Okay folks, today we explore a few mine sites around what today could pretty much be considered a ghost town, Nevadaville, in my next-door 'hood of Gilpin County.
I'll provide a little intro to the town if you're interested. Otherwise just scroll down through the pics of the old abandoned mines -- these are some of the best preserved sites we know of in the area (not purposefully preserved; time and nature have simply been merciful and stone structures are of course more hardy than wooden). The majority of the text info is scraped from a Nevadaville Historic Resources Survey from June 2015, available on the Gilpin County town website. Nevada Gulch, according to the survey, encompasses one of Colorado’s more significant mining landscapes. "The hills on both sides of the gulch were involved in Colorado’s earliest hardrock mining (1859), featured some of the state’s deeper shafts, and yielded millions of dollars in gold."
In a nutshell: the town of Nevadaville began as a gold rush camp in 1859 and grew into a full-fledged town by the 1870s. Like all gold rush towns, it experienced short-term booms and busts into the 1880s and 1890s, and then declined dramatically in the twentieth century until it was virtually abandoned by the 1930s. Whereas Blackhawk was the smelting and industrial center of the district, and Central City was the economic and social center, Nevadaville was the working class town where many of the district's miners lived.
As is common with many mining communities in the Rocky Mountains, Nevadaville seemed to spring up overnight. It came into existence only three weeks after John Gregory discovered gold in May 1859. The camp virtually merged with the other nearby camps of Central City and Black Hawk. Nevadaville was a very large Colorado town by 1860 standards with a population of 2,705, making it slightly larger than Denver. In 1864, the town opened a school with an initial enrollment of one hundred students. Even though Central City’s commercial district was only a mile away, Nevadaville contained businesses that met the majority of its residents’ daily needs. No banks were located in Nevadaville since the laws and regulations of the town designated gold dust as the legal tender “in the Miner’s Court, and in all commercial transactions.” About 175 ore stamps were in operation at that time, "and more than this number are idle for want of a supply of water." The stamps are what crush the ore in the mills with the simple "tools" of weight and gravity, and the sound of them operating, you might imagine, is very loud.
Nevadaville’s biggest problem was a good water supply, and this was what ultimately limited the town’s success. Despite improvements in the water supply, it was still inadequate and could not prevent the town from burning to the ground no less than five times during its history. The last fire was in 1914, and the town was never fully rebuilt. [from gilpintram.com] Daily wages for hardrock miners in 1863 were around $2.50 to $3.00 a day, which was not very extravagant, especially given that prices for food and other necessities in the mountain towns were quite high. (as is still the case today compared to towns on the flatlands)
Nevadaville had some of the deepest mines in the district; as a result, Cornish and Irish miners made up almost the entire population of the town. The Cornish miners gained their experience in hard rock mining in the tin mines of Cornwall. They first immigrated to the United States to the Lake Superior region, but moved on to the Colorado Rockies in the 1860s. Called “Cousin Jacks,” they made significant contributions to the field of mining and milling techniques in Gilpin County. They were considered expert and uninhibited hardrock miners. A natural result of this expertise was that many Cornish miners were also excellent masons. The vast majority of stone buildings and foundations in Black Hawk, Central City and Nevadaville, the Gilpin Tram walls, as well as the extensive system of dry stack stone retaining walls in the cities’ terraced system of streets were constructed by Cornish masons.
There were sometimes rivalries and animosity between the Cornish and Irish. An Episcopal Church was built in Nevadaville for the Cornish miners. The Irish miners, on the other hand, tended to live on the west side of town close to the Catholic Church in Central City. Of course there was a Masonic Temple in town, as they are quite common in the mountain mining communities. It still hosts lodge meetings to this day — the only lodge, apparently, located in a ghost town. I would like to see inside of it someday, it is supposed to still have the original wallpaper in the meeting room.
The first set of photos are of the Pozo Mine. Considering how prominent it is in the town's landscape and how photographed this shaft house is, there is a weird desert of information on it online. In fact, I found nearly nothing for all of the locations pictured here. I may not be a Googling genius, but any obvious search strings yield a sentence or so of text, and for the Pozo Mine, mostly just different versions of this photo below, which is taken from the road. I felt a little better about the situation when I read in one of my go-to online sources for Colorado mining towns, Western Mining History, the following in its entry for Nevadaville: "Details of Nevadaville's history are difficult to find as it was always overshadowed by nearby Central City, which was Colorado's most important city for two decades."
We'd driven by it so many times we eventually couldn't stand the mystery any longer, wondering what all the site might contain. So late one afternoon we checked it out, and here are a few of the fun finds.
The machinery below is an overshot mucker, aka a "widow maker." Compressed air powered, you drove it into the pile of rock from the last blast, the muck pile, and jiggled the scoop to get a full load then pulled the overshot lever to rapidly rotate the scoop arm backward throwing the rock into the ore car immediately behind. There were no safety features and it was known for falling over onto the operator.
Lots of other interesting machinery and mechanisms, rather picturesque to me. A small ore bin below.
The lines and contrasts in this building prompted me to try a couple shots in black and white.
Just like the Pozo, I could find next-to-nothing about the Prize Mine. Mostly just that there was another large vein right next to the Prize vein. We've explored this site a few times in summer and autumn. The first time we came upon it, although we knew there was some sort of building up here, we were so surprised by the size. Typically when we find things in our 4x4 vehicles, they are small affairs. This was pretty much gigantic for something so hidden away in the trees. It's basically right in town, but not visible from any "normal" road.
Below is a historical photo of Nevadaville from its mining heyday. Notice how the mountainsides are completely bereft of trees. This was common in mining towns to strip them bare of wood to use in building houses and mine buildings, for support timbers in the mines, etc. It is so much prettier now in ruins with so many trees grown back!
Below, a residential structure a stone's throw away from the Prize Mine shaft house.The furniture and amenities inside indicate a relatively recent abandonment of maybe just a few decades ago.
Another historical photo of the town in winter. It looks so quaint. But only a couple trees.
Another day, we found an access road from Nevadaville to this headframe that we had seen on the hillside from across the valley. I don't know what mine it is.
In reaching the headframe, we unexpectedly came across this large stone structure. I'm going to guess it's one of the Cornish-built remains. Impressively in tact on the one side. We parked Chewie here, where the driveable path ended, to walk to the headframe.
Now here's where it really got fun ... From the headframe we walked a little further on until we could see down in this valley this large structure. We'd not seen it on Google Earth nor from any other vantage point in the area. Although the previous structures were a bit of a surprise, we at least were expecting to come across *something* in our exploration. This was completely unexpected and quite large, as well. Again, I don't know what mine shaft or vein it serviced. There are so, so many in the area, and I haven't been able to find any maps that can tell me definitively. I will keep looking.
Fortunately I'd worn suitable footwear for trekking cross country, so we scrambled down the hillside to this little complex.
A little perspective on how big this boiler is!
Some historical photos below of hardrock miners in Nevadaville. They're working by candlelight 850 feet below ground! Imagine laboring deep underground with just a little dinner candle affixed to your head and a few spaced along the wall. Candlesticks could even be a work hazard. In a 1902 edition of the Gilpin Observer, we are informed that "Charles Hauser, while working in the Gardiner mine last week, ran a candle stick in the back of his right hand and was compelled to lay off for several days." Among other juicy tidbits of Nevadaville news, it was also observed in this edition that "Charles Horning went to Denver Tuesday to see his friend, Mr. McCann." Also that "Thurston Sowden this week received a fine large Dane. It is a dandy dog and his new master is very proud of him." I find this hilarious, that this is all printed in the society newspaper, and you paid money to read about your neighbors getting dogs and going to Denver. There are many such entries. Check it out yourself, I find it highly amusing: The Gilpin Observer December 11, 1902. You can see the whole archive here, and I'm sure there are many other similarly amusing old papers catalogued. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90051548/issues/1899/
The guys inside the barrel coming out of the hatch door look almost comical. But theirs was an extremely hard and dangerous life notably lacking in humor. At least until they were able to spend a few wages at the saloon!
Lastly, I'll share a paragraph here from the website of the masonic lodge mentioned earlier, Nevada Lodge #4. I appreciated this description of the make-up of the early mining towns:
"It should not be inferred that miners were the only ones attracted by a gold discovery. There were five distinct classes of people who rushed to the site of a new strike. First is the prospector or miner who discovers and takes the precious metal from the earth. Second is the merchant who sells his supplies or services for the miner’s “dust” in legitimate trade. This class also includes the lawyer, doctor, preacher, builder, freighter law enforcement official and laborer. The third class is the saloon keeper, who furnishes the “firewater” so often the cause of trouble. Closely allied to the saloon keeper, is the fourth class, the gambler, who by his wits and nimble fingers separates the miner from his newly gained wealth. The last is the motley crowd, the thief, the highwayman and the murderer. These are the ones who wait until the miner or merchant who accumulates a “pile” and then go in and take it by force. There is yet a sixth group, small in numbers, which later comes on the scene and which exhibits the attributes of several of the other classes. From a position of seeming respectability and always within the law, one of this class seeks, through loans, followed by foreclosures of mortgages, to secure possession of property at a small price and sells at a big profit."
Read more articles in Three Hour Tour -- explorations in Gilpin and Boulder Counties