Next time you're in Leadville during the summer, take this driving tour into Colorado's past where, with a little imagination, mining's colorful history comes to life.
A few words of caution before you start:
Treasure hunting and rockhounding are not allowed in this area. Please do not touch or remove any artifacts. Remain on the primary roads as the land in the mining district is provately owned and structures and shafts can be dangerous.
Start your 45-minute tour by turning east on 7th street from Harrison Avenue. Set your trip odometer here.
Signpost No. 1 ==> 0.4 Miles
The wooden cribbing on the right marks the site of the Coronado Mine, significant as the site of bloody fighting during the Miners' Strike of 1896-97. The strike closed 90% of the mines when the miners demanded restoration of wages to the former pay rate of $3.00, which had been reduced to $2.50 during the Silver Panic of 1893. Fireman Jerry O'Keefe was shot by strikers as he turned on water to extinguish surface building fires which had been set on the night of September 21, 1896. The strike ended on March 9, 1897, with no pay increase.
Signpost No. 2 ==> 0.8 Miles
Fryer Hill to the left includes the lower hill that extends up to the road and was named for George H. Fryer, who staked the New Discovery claim on April 4, 1878. Silver ore in this small area was so rich and plentiful and so easily mined that it surpassed anything previously discovered in Colorado. His claim was quickly followed by the Chrysolite, the Robert E. Lee, and the Little Pittsburg. The two prospectors who discovered the Little Pittsburg had been grubstaked by H.A.W. Tabor, with "half of all they discovered belonging to him." Tabor's $17 grubstake paid very well as the Little Pittsburg soon yielded $8,000 per week and within a year was sold for $1,000,000. "Chicken Bill" Lovell "salted" his Chrysolite mine with stolen high-grade ore and sold it to Tabor. Tabor sank the worthless shaft 25 feet deeper and struck rich silver ore which produced $1,500,000 before he sold it.
Signpost No. 3 ==> 1.2 Miles
The head frame at the Wright Shaft for the Denver City Mine can be seen to the right. The shaft, 320 feet deep, is the finest example of a Cornish A-shaped head frame remaining in the area. This shape is predominant in the tin mine head frames of Cornwall, England. Note the wide-flanged sheave wheels atop the head frame. The road to the left leads to the Matchless Mine where information and mine tours are available.
Signpost No. 4 ==> 2.7 Miles
Where the road forks, bear to the left. In 1880, this junction in Big Evans Gulch was the focus of a small mining camp called Evansville, where families of miners employed in the nearby mines were housed. Evansville disappeared by the depression days of the 1930s, but you can still locate the stone foundations of some of the cabins.
Signpost No. 5 ==> 4.1 Miles
Famous Mine -- Fortune Mine
On the left are the ore bin and head frame of The Famous Mine, a small gold-silver-lead mine that was last operated in the late 1930s. Contrast this mine's head frame with the Cornish A-frame of the Wright Shaft. Up the hill to the right is The Fortune Mine, whose operations terminated in 1953 at a time of lead and zinc price decline.
Signpost No. 6 ==> 4.3 Miles
Resirrection Mine No. 2 Shaft
A small metal-clad building covers the No. 2 Shaft of The Resurrection Mine, which was operated on a large scale until a fire destroyed the surface plant in 1956. Lead, zinc, gold, and silver ores were taken from the lower levels of this 1,000-foot deep shaft through the connecting Yak Tunnel. The ore was transported four miles in underground trains to the tunnel portal and mill in California Gulch. Crossing the Mosquito Range is the Mosquito Pass stagecoach road, a primary access route to the area for twenty years before the arrival of the narrow gauge railroads in 1880.
Signpost No. 7 ==> 6.3 Miles
Backtrack to the fork of the road (Signpost 4) and take the right fork to Signpost 7. Off to the left, the shallow valley was the site of a "boom camp," begun in 1879, called South Evans and later Stumptown. The settlement was largely abandoned in the late 1930s, but there are several Leadville families who proudly trace their local roots to Stumptown.
Signpost No. 8 ==> 6.4 Miles
St. Louis Tunnel
The St. Louis Tunnel is on the right, marked by the long covered wooden snow shed leading to the portal. The tunnel was driven to develop the surrounding ground. During the depression, Emmet Irwin (later the Lake County Treasurer) and Tim Riley leased the tunnel during the Depression of the 1930s, working 10 or 12 hours a day, and shipping only the high-grade hand-sorted ore to the local smelter in the Spring. At the end of a good year, they could divide as much as $200 for spending money, barely making a living.
Signpost No. 9 ==> 6.6 Miles
Fanny Rawlings Mine -- Little Bob Mine -- Little Winnie Mine
On the hillside to the right is the ruins of a wooden tramway coming down the hill from the Fanny Rawlings Mine to an ore transfer point on the railroad grade. The tramway, designed by mining engineer Marvin Kleff, featured a single wire rope and used the weight of the descending ore car to pull an empty car back up the hill. The Fanny Rawlings Mine was active as early as 1890 and produced gold ore until the early 1950s.
Closer on the right is a wooden structure with a collapsed roof, the remains of the Little Bob Mine. This shaft was owned and operated by George Campion and produced considerable ore carrying 1 ounce of gold and 50 to 54 ounces of silver per ton.
Across the road to the left are the mine dumps that surround the Little Winnie Mine which, for many years, was a noted gold, silver, lead, and zinc producer, and furnished the bulk of the ore treated at the Ohio & Colorado smelter in Salida (which was under the same ownership).
Signpost No. 10 ==> 6.8 Miles
Ollie Reed Mine -- Favorite Mine -- Silent Friend Mine -- Little Ellen Mine
Located near the road on the right are the buildings of the Ollie Reed Mine. The claim was worked for many years by the Peschel Brothers, a family still residing in Leadville.
Further along on the right, marked by the brown dump, is the Favorite Mine, whose small shaft was only three feet by six feet in cross section. This mine typically produced $75,000 per year through the activity of mine leasers.
Across the road is the Little Ellen Hill (or Incline) and the site of the Silent Friend Mine, an important producer of oxidized zinc ores from 1910 until 1924.
Further up the Little Ellen Incline lies the Little Ellen Mine, whose large bodies of lead carbonate ore were responsible for the settlement of Stumptown in 1879.
This information is from "Discover Colorado's True Heritage: Mining Past and Present," a beautiful color pamphlet sponsored by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), one of the world's leading producers of copper, and distributed at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. The text and map came from a brochure produced for the Leadville Chamber of Commerce in 1978 titled "Leadville, Route of the Silver Kings: Experience The Top of The Rockies," which has now been updated by Leadville historian and mine owner, Bob Elder. The brochure contains two additional tours. The map shown above, along with two others in the brochure, was drawn by Leadville Artist Ted Mullings of the Little Cottage Gallery. Both the pamphlet and brochure are available from the Greater Leadville Area Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 861, Leadville, CO 80461, (719) 486-3900, leadville @ leadvilleusa.com. You can find the Chamber of Commerce online at www.leadvilleusa.com. My thanks to Louise at the COC and Esther at the NMHFM for allowing us to share this heritage in The Gold Nugget. --Dick Oakes