Knight Foundry – Sutter Creek, California - Atlas Obscura
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Knight Foundry

Sutter Creek, California

Founded in 1873 to support the needs of the gold mines flourishing nearby, this is the last water-powered foundry in the United States. 

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The Knight Foundry, located in rural Sutter Creek, Amador County, California, is the last water-powered machine shop and foundry remaining in the United States. Opened in the early 1870s as Campbell, Hall, & Company, the foundry was active during the peak of Sutter Creek’s hardrock mining and population boom. Stamp mills pounded in Mother Lode cities 24 hours a day and capital from the financial centers of the nation, and the world, flowed in to run the mines.

In 1873, the operation was purchased by Samuel Knight and partners, perhaps most famous for the Knight Water Wheel used in some of the earliest hydroelectric facilities in the western United States. Foundry products were used in the hardrock mines and other industries locally, nationally, and abroad. While the Knight Water Wheel would eventually become overshadowed by the more efficient Pelton Wheel, it remains a critical achievement in the story of hydropower. As the popularity of gold mining began to wane in the 1950s, so too did the importance of the Knight Foundry, but its equipment and buildings remained intact. 

In 1970, Carl Borgh purchased the foundry. His ownership was a critical link in the preservation of the Knight Foundry, and led the shop’s transition from fully operating foundry to a skills preservation center. The Knight Foundry operated commercially until 1991, when economic conditions forced Carl Borgh to close up shop. In December of 2016, the City of Sutter Creek, the newly-formed, grassroots Knight Foundry Alliance, and the foundry owner resulted in the donation of the foundry property and buildings public ownership. After nearly two decades of negotiations, the City of Sutter Creek obtained title to the Knight Foundry. 

Walking into the foundry feels like stepping back in time—the smells, sights, and sounds of the 19th century equipment leave a lasting impact on visitors. The Knight Foundry has long been recognized by industrial archaeologists and historic preservationists as a critical historical resource. Sutter Creek sees the preservation of the foundry as a self-sustaining, community-based operation. The future of the Knight Foundry is not as a static display, but as an active, operating industrial heritage site offering classes, workshops, vocational training, and internships.

Know Before You Go

Knight Foundry is open for docent-led public tours on the Second Saturday of every month. In addition, volunteers are welcome and clean-up days are held monthly, please see the foundry's website. 

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  • Wooten, Kimberly. 2017. Historic Knight Foundry, the Last Water-Powered Machine Foundry in the United States, Purchased by the City of Sutter Creek. Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter.
  • Wooten, Kimberly & R. Scott Baxter. 2006. Images of America: Sutter Creek. Arcadia Publishing.
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