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Blue Ledge and Irish luck

Patsy Clark had the luck of the Irish.

Because he was born in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day 1852, his parents christened him Patrick. He married on St. Patrick's Day and his first child was born a year later on the same day.

Patsy Clark was a mining tycoon, but he started in poverty.

Arriving in New York aboard the SS Marathon in 1870, the 18-year-old, self-described laborer set off for California to make his fortune in the mines.

Devoting his energy and attention to every detail, Clark soon mastered the mining business.

By the end of the 1870s, he already was a superintendent of mines at the Comstock mines in Virginia City, Nev.

After working briefly in Utah, he went to Butte, Mont., where he met his wife and helped open the Anaconda copper mine.

He became a wealthy man, running mines for rich mine owners and investing in other mining properties. But it was his successes in Idaho and Washington that made him the man everyone wanted to run their mines and, ultimately, made him a multi-millionaire.

Patsy Clark brought his mining expertise to Southern Oregon in the spring of 1903, agreeing to take over operation of 14 consolidated claims along the Blue Ledge lode that spanned the California-Oregon border south of the Applegate Valley.

Earlier in the year, a 150-foot tunnel had been pushed into solid rock and the last 100 feet already was producing profitable ore. The results were kept secret, but speculation said the ore was averaging 5 percent copper, 5 percent gold and traces of silver.

A town site named Clark quickly was laid out near Joe Bar at the forks of Elliott, Joe and Applegate creeks.

But Clark was no dummy. After inspecting the property, he realized it would be a money pit and he backed out of the deal.

The remote location of the mine would always be a problem. It was an arduous and expensive trip. First pack trains and then wagons hauled tons of ore 45 miles to Jacksonville where the unreliable Rogue River Railway connected to the Southern Pacific, five miles away in Medford. From there the ore was sent to a smelter in Washington.

As early as 1907 there was talk of extending the Rogue River rail line to the Blue Ledge Mine, and in 1917 the first few miles were actually built up the canyon, west of the old Jacksonville reservoir, but that was as far as it ever got.

The Blue Ledge Mine shut down in April 1909, revived briefly again just before World War I and by 1919 was little more than a legend. There were yearly rumors that the mine would reopen at full capacity, but by 1930, except for occasional exploration activities, major mining efforts ceased.

The Blue Ledge has seen at least 14 different owners in its mostly dormant lifetime, but still the legend says that it was a "booming copper mine." Perhaps with cheaper transportation facilities it could have been.

But Patsy Clark knew better. Whether it was Irish luck or a keen business sense, he knew when it was time to cut and run.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

At the Blue Ledge Mine in the early 1900s, hard-rock miners took a few minutes for a breath of fresh air and a photo. - SO Historical Society #16201