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Sense of Place: How Mercuryville got its name

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 | Posted by

By ARTHUR DAWSON / Towns Columnist

Mercuryville is on a ridge near Geyser Peak in northeast Sonoma County. A sign on Geysers Road proclaims, “Mercuryville City Limit; Pop 2; El 2600 ft; ½ mile high city.” The city council must be mighty small.

Gold miners needed mercury, also known as quicksilver, to recover the precious metal. Likewise, it was essential to mining silver from Nevada’s Comstock Lode. Just before the Gold Rush, a rich source of mercury was discovered near San Jose. Named “New Almaden” after a famous quicksilver mine in Spain, it became the single most valuable mine in California.

In the 1850s, the presence of mercury “everywhere on the surface near the Geysers” inspired Colonel Godwin, owner of Geyser Springs, to organize a mining district. But quicksilver’s low price, and a lack of available labor and skill, soon stopped the project. The mines were sold at a sheriff’s sale to pay off creditors.

In the early 1870s, interest revived when mercury climbed to $1 a pound. Mercuryville sprang up in the midst of a “quicksilver rush.” Hundreds of men labored at places like the Rattlesnake, Plutonic and Socrates Mines. The rush died out when mercury fell back to 50 cents a pound, though some mining continued for years afterwards.

Mercury, the winged messenger god of the Romans, was known for speed. As the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, mercury flows and is “quick.” The term “mad as a hatter” comes from the fact that hatters used quicksilver and breathed its toxic vapors. The neurological damage it did caused tremors, incoherent speech and “a desire to remain unobserved and unobtrusive.”

Tucked away in the Mayacamas, Mercuryville gets few visitors these days. It’s not really on the way to anywhere and no one’s in a rush to get there. Other than the sign, there’s not much to see.

Contact historical ecologist Arthur Dawson at baseline@vom.com.

 

  • http://hope-inns.com Cosette Trauman-Scheiber

    Any relationship between the Mercury Mines and Mercury Wines?

  • Sulpher Creek Son

    In reality, the actual town of Mercuryville was about a half mile south of these signs. The ol bar bit the dust around 1960. And, yes the stuff mined is TOXIC. Think of the rules and regs that would be in place today if it was open….and, I’ve heard the EPA is looking at these sites for future clean up.

  • http://www.thenorrisgroup.biz Vickie NOrris

    He is right about it not being on the way to anywhere. If you take the road all the way up to the top, you end up at a locked gate.

    But I too have always been curious about the “2” in Mercuryville.

    • CYCLONE BREEZE

      YOU MISSING THE POINT, BECAUSE IT IS ON THE WAY TO SOMEWHERE, OR ELSE YOU WOULDN’T BE HEADED ANYWHERE.
      IT IS A ROAD FULL OF WONDERFUL MEMORIES AND SOME OF THE BEST FOOD AND
      HOT APPLE PIE WHITH MELTING CHEDAR CHEESE ON TOP. LOOKING
      THROUGH MY PARENTS OLD PICTURES OF FAMILY I SEE WE HAD LUNCH THERE BACK
      IN 1949 WHEN I WAS FOUR AND MANY OTHER TIMES IN THE 1950’S.
      I HAVE THIS TO SAY ABOUT MERCURYVILLE AND THE OLD WEBER ELECTRIC FAMILY,
      GOD BLESS ALL THERE SOULS BECAUSE THEY HAVE ALL PASSED ON.

  • Mark Thayer

    Nice drive. Go all the way around to the Cloverdale side and get a glimpse of the future of Sonoma County roads! Sure hope there’s no Mercury in my wine. I seem to recall a history book with a chapter on Mercuryville. Read it at my dentist office.

  • Kim Caffrey

    When I told a New York friend about this historical ‘town’ of only 2 (via telephone) she said “2 what? Two hundred? Two thousand?” I said “no, just 2″, to which she then [again] asked – “hundred or thousand?” I replied with more volume this time “Two, T-W-O, one numeral, more than 1 but less than 3!!!” After a moment of silence she calmly replied “Hmmm… I guess I just don’t get California…” :)

    • http://hope-inns.com Cosette Trauman-Scheiber

      As a New Yorker, there are times I don’t, either.

  • Joe Pelanconi

    Two more than neighboring Pine Flat.

  • http://www.alexandervalleylodge.com Danielle

    So much interesting history in our little town. I wonder if this piece of history inspired the name of one of the friendliest tasting rooms in town – Mercury.

  • https://www.facebook.com/Mercuryville?ref=hl Sierra

    Unlike the town, people are on a rush to hear Mercuryville play.
    Visit their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Mercuryville

  • preston

    If you can remember the book with the Mercuryville chapter I’d really appreciate the tip. I love this place. I’ve ridden to it and am a member of it! Band’s called Mercuryville, pass it on a ride called the Terrible Two.

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Deborah Serval is our Geyserville correspondent.
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