New Almaden Mercury Mining Museum, California, United States

4.5 (42 reviews) Spent Ranking #28 in San Jose Speciality Museums • History Museums

Excellent Mining Museum; By Casa Grande

Trace the history of local quicksilver mining at this interesting specialty museum.
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21570 Almaden Rd, San Jose, CA 95120-4310


+1 408-918-7770


Current local date and time now

Friday, December 08, 2023, 21:44

User Ratings

4.5 based on (42 reviews)



  • 5interceptpubs 5:00 PM Dec 12, 2020
    Fine museum detailing a key, yet today little known aspect of early California history
    Today, most people think of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill as the defining moment in early California history. The resulting gold rush of 1849 brought thousands of prospectors and settlers to the territory won from Mexico just the year before in the aftermath of the Mexican War and accelerated the process to statehood which followed just a year later in 1850. However, the sudden discovery of California gold was foreshadowed by an earlier discovery of mineral wealth in the region that in many ways was just as remarkable, yet today is almost completely forgotten. It happened in this small community just outside of present-day San Jose. Local Ohlone Indians first found samples of a red rock in the area that they found useful as a pigment, using it to paint their bodies a bright red. Other Indian tribes also coveted the red pigment. Indeed, Indians from as far away as modern-day Walla Walla, Washington came to trade and fight for this valuable material. Spanish settlers also found the deposits of the red rock in the early 1820s and, thinking that they might contain silver or even gold, tried their hand at mining but were unable to extract any precious metals. It wasn't until 1845 that the deposits were properly identified. Andreas Castillero, a Captain in the Mexican Army who also happened to be a mining engineer, was visiting the area and realized that the red rocks were cinnabar, a source of quicksilver or mercury. In many respects, the discovery was fortuitous as mercury was essential in refining gold and silver at that time. It was less fortuitous for Castillero whose services were soon required to fight in the Mexican War, forcing him to sell his mining rights to an English firm that named the site New Almaden after the world's largest mercury mining operation in Spain. In the end, the New Almaden mine developed into the world's second largest mercury mine and richest single mineral deposit in California, ironically even more valuable than any of the gold mines in California – eventually $70 million (in period dollars) of mercury was produced before mining ceased around 1910. This fine little museum of the history of cinnabar in the region and of the mining operation that capitalized on the find is fittingly housed in the impressive La Casa Grande. Originally built as a hotel in 1854, it latter served as the mine superintendent's office and home. The parlor, library and drawing room have been restored as they would have appeared during the period of the mine's operation, while other rooms provide museum displays with photos, artifacts, and even models of the mine and the refining operation used to liberate the quicksilver from the ore. On our visit, we got a private tour (mainly because we were the only visitors there at the time) of the museum by a docent and then left on our own to explore the exhibits in more detail. There's even a nice little gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and books on the history of the mine and the area. We actually learned a lot while talking with the volunteers while perusing the books in the gift shop – they were very friendly, knowledgeable, and clearly proud of the history of this almost forgotten chapter in California history. The only downside is that for most the year, the museum is only open three days a week (Fridays through Sundays) from 10 to 4 (there are expanded hours in the Summer). Sadly, we see online that the museum is currently closed due to the pandemic.

  • 4l_y_k_3_l_3 5:00 PM Jan 20, 2012
    Interesting museum
    This museum is only open friday/saturday/sundays and is free. When I visited this museum, I first got a brief introduction from a museum employee, which way definitely interesting. Then, visiting the museum, the stories of the mining activities for quicksilver are told, which was required for e.g. processing of gold. Definitely worth a visit, although the collection is not that big (e.g. can be visited in 1-1,5 hrs) and a little outside of San Jose (car required).