Willoughby: list of places to go if you’re avid mining enthusiast

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A flat wire winch (prior to the round wire) at the World Museum of Mining Museum in Butte, Montana.
T. Willoughby / Courtesy photo

If mining is your passion, or if it’s just a curiosity, here is a partial list of places you might enjoy if you venture out west.

Leadville is a short trip with a long list of things to see. Unlike today’s Aspen, Leadville and the surrounding area still have evidence of its mining past beyond the Victorian structures built from mining profits. Unlike museums in other places, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum emphasizes people rather than artefacts. One of Colorado’s most interesting stories is told at a separate site, the Matchless Mine. It tells the story of Horace Tabor, Colorado senator and investor in the Aspen mines, and his second wife, Margaret, “Baby Doe”. And you can look in the mine shaft.

Georgetown offers both the option of taking a narrow gauge steam train and two mine tours in the Lebanon mine, one 500 feet up the mountain, the other 1,000 feet. You can see ore veins to get an idea of ​​the underground geology of silver.



Outclassing Leadville, the World Museum of Mining in Butte, MT has the best collection of mining and milling equipment dating back to the 1870s, acres of fascinating artefacts. The Orphan Girl Mine is a home with its 10 story head frame. You can venture underground through a sloping tunnel that takes you to the 100-foot (deep) level of a 2,700-foot-deep shaft, more than double that of anything in Aspen. There you can also see an exposed ore vein. Butte was the home of the copper barons with many splendid mansions.

Butte had shafts and tunnels, but in modern times its gold and copper mines used a surface mine. It is interesting to see it because it is almost as tall as the town of Aspen but descends 1,600 feet which would be lower than the bottom of the Aspen mines.



Further on is a cluster of interesting mining towns. Bodie State Historic Park in the Eastern Sierra near the start of Yosemite Pass is an unspoiled mining town of 200 buildings. Bodie’s story covers the beginnings of Aspen around the same time Aspen and until 1942. It boomed in its early years, hitting around 10,000, then declining around 1915 to less than 1 000. Bodie mined gold. You can visit the stamp mill of the Standard Consolidated Mining Company, one of the first users of hydroelectric power. You can get an idea of ​​how the ore was pulverized.

The buildings in the city have been abandoned along with items left behind, so there are some curious artifacts to see. Bodie is about the same elevation as Aspen, you have to go in the summer.

North of Bodie is Virginia City, Nevada, home of the Comstock. The Comstock was the first big deal to produce money. There was also gold. Silver was discovered in 1859 and significant production continued until 1878. Its decline in production then caused the Aspen discoveries the following year to attract the interest of mining investors. Virginia City has many buildings preserved from its heyday of 25,000. If you go, walk or drive to the entrance to the 20,000 foot Sutro tunnel. He launched the idea of ​​digging a tunnel under the structures to drain the water. He has a fascinating story, that of a persistent visionary.

Drive through the Sierra and stop in Grass Valley, California to visit the Empire State Historic Park. Gold production from the Empire mine spanned 1850 to 1956. You can descend part of the inclined shaft that was 11,000 feet long dipping at 35 degrees connecting over 300 miles of tunnels. For me, the most interesting element to see is a model that the operating company has built in secret to keep up with how it works. The three-dimensional model is meters long and wide. At one point, the Aspen Historical Society was considering trying to create a similar model for Aspen. I made a pathetic attempt before giving up.

End your trip to San Francisco by walking through the Broadway neighborhood where the owners of Comstock built their giant mansions overlooking the bay (now the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge).

Tim Willoughby’s family history parallels that of Aspen. He began to share folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his hometown, he considers it from a historical perspective. Contact him at [email protected].


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