More Info on the Mystery Mine of the Verdugos
A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about an abandoned mine in the Verdugo Mountains directly across the freeway from the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. For many years an old concrete structure was visible on the hillside, but has since been completely overgrown. No one seemed to know exactly what its purpose was. My column two years ago outlined various theories about the structure and its relationship to the lost mine. Since then I have discovered more info about it.
Based on what I’ve found in old newspapers and mining trade papers, it was a graphite, or plumbago mine. Plumbago is an archaic name for graphite. The word graphite (from the Greek “graphein” meaning to write) seems to have been substituted for plumbago sometime around the turn of the 20th century. Graphite in its purest form is used for pencil lead and lubricant, but has other uses in paints and industrial coverings. The discovery of a plumbago deposit in the Verdugo Mountains is first mentioned in a small newspaper article in February 1889. By 1892, the mine appears to have been in full swing. A newspaper article describes its sale to a Los Angeles chemical company, and that the mine was producing at a rate that the new owners hoped would induce a railway to be extended into the Crescenta Valley. A state publication from 1917 on minerals in the Los Angeles area gives a great description of various graphite mines, including ours. It details operations in San Francisquito Canyon, Tujunga Canyon and the Verdugo Mountains. In the Verdugos, it describes the graphite deposit as being in a vein 20 feet wide, but says its quality was poor, being suitable only for paint and foundry facing.
CV resident Matt Swain is very knowledgeable about mining, and has been poking around this mine site in the Verdugos for over 30 years. Matt took me up recently to show me the site and he has some strong theories about how the operation was laid out.
The mine itself would have been up in one of the small canyons crossing the Hostetter Fire Road that comes off La Tuna Canyon Road. When we explored the canyon, there was no trace of the mine itself. Perhaps the opening was covered by a slide, or maybe it had been a quarry rather than a shaft. Either way, it’s no longer distinguishable. According to Matt, railway cars would have taken the ore from the mine down the hillside approximately following the route of the fire road. There is still one rail from this little railway sticking out of the side of the hill that is typical of mining rail, and until a few years ago there were the remains of a side-dump ore car nearby. At the bottom of the grade the ore would have been dumped and the car hauled back up by mule. The ore was then transferred into another ore car on a steep incline railway, and lowered by a winch and cable down the hill. When this car reached the bottom of the incline, the ore was dumped into a hopper on top of the concrete structure that used to be visible before it was overgrown. Freight wagons would pull up either below the concrete structure or next to it to receive a load of graphite ore, which would then be hauled to a railhead for the trip to a processing plant in L.A.
From the mine’s early years that meant a wagon trip to about where Verdugo Park is today, where a steam engine could meet the load. After 1913, the Glendale and Montrose Railway would have provided electric locomotive service into the Crescenta Valley. The loading dock for the transfer from wagon to railway car was at the intersection of Montrose and La Crescenta avenues.
We don’t know exactly when the mine went out of business. This mine and railway show up on a topo map from the teens, but no photos of the operation have ever surfaced. Until they do, we’ll just have to use our imaginations.