Haunted and abandoned: Chemung Mine, California

Petar Djajkovski

In around 1900, Stephen “Steve” Kavanaugh was hired to dig a gold vein that ran along what would later be named Kavanaugh ridge. He established the Chemung Mine, which he named after his hometown in Illinois, but did not receive a share in the mine’s profits.

Chemung Mine mill – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Chemung Mine mill – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Records indicate an official opening of the mine around 1909, by which time a small community was already established around the mining area. In 1909 Chemung mining town had it’s own mill, general store, bunkhouse and several mine offices. The location of Chemung Mine is about 2.5 miles up the hill from the town of Masonic. It had a rich deposit and it was reputedly a big producer of gold and silver.

Chemung Mine mill – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Chemung Mine mill – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

The town had a number of troubles with the law, regarding legal issues of land ownership and leases on the mines. Three different times Chemung was torn down and rebuilt. This was not good for business, but the mines were so rich with gold that it was worth it. Even though it struggled a lot, Chemung was working and producing ore much longer than any of the other mines in the area. Most of them were done and closed by the late 1920s, but the end for Chemung didn’t come until 1938, when the last ten or so workers left the mine. Chemung Mine was closed off and abandoned.

Chemung Mine – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Chemung Mine – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Years after the mine was officially closed and nobody claimed ownership to the lease on it, a lone prospector returned to the mine and stayed there throughout much of the 1950s and 60s, with hopes of hitting big. This guy was Elton Heinemeyer, also known as Heinie. He worked the tunnels of Chemung Mine, believing that his big strike would come any day. He supported himself with what little he found, until he also left the mine for good.

Overhead pulleys and drive shaft in Chemung Mine mill – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Overhead pulleys and drive shaft in Chemung Mine mill – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Most of the buildings that are still standing here today most likely date back to the 1930s and 1940s. However some of them must be older, possibly from the turn of the century. And possibly some of the newer structures are built on the foundations of older buildings. Some remains of basic wooden shacks and dens can be found in the south side of the meadow, a little way down the mountain.

Cyanide tank agitator in Chemung Mine – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

Cyanide tank agitator in Chemung Mine – Author: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company – CC BY 2.0

It is sad what time does to places, and how humans don’t really care about what happens to stuff we no longer need. All of the artifacts are looted, nothing of any value can be found in any of the old buildings.

Also, there are a lot of bullet holes almost everywhere, where people have used the place for target practice. However, there is also something very beautiful in the way nature “takes care” of the ruins. The elements of nature helped in destroying Chemung Mine but the process itself gives it a rustic beauty. A self-sufficient charm, and it’s not a big surprise that it’s such a popular place with photographers and campers.

Tin clad workshop at Chemung Mine – Author: moppet65535 – CC BY 2.0

Tin clad workshop at Chemung Mine – Author: moppet65535 – CC BY 2.0

A local legends talks about the ghosts of dead miners still dwelling these parts. The story goes that the spirits are peaceful most of the time, except for Saturdays. Locals advise tourists, especially campers, to stay away from the mine area on a Saturday night. Some of the locals will even tell stories about people who have entered the mine shafts on a Saturday and were never seen again. Why the ghosts hate Saturday, no one knows.