The Ghost Town of Golden, Oregon
Cate Battles, Travel Grants Pass
August 6th, 2019
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
- Robert Frost
It’s been said that Oregon has more ghost towns than any other state in the country, but did you know we have one right here in Josephine County? With the huge influx of people moving West with dreams of getting rich, settlements and towns popped up overnight. When the gold dried up, many of these towns faded into obscurity and were long forgotten. Here’s a look at the rise and fall of Golden, Oregon, one of the most unique original ghost towns of the West.
Whispers of gold in Southern Oregon were heard by many who made the trek to California during the 19th century gold rush. Some of these men, eager to make their fortune, continued north to the Rogue Valley and laid claim to the land along Coyote Creek, just 20 miles north of modern day Grants Pass. When gold was discovered in the nearby Salmon River, many of these early miners left and the abandoned settlement was taken over by Chinese immigrants. At the time, there were about 500 Chinese men working these mines at 10 cents/day plus rice rations. When Idaho’s gold rush slowed down, many miners returned to reclaim the mines the Chinese had operated between 1862-1972, forcing the immigrants out.
Gold production really started to ramp up, as did the population, with the introduction of hydraulic mining during the 1870’s. Water was diverted long distances down a wooden flume into a large iron nozzle aptly called a ‘giant’, out of which a powerful jet of water would wash away the creek bank. Two of these giants were needed to separate the gold from the gravel and rock tailings due to the lack of elevation gain along Coyote Creek. Unfortunately, this technique greatly devastated the land as the hillsides became obliterated.
Photo courtesy of Searles Library
In 1880, William and Ruth Ruble, and eventually their sons, William “Bill” and Schuyler Ruble moved to Golden. They noticed while the hydraulic mining system was mostly efficient, it became impaired during the summer months when Coyote Creek’s water levels would drastically drop. The brothers later devised a system that required only one giant, with their invention, the Ruble Elevator or ‘Grizzly’. Large rocks and gravel were washed up and over the elevator. The heavier gold fell through a screen into a sluice box while the tailings were separated and stacked. They patented their elevator that moved twice as much material using the same amount of water as previous methods and began building them in other areas. Eventually, their invention won a gold medal at the 1905 Lewis and Clark expedition in Portland.
Photos Courtesy of Larry L. McLane
With the success of their invention, their family quickly bought up land and mining claims and officially established the town of Golden in 1890. One of the most unique aspects of Golden, and the reason why it’s nicknamed the “Driest mining town in Oregon” was the fact that it had two churches and no saloons. The Ruble family were strict “Campbellites” so if a miner got thirsty, he had to travel to Placer or Wolf Creek for alcohol or dance halls. William was the town preacher and built the church in 1892, which later became known as the Free Methodist Church. Schuyler became the town’s first postmaster and served the area’s 150 plus families starting in 1896. Their sister, Columbia, became the first teacher.
Photo Courtesy of Larry L. McLane
But after a few decades, gold production slowed down and people started to leave in search of other opportunities. The post office closed in 1920 and by the mid 20th century, the town was abandoned. Today, Golden is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as of 2011, is an Oregon State Heritage Site. You can visit the town free of charge and the church, school, general store, carriage house, and a few homes are still standing. Across the street, you can see where the miners worked as the trails loop around the Coyote Creek Wetlands, a restoration project that returned the countryside to its former beauty.
From Grants Pass, take I-5 exit 76 toward Wolf Creek.
Turn right onto Edgewood Rd toward Coyote Creek
In 3.5 miles, the destination is on the left.
Picnic tables and porta-johns are available.