Don / Hi-Grade Mine

This is what's left of the ore hopper. To its right is a wooden headframe above a 200 foot deep shaft.


County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: Late 1800's through the early 1900's, Also mined off and on between 1936 and 1953.

Nearest City or Landmark: Acton

Depth: One shaft, reportedly 210 feet deep (poorly protected). Reportedly there are at least four crosscut horizontal adits at the 80, 118, 150 and 210 foot levels. There are two vertical metal rails attached to the head frame that were used to hoist a skip out of the shaft. A skip is like a mine cart for use in vertical tunnels. You mostly see these in incline shafts but they can be found in vertical shafts as well. There is also a 60 foot incline tunnel located a short distance below the ore hopper area.

Left: The ore hopper / Center: Probable hoist foundation / Right: Headframe over main shaft

Brief History of Mining in the Acton Area

The primary name of this mine was the Hi-Grade, however it was also known as
Don Mine. Although it is not directly located in Soledad Canyon the "Don" name most likely came from Don Manuel Ravenna, a Los Angeles merchant who organized the Soledad Mining Company after a copper deposit was discovered in nearby Soledad Canyon back in 1861. Gold and silver were also found at this strike. Over $300,000 was invested in mining this area. The primitive settlement of nearby Ravenna grew out of that mine site. 

A "poorly secured shaft".  The hole is over 200 feet deep, a disaster waiting to happen.


By 1862 hundreds of tunnels had been dug in and near Soledad Canyon, but copper veins were not considered substantial enough to continue operations. Mexican "Californio" miners were suddenly thrown out of work, but many of them continued to mine for gold independently after finding gold-bearing quartz in the same area. They established ten milling arrastres, a primitive horse-drawn ore crushing method that preceded the stamp mill. By 1863 the area was revived by a substantial number of small-scale gold mining operations.

I almost lost my camera getting this shot. If you fall down into this shaft it's all over.

Dangers of Shaft Mining

In 1984 Roy Madsen, superintendent of the nearby Governor Mine was investigating a recently reactivated shaft when he noticed a lack of oxygen. The shaft he was exploring was only 30 inches wide. Madsen was able to climb a ladder to within reach of his co-workers who said that he was turning blue, crying out, "Bad air, bad air," before slipping from the hands of a fellow employee and falling out of sight. Some parts of the shaft were as narrow as 21 inches which made rescue impossible while wearing
breathing apparatus.

Below the ore hopper is this 60 foot incline tunnel. It doesn't connect to the main shaft.

The air in the mine contained less than 13% oxygen and the rescuers needed at least 20% to survive for short periods of time without their apparatus. One rescuer reported that some parts of the tunnel were so narrow that he had to take out his mouthpiece to move. He compared it to crawling through a sewer pipe. Roy had apparently failed to wear a safety line and was not using breathing apparatus. The mine was closed until his body was eventually recovered and the mine owner was fined $60,000 for safety violations.

A look inside the incline tunnel. This mine used to have a gate at the portal, but I found no sign of it.

The first time I visited the Don Mine site it was raining, hard. This made photography nearly impossible and exploration of the lower tunnel risky.  Entering these mines on rainy days is not a good idea. When the ground above is saturated with water the risk of cave-ins increases greatly. Four years later I came back to shoot better photos. I was amazed to see that the shaft was still as poorly protected as it originally was, in fact worse. On this visit I walked for about half a mile beyond the mine on an old road which led me to another mine, which I have yet to identify. You can see a few photos of this unidentified mine site at the bottom of this page, under additional photos. There are three backfilled mines, one open adit and a massive pile of support beams that were apparently removed from them. If I am able to identify the other mine site I will add a write-up to this page.


The unidentified mine site mentioned above has been identified as the Lueck Lease, and the open adit is said to be quite extensive. I will be going back to do more exploration on this mine in the future. The Lueck Lease is said to have been started before 1937, then re-worked in the 1970s. Inside there are ore cart rails and electrical lighting that has been disconnected. There are three main forks on the inside. Also there is reportedly an old windlass somewhere near the mine's portal, a very rare find, which I missed on my first exploration.

Looking out from the bottom. This tunnel is full of tumbleweeds, wood and old bones.

History of the Don / Hi-Grade Mine

During the period of greatest activity in the late 1800's, the Don Mine was owned by Henry T. Gage, the 20th Governor of California. He also owned the Red Rover, the Emma, the Puritan and the wildly successful New York Mine, which alone produced $1.5 million from 1895-97. An interesting side note; Henry Gage, who governed from 1899-1903 proposed moving the state capital from Sacramento to Acton, in close proximity to the mines he owned. But that plan never panned out.

The Don / Hi-Grade Mine was a small operation that yielded ore valued at about $10,000 while active at several intervals from 1936 to 1951. It was leased out and worked briefly in 1953, but has sat idle since.

Henry T. Gage, California's 20th Governor and former owner of the Don / Hi-Grade mine.