Gemologist and miner Fred J. Rynerson faithfully recorded the story of the fabulous Himalaya Gem Mine at Mesa Grande in his book, “Exploring and Mining Gems & Gold in the West.”
He recalled how the Indians living in Mesa Grande were well aware of the existence of the beautiful tourmaline crystals that were plentiful after being eroded out of the mother deposit long before any white man had seen the gemstones. But the Indians only thought of them as curiosities with little or no trade value.
In the 1890s, however, the Dameron, Ingram and Angel children who lived at Gem Hill often picked up the pink and green tourmaline crystals while wandering through the hills, and took them to the Mesa Grande store where they were traded for marbles and candy. Word got out about the unusual tourmalines and a location claim was officially filed on the Himalaya Mine by Gail Lewis in 1898.
According to Rynerson, who first worked in the mines in 1901, the tourmalines were sent to Tiffany and Company in New York for identification and valuation, where J.L. Tannenbaum recognized an exceptional find. Tannenbaum sent an agent to the Mesa Grande location who, according to Rynerson, eventually jumped the claim.
Once in the hands of Tannenbaum, the Himalaya is said to have produced 120 tons of gem-grade tourmaline between 1902 and 1910, at a value of $800,000. There was a ready market, as Empress of China, Tzu-Hsi, was especially fond of the pink tourmaline that was used primarily for carved objects. She often placed orders by the ton with Tannenbaum.
But the tourmaline boom collapsed in 1911, with the death of the empress, and gem mining in general dropped off at the onset of World War I.
However, during the gem-production glory years between the 1890s and 1912, San Diego became a major gem-mining and gem-cutting center and the exporter of fine gems from San Diego County. Old photos confirm several lapidaries in town. At that time, the renowned jeweler J. Jessop and Sons, which often kept gemstone displays in their store windows, built the magnificent, award-winning Jessop’s Clock, jeweled with gems from the county and region, including tourmaline, topaz and agate. This famous clock was located on the sidewalk in front of the store on downtown Fifth Street from 1907 to 1984, and was a welcome landmark and popular attraction. Today, Jessop’s Clock can be seen at Horton Plaza where it was relocated in 1984.
After discovery of the Himalaya Mine, another deposit adjoining the Himalaya property called the San Diego Mine was opened in 1901, and operated with some success while other gemstone discoveries were being made at Pala, Aguanga and Ramona. After the mine’s 1911 decline in production, Rynerson recorded in detail how he and another miner, Herb Hill, continued working the shafts for quite a few more years, including some work at the nearby Esmeralda Gem Mine.
Rynerson explained that San Diego County produced some of the finest translucent pink and green tourmaline crystals in the world. He was especially fond of the crystals from Mesa Grande and noted that “the lovely color of these radiating prismatic crystals… is caused by a tiny bit of the element lithium.”
Tourmalines from the Himalaya are found in every shade and color, from black to colorless. Most common are bi-color green and delicate pink, and tri-color pink, green and olive-green terminations. Other colors are wine red, dark blue, emerald green and yellow green.
When the Himalaya Mining Company quit operations in 1911, they were so broke that they couldn’t pay their bills owed to Mr. Ambler at the Mesa Grande store. For part of the bill, Ambler took specimens from the mine and had Mexicans from Sonora build the beautiful Gemstone Arch that remained by the store for more than 60 years before being destroyed by vandals.
Rynerson wrote, “It was not until 1919, that fine specimens of gemstones brought more than their cutting value. Before that time wonderful specimen were destroyed in getting the gems out of them. I was guilty of this waste along with others.” Specimen collecting actually kept the gemstone business going in later years; many specimens of combined gems and minerals are now more valuable than cut gemstones and are part of important displays in museums and private collections throughout the world.
Only sporadic high-grading and screening of the dumps and tailings by rock hounds took place before and after World War II. At that time, one of the old-time miners, Herb Hill, lived alone at the mine as a caretaker and worked a shaft on the far side of the mountain. He was kept company by occasional visitors, rock hounds and a large cage of canaries.
In 1957, Ralph Potter, “Mac” MacMackin and John Sinkankis began mining operations at the Himalaya. More recently, the shafts were extended and worked by Pala International, Inc. While most of the high-grade material has been excavated, there likely still remain a few gems that were overlooked.
According to the article “A Gem of a Mine: The Himalaya” by Ramona and Julian Journal writer Regina Elling, published in The Guide to Julian, Spring 2009, the Himalaya Mine was most recently purchased by Chris Rose. He removes gem-bearing material from the mine and transports it to a dig-site location at the Lake Henshaw Resort, 26439 Highway 76. There tourists, residents and rock hounds can pay a fee and are allowed to dig and screen through the ore for hidden gems.
This article is courtesy of RamonaJournal.com