|The Kelsey Annex Mine portal is well hidden, bored into a cliff wall next to a dry waterfall.|
County: Los Angeles County
Primary Mineral: Gold Tertiary Minerals: Lead and Silver
Years of Operation: Unknown. Most likely mined around the same time as the Kelsey / Mint Mine, from 1881-1894 and possibly into the 1900s.
Nearest City or Landmark: West of Morris Dam, Silver Mountain, About 4 miles above Azusa.
Depth: Approx. 100 feet with with an additional 20 foot left fork at the end.
|Kelsey Annex Mine has about a foot of water inside, and it's full of California Newts and Tree Frogs.|
EUREKA! I finally found it. The Kelsey Annex Mine is the long lost little brother of the legendary Kelsey, Like the Kelsey Mine, the Annex is hidden away in a brushy canyon on the side of Silver Mountain, west of the Morris Dam. I was beginning to doubt this mine still existed, but perseverance paid off. This mine was first located by the Bull brothers in 2006, and has probably not been seen since then.
|Baja Tree Frogs thrive inside the Kelsey Annex Mine. Newts and even birds have made their homes inside.|
It had been a long while since my last visit to the Kelsey. What was once a brushy walk had now become a jungle. Like a dummy I wore shorts, as I always do, and my legs took a thrashing from gooseberry thorns, stinging nettles, tick infested grasses and a huge abundance of poison oak. Finding the Kelsey the first time was difficult. The Kelsey Annex was even harder. Like the Kelsey this mine is located in a narrow slot canyon, but not in the same one. The mine is bored into a cliff wall next to a waterfall in an area heavily overgrown with Eupatory, or as I fondly call it, Mexican Quickweed.
|Rainbow colored water in a mine is not a good sign. It means that natural gas is seeping up from below.|
The Kelsey Annex Mine was also known as the OK Mine. Very few people have seen this mine, or even know of its existence. In the old days the name Kelsey was often misspelled as Kelsea. Unlike the Kelsey Silver Mine, the Annex was primarily mined for gold. Located in a seemingly impossible location, this mine was owned by Henry C. Kelsey in the late 1800s. The exact duration of the Annex's mining operation is unknown, but an extensive series of tramways and chutes was set up throughout these canyons to transport ore to a 5-stamp mile at the base of Silver Mountain. Gold was the primary mineral at the Annex mine, but small amounts of silver and lead were also extracted. The original Kelsey Mill now lies beneath the Morris Dam reservoir, as does the Victoria Mine. Other than what was mined here and the names it went by, information on the Kelsey Annex Mine is virtually non existent.
|An old bird's nest found in the mine's wall. It's doubtful that anyone has been inside this mine since 2006.|
A Brief History of Kelsey Mine
Off and on from 1881 to 1934 several hard rock silver mining operations were established on the western slopes of San Gabriel Canyon, located approximately four miles above Azusa. Silver was first discovered here by Louis Sharp, An affluent mining investor named Henry C. Kelsey founded the Kelsey Mining Company which commenced operations in 1881. An office, boarding house, stables, corrals and mill were constructed, as well as a 5 stamp mill. Sadly the mill site now lies below the surface of the Morris Dam. Today the original mining area is known as Silver Mountain.
|View from near the back. Despite gas inside, the ventilation was good so I decided to go all the way in.|
Sedley Peck, who was born in 1889 was often called the “Mayor of Azusa Canyon" in deference to his popularity among canyon residents. He was the grandson of William Heaton, who mined the East Fork near Peachtree Flat, now known as Heaton Flat. Sedley kept a treasure trove of notes, momentos, clipping, photographs and mining artifacts recounting the rich history of the San Gabriel canyon. In 1937 he recounted his boyhood memories of the Kelsey Mill to the Azusa Herald and Pomotropic ….
“Hundreds of lights illuminated the entire canyon. Across the stream an immense building gave off a fearful clatter of noise from within, while a great waterwheel turned and groaned beside it. It looked like a scene from one of the gift Christmas cards of that era. We stopped beside a blacksmith’s shop where several forges belched flame and smoke, while sparks and clamor flew from drills and picks on a half dozen anvils as sweating smithies strove and swore. Two suspension bridges traversed the canyon high above possible flood waters, and they too, were festooned with lights. It was the Kelsey Silver Mill. Three hundred and fifty men were there employed in two 12-hour shifts, and all about were bunk houses and all of the appurtenances of a big mine camp.”
|At the back of the mine it appears that a different vein was followed left for about approximately 20 feet.|
Sedley died in 1968, but a Sedley Peck Memorial Museum was set up inside the oldest building in the San Gabriel Mountains, located in the East Fork at Follow’s Camp. The building was called the Henry C. Roberts store, and the museum displayed much of Sedley’s mining memorabilia. Sadly Follows Camp was wiped out by a devastating flood in 2005. Since then, whatever remained of the buildings has been looted and vandalized, littered with trash, homeless encampments and drug paraphernalia. The property is now owned by the City of Industry and has been badly mismanaged. If you would like to read more about the rich history and sad demise of Follows Camp click here.
|I rarely see Humboldt Lilies in the San Gabriels. They only appear in canyons where few people travel.|
Inside the Kelsey Annex Mine
Getting to the Kelsey Annex involves quite a bit of bushwhacking and climbing. The mine is in a pristine area, with a large population of California newts. I won’t give you any real hints to its location, but if you try to seek it out you’ll need to watch your step to avoid crushing these newts and bird's nests hidden in the deep overgrowth. Getting hurt in this area would be disastrous, and you would probably never be found, so do your homework before looking for this or any other mine on Silver Mountain. I found myself whistling the theme from Land of the Lost while trying to reach the mine. It’s almost completely obscured by an invasive plant species called Eupatory and by a large tree. There’s a old frayed rope hanging from the truck of the tree, probably left behind by the Bull brothers, who discovered the mine in 2006. My first concern was possible animals inside, but I was relieved to find that this was a wet mine. Bears and mountain lions hate this kind of mine.
|Gooseberries are edible, but the stems are covered in thorns. Another obstacle on the way to the mine.|
The portal is fairly small, about four feet high, but once inside the ceiling rises to about 6 feet or higher. Inside there’s about one foot of water the entire way in, with a muddy floor below. Tree frogs and newts are abundant inside the mine. There are even a few old bird’s nests built into the walls. But there’s one bad sign, a rainbow film on top of the water. This can only mean one thing. Natural gas is seeping up from below. There’s a much higher chance of dying in a mine from bad air than there is of being trapped by a cave in. Methane is the usual culprit, but natural gas can be just as deadly. It has no odor, and can quickly overtake you. I weighed the risks for a few minutes. The mine looked to be fairly short and well ventilated, and the wildlife inside seemed to be healthy, so I decided to go all the way in. It’s about 100 feet to the back, with a short left fork at the end, about 20 additional feet. The air seemed OK, and I knew I could get out in time if things went south. I wouldn’t recommend lighting any matches inside though.
|Somewhere beneath the surface of Morris Dam lies the Kelsey Mine's mill and the old Victoria Mine.|
Where Was The Mill?
The photo below was taken on June 4, 1882. Ten men are standing on a footbridge which traversed a wash or gully, including the foreman, named George Minier. Minier is the man with his thumbs stuck in his suspenders or coat lapels. This photo was said to have been taking in front of a silver mine, possibly the Victoria Mine, which now rests beneath the surface of Morris Dam, along with the ruins of the buildings. If you look closely you can see the mine’s tailings behind the three buildings on the left. Kelsey's 5-stamp mill was probably inside the tallest building. The Kelsey and the Victoria Mines were closely related, and ore from both mines was almost certainly milled there. The Victoria was mainly a lead mine, but some silver was also extracted.
One interesting side note; if you compare the mountain ridges in the photo below with the ones in the photo above you can see almost exactly where the buildings were located (left of the spillway), and they may not be underwater after all. However getting to that area is problematic. That is private government land, and I'd be risking arrest by going down there. I searched on Google Earth for signs of building foundations but none were found. Special thanks to the California Historical Society Collection for this great old glass plate nagative.
The San Gabriel Complex Fire of 2016
In 2016 there was a huge fire called the Fish Fire that started in the Duarte area. Soon another fire erupted, near Morris Dam called the Reservoir Fire. Eventually the two merged, and were dubbed the San Gabriel Complex Fire. This fire was so large that FEMA declared it a major disaster, thus qualifying the incident for federal assistance. Since then one of my favorite hiking areas, Fish Canyon, has been closed to the public. Sadly, a few weeks after the fire the charred bodies of two hikers were found in Fish Canyon. The Reservoir Fire, near Kelsey Mine was started by a fatal car accident near Morris Dam. The fire started when a vehicle veered off Hwy. 39 and plunged down the hillside. The cause of the Fish Fire has never been determined. Since the fire it appears that few if any people have gone back into the area near Kelsey Mine. The Silver Fish Truck Trail has become badly overgrown and eroded, making it much harder to reach the mines.
All watermarked photos are copyrighted and cannot be used without my consent.