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New Uses Found for Gold-Bearing Gravel and Sand


It’s certainly true that gold attracted thousands of European-rooted settlers to Southern Oregon who took a lot of ore from the streams and rivers. But can it really be true that gold was used as street paving and railroad ballast?

In 1902 the Southern Pacific Railroad contracted for gravel from a pit east of Gold Hill while rebuilding and repairing track in the Rogue Valley. A curious Medford resident collected a bucket of the gravel and panned $2.50 in gold dust. The Medford Enquirer newspaper said, “…few railroads ever can afford to ballast their track with gravel worth $100 a ton.”

Less than a decade later, Medford was paving its streets and got sand for the cement from tailings left from the Opp Mine stamp mill operation near Jacksonville. Curious company employees found that it panned out at about $1 a ton.  That’s not bad considering the contractor was paying only 50 cents a ton for the sand.  The Medford Mail Tribune reported, “…Medford will have golden streets, partially at least.”   

Medford wasn’t alone. In 1910 Jacksonville paved its sidewalks with the same gold-laced sand.    

Sources: "Paving a Railroad with Gold." Medford Enquirer 19 July 1902: 3. Print; "Gold is Being Used to Pave City Streets." Medford Mail Tribune 21 July 1910: 2. Print; "Medford Paved with Gold." Medford Sun 27 June 1911: 6. Print; "Gold Used on Streets." Quincy Daily Journal 3 Sept. 1910: 9. Print.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.