Northstar Mine Powerhouse and Pelton Wheel Museum

This historic site includes a fascinating exhibit of hundreds of Sierra Nevada gold mining artifacts, including a working Stamp Mill and Cornish Pump, the largest Pelton Wheel ever constructed.

No county in the Gold Country is more intimately connected with all aspects of gold mining than Nevada County. Here, some of the earliest placer mining took place. Here, much of the hydraulic mining was practiced. And, here, deep quartz mining was started.

Today, the placers are all but worked out. Hydraulic mining was virtually forbidden in 1884 and the last of the deep quartz mines closed down in 1959. But lately, with gold advancing from $34 per ounce to over $400 per ounce, a number of small mines are now in operation. The equipment of the big mines was sold or vanished in other ways. Thanks to the efforts of some visionary citizens, such as Arthur Dowdell, former assayer of the Empire Mine, only the foundations of former buildings from the mines or the immense chasms left by the hydraulic operations (such as you can see at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park) would remind one of the former great industries of Nevada County.

Arthur Dowdell collected a large number of objects relating to gold mining, which he presented to the Nevada County Historical Society in 1968. These objects formed the nucleus of the first Nevada County Mining Museum, which was opened on Mill Street in Grass Valley that same year.

In 1959, one of the most important relics from mining days, the 30 foot diameter Pelton Wheel, which formerly supplied air used to power the North Star mine, was rescued from the scrap heap through the efforts of Mrs. Phoebe Cartwright, who conducted a vigorous campaign to "save the wheel." The wheel was presented to the Historical Society by Mrs. Cartwright's committee and an acre of land, including the remains of the old North Star mine power house, were donated by the New Verde Mining Company.

The Grass Valley Mining Museum contains the most extensive and well preserved relics for illustrating hard rock mining in the Gold Country. This eminence was made possible by the generosity of Mr. Dowdell and many others who donated artifacts. Of equal importance are the many hours of hard work, donated by its director and his helpers. Without their work, the museum could never have become what you see today.

In addition to mining equipment, displays and artifacts, the museum also includes a display of articles used by miners and their families in their homes.

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Latitude: 39.2085478 Longitude: -121.069572 Elevation: 2355 ft

Seasons Open

May 1 through October 31

Hours Open

Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.




The caretaker spent over an hour turning on exhibits, telling stories, and being a gracious host. Just off Hwy 49 in Grass Valley. Stop and enjoy yourself in an area where you can even have a small picnic.

egh , 9/16/2010

This is one of the best mining museums in the West. If you haven't visited in the last couple of years they now have the 30 foot Pelton Wheel operating.

Jo Ann Aiello, 6/28/2014

It is true that the Museum has the largest Pelton wheel around. But, according to the photo caption, 300 ft. in diameter ? More like 30'. Great display.

Doug Young, 8/19/2014

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