit.

By the time the Mt. Lowe Railroad made its last run in December of 1937 new trails were built for hauling the ore out and at one time a couple of Model T Fords were even used. Just below the mine entrance lying in the streambed half buried in the gravel's lays an engine probably used for this purpose. The demands of World War II cut off much of the powder and other essentials needed for mining and operations were brought to an end.

A wooden door was placed across the opening of the mine tunnel but it has failed to keep out impetuous explorers of the dark and damp hazard. In 1954 the sheriff at the time, Pete Sutton, made an inspection of the mine and recommended that the openings either be dynamited closed or the openings be closed in by steel doors set in concrete. The owner at the time a C. H. Finlayson of Hawaii was contacted in regards to the matter but we can assume to no end as the mine lies unprotected to this day.

This writer strongly suggests that you stay out of this mine. It is dangerous and not for the faint of heart. The exploration of mines should be set aside for the professional and not taken lightly. Hiking to the Dawn Mine is another matter. It is a beautiful trek to a historic site that can easily be done in half a day.

Below is an account of a visit to the Dawn mine.

Our hand held lights flickered against the cool walls of the tunnel as we traversed the first fifteen feet of Dawn Mine in a crouched position. With the low stony roof and watery floor one is constantly forced to be aware of their position. We proceeded with a slow and shambling pace into the damp darkness towards what appeared to be an island. Two ancient square beams grew from the mound of soil that made the island and though these beams stopped around waist level, I imagine they at one time provided some means of support in the tunneling process.

The tunnel roof opened up above us, a shaft climbing to the height of over fifty feet, and going, who knew where. It was a wormhole of sorts to another world in these underground possessions. On the right of our position another tunnel veered off in a northerly direction. In the entry to this branch the floor again appeared to be water logged and though not plainly perceptible at first, it had the look of peril in the greatest degree. With lamp in hand I maneuvered two steps closer towards this watery entrance. My lamp finally reached its mark, fully engulfing the water filled manhole that lay before me. The site of this watery grave jerked my feet to such an abrupt halt, that I almost went head over heels into this great abyss.

My fearless friends foreseeing my potential predicament grabbed onto my jacket and jerked me back a step. A gesture I was most beholden for as we peered on bent knees into the drenched depths of what was later found to be fifty-five feet deep. My friends and I backed up onto the safety of the island and then pressed onward into another tunnel that led off to the west. This tunnel proceeded in for a distance of one hundred fifty feet or so, with numerous side passages of lesser extent to explore.

Deep in the folds of this subterranean domain when the wet walls bluntly came to an end, my friends and I pondered the fate of those with no lamp to light their way and so extinguished all sources of our luminance. In the black nothingness around us the only sounds we were to hear were the echoes of water droplets hitting the occasional puddle on the tunnel floor and the sporadic clearing of ones throat when one feels the insecurities of this black netherworld.

Lamps again lit we headed back to the island and one last look into the murky depths of the water filled shaft. Looking out towards the tunnel entrance, a glad and yellow sunshine was striving to gain admittance and so we raced across the waterlogged planks that lined the floor to give it a full and proper greeting. Once fully in its presence, we stretched and strutted in its warmth, 'til we had our fill and then sat in the shade of the giant oaks to snack and reflect upon our visit to the depths of Dawn Mine.

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