Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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B. Emigrant Wash and Wildrose Canyon

1. Thorndike Camp

a) History

Thorndike Camp, located between the Charcoal Kilns and Mahogany Flat, in the Wildrose section of the Panamints, was once part of a 160-acre homestead filed on by John Thorndike (Thorndyke), a well-known Owens Valley miner, in order to provide a pleasantly-cool summer retreat for his wife Mary, an area schoolteacher. Thorndike came to the Death Valley region in 1903 from Maine, where he was born and had attended college. Working first as an assayer at the Ward Mine in the White Mountains, he later moved to mines in the Coso area and around Darwin. During these years he is mentioned in connection with the Modock Mine, which he superintended, [1] and the Custer Mine, near Darwin, which he co-owned and managed. In 1920 he married a Darwin schoolteacher, Mary K. Stewart. [2]

Thorndike's next move was to Ballarat, where his name was linked to the rich Gibraltar silver-lead mine in South Park Canyon, which he supervised, [3] and to the Big Horn lead-silver property eight miles southeast of the town that was one of four claims comprising the Honolulu Mine, worked intermittently from 1907 on, producing mainly during World War II. Thorndike was superintending the latter property in the 1920s over a force of fifteen miners who were building a five-mile auto/truck road to connect with the Ballarat-Trona road to be used for heavy ore shipments to the smelters. It has been said that this was the first mine to ship ore from the Panamints by truck. Thorndike's contribution to the area's development must have been considered substantial, for South Park Canyon has also been known as Thorndike Canyon. [4] In the late twenties Thorndike also held half interests in the Sunrise, Pine Ridge, and Panorama Nos. 1 to 5 mining claims, mining district unknown. [5]

Around the mid-1930s Thorndike filed on a 160-acre homestead in the Panamints at the eastern end of Wildrose Canyon, the property extending from the bottom of the canyon up as far as Mahogany Flat and climbing about 600 feet in elevation. Six structures were erected by the couple in the approximate center of their holdings, including:

  1. living quarters, a two-room frame building with an attached screened porch;

  2. a cabin, a two-room frame building;

  3. a kitchen/dining room, a two-room structure;

  4. a laundry/shower room, a frame building with access to hot and cold water;

  5. a sleeping cabin, a two-room frame unit with an attached screened porch; and

  6. a garage/shop, a two-room, dirt-floored frame structure housing the complex's electrical plant. [6]

Illustration 111. Sleeping cabin, Bldg. No. 5, Garage and shop, southeast. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos of Thorndike Camp taken about 1954.

Illustration 113. Toilet. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos of Thorndike Camp taken about 1954.
Illustration 112. Bldg. No. 6, looking looking east. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos of Thorndike Camp taken about 1954.

water tank
Illustration 114. Wooden water tank, 3,000 gallons. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos of Thorndike Camp taken about 1954.

Illustration 115. Living quarters, Bldg. No. 1, southwest. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos taken about 1954.

kitchen and dining room
Illustration 117. Kitchen and dining room, Bldg. No. 3, looking to southeast. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos taken about 1954.
Illustration 116. Cabin, Bldg. No. 2, looking looking southeast. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos taken about 1954.

laundry and shower room
Illustration 118. Laundry and shower room, Bldg. No. 4, to north. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM. Photos taken about 1954.

Although originally the Thorndikes presumably planned to occupy this property only a few months each summer, because of the number of buildings erected it is possible that they later envisioned developing the area for commercial purposes. This seems to be substantiated by a 1939 newspaper article reporting the unbelievable story that a Trona, California, man had been given permission to build a ski lift above the Charcoal Kilns near Telescope Peak; in connection with the skiing operation, it was mentioned that guests visiting the lift will find comfortable accommodations at Thorndike's camp." [7] The Thorndikes lived intermittently on the property until 1954; in 1955 the entire 160-acre homestead was bought by the U.S. Government and integrated into Death Valley National Monument.

b) Present Status

Thorndike Camp is located about 3/4 of a mile beyond the Charcoal Kilns, and is reached via a steep, low-gear road that continues on through the campground to Mahogany Flat. No buildings are standing on the site, although some concrete slab foundations are visible, as well as the remains of a small fish pond, a stone stairway, and some stone retaining walls.

c) Evaluation and Recommendations

The Death Valley Shoshone were attracted to the Wildrose area of the Panamints as soon as the summer heat began to force its way into the lower elevations of the valley. The area around the present Thorndike Campground was especially inviting as a summer campsite because of the presence of several springs in the area as well as the pleasant coolness of the surroundings due to the narrowness of the canyon and its relatively high elevation. These were undoubtedly also the attractions that led John Thorndike to homestead there. [8]

Illustration 119. Thorndike Homestead. From Hopper, "Appraisal of Thorndike Property," 1954.

Illustration 120. Goldfish pond (?) at Thorndike Camp site. Photo by Linda W. Greene, 1978.

Illustration 121. Stone steps and wall in background are all that remain of Thorndike homestead. Photo by Linda W. Greene, 1978.

No significant remains of the Thorndike homestead are found in the campground. Despite its earlier association with a well-known Death Valley region prospector, the site no longer possesses historical integrity or significance.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003