Asphalt miners

Asphalt miners at Higgin’s Ranch load up train carts with the petroleum-based, tarry substance that ultimately would be used to pave roads throughout Santa Barbara County.

Though the asphaltum seeps along the Carpinteria coastline were used by the Chumash to caulk the seams of their tomols (plank canoes), it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the sticky substance was pulled from the earth in large quantities.

The open-pit Las Conchas mine, just east of Carpinteria Creek, was operated by the William Crocker Company of San Francisco in the 1880s. Workers used heated shovels to slice into the rock asphalt, after which the material was loaded onto flatcars and hauled to the nearby refinery where it was melted, cleaned with salt water and mixed with other materials to form asphalt for roads. Thanks to the local mines, Linden Avenue was the first county road to be paved. Carpinteria’s mines supplied the asphalt for many of the first paved roads in Santa Barbara County.

In 1903, the Las Conchas mine closed due to a dwindling deposit of asphalt, but in 1912, Santa Barbara County secured a mining lease on the Higgins Ranch a half mile east. This deposit provided the necessary ingredient for asphalt roads throughout the county for the next 25 years. Pictured above, the deposit covered an area of 20 acres, and to a depth of between 11 and 20 feet.

Eventually, these mines were exhausted as well, and the gaping pits were converted into a county dump. The dump operated until the mid-1950s, until it was filled in and ultimately became part of the Carpinteria State Beach. The only remaining indicators of Carpinteria’s asphalt mining days are some brick ruins from the asphalt refinery and an uncapped wellhead.

   

To learn more about Carpinteria’s unique and interesting past, visit the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History, open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at 956 Maple Ave.

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