Foundries and machine shops, such as the Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, provided the foundation for California’s booming Gold Rush. Miners depended on foundries and machine shops to produce sophisticated tools and equipment as mining operations continued to grow and became increasingly more complex. Foundries cast the tools and machine shops formed equipment. Mining operations needed a continuous supply of stamp mills, pumps, ore cars, dredger buckets, rock crushers and assorted other mining equipment.
Knight Foundry was established in 1873 to repair facilities and supply equipment to the gold mines and timber industries of the Mother Lode. The Knight Foundry is thought to be the last remaining water-powered foundry and machine shop in the nation. Samuel N. Knight developed a high speed, cast iron water wheel about the same time as the Pelton Wheel that used the same concept. Historic records indicate that his water wheels were used in some of the first hydroelectric plants in California, Utah and Oregon.
Knight developed a 42-inch wheel to drive the main line shaft, and smaller water motors power other machines. Knight invented other types of mining equipment. He held 8 patents on machines used in his shop. By the 1890s more than 300 Knight water wheels had been produced and in use across the Western United States. Water wheels produced a cheap and effective energy source for miners.
The Pelton Wheel, developed by Lester Allen Pelton, is based on a similar concept and came on the market at about the same time. The two items were competitive products until it was finally determined that the Pelton Wheel was the more efficient of the two. Pelton water wheels have since become the industry standard.
Knight Foundry was able to stay in business after the Gold Rush was over by producing specialty parts that were more easily produced at the Foundry than through mass production.
When Knight died in 1913, he left the shop to his employees who continued to own the building until 1970 when the last employee died. The Foundry changed owners and stayed opened until 1996. The city of Sutter Creek intended to purchase the Foundry from its current owners in 2009 for clean up, historic preservation and re-opening as a museum with public displays, workshops and limited local historic foundry work. The transfer of ownership was not completed, and the building remains in private ownership with no immediate plans for public access.
Knight Foundry is located at 81 Eureka Street in Sutter Creek.
Amador County was one of the most productive of the “Mother Lode” counties. The mine shafts were reported to be among the deepest in the world. Mining continues in select areas today. The eastern slope of Amador County begins at Kirkwood’s historic stage stop. The relatively narrow county is aligned between the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers and roughly follows an important emigrant trail route. Gold rush camps and boom-towns abound in the history of the area. Amador County is also recognized for its dozens of vineyards and wineries.