My original plans for this fifth day in Colorado’s mining towns was to drive north on Highway 550 to Montrose, then east on U. S. 50 and south on Highway 149 to Lake City and eventually Creede. But having to detour two days ago to Farmington, New Mexico to pick up a used rim for my minivan made it necessary to drive through Silverton without stopping. I did some quick calculating and found an alternate route that would allow me to hit all three places (but it would mean missing Alamosa and Great Sand Dunes National Park and having a very long day tomorrow). Since my trip is mostly about the history of mining in Colorado, I chose to take the alternate route. Alamosa will have to wait for another trip.
I packed up and ate some doughnuts and other supplies I had that were still good. The ice in my coolers had long since melted and things were beginning to go bad. I videotaped some panoramic shots along Ouray’s main street and talked for a few minutes with a Native American wearing a veteran’s hat, whom I had seen around town. He had been to Provo and enjoyed visiting the national parks in Utah.
I drove out of town south on Highway 550, stopping to take photos of the Red Mountain peaks reflected in a small lake, as well as some mine structures I’d missed on my way in two days ago. Once over the top of the pass, I pressed on through Silverton, talking a gravel road out of town to the northeast toward Engineer Pass and Lake City, then southeast through a narrow river valley (Cunningham Gulch) to the Old Hundred Mine at the base of Galena Mountain. I arrived just at 10:00 in time to take the first tour.
The Old Hundred Mine
This mine was named after the 100th Psalm, where it says: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.” No doubt the prospectors who found this deposit made a very joyful noise! Galena Mountain was laced with veins of rich silver-lead-gold ore, and the Niegold brothers (Reinhard, Gustave, and Otto) staked claims on some of the richer veins in 1872. About 300 feet from the top of the mountain, they located the best vein of all at what came to be called the Number Seven Level. Other veins were located further down. The mountain was so steep that mining the higher levels was very difficult – supplies and equipment had to be lowered from the top of the mountain and ore removed on ropes to the bottom level. A small town grew up at the bottom with a hotel, a saloon, a post office, and cabins for the miners. It was called Niegoldstown. Well-educated and classically trained, the Neigold brothers would entertain the miners during the long winter months with music, operas, and plays.
In 1904 additional investment built a trail that winds its way around and up to the Number Seven Level, where a boardinghouse with bunks and a tram station were built perched on the side of the cliff and anchored by cables to the cliff face. A tram station was also built at the bottom of the mountain, and massive foundations poured for a stamp mill to process ore. A long adit was blasted into the mountain just above the mill level with hopes of reaching deeper veins inside the mountain.
The boarding house still stands on the side of the mountain. Damaged by deep snows in the winter of 1983-84, the roof has been repaired and the boardinghouse and tram station stabilized by some very brave carpenters and helicopter pilots.
The bunkhouse was built to house 40 miners and a cook. Miners would stay there for two weeks at a time, with two shifts rotating through the bunks. When they got their pay after two weeks, they would either take a slow mule down the steep trail (just wide enough for two mules to pass each other and much narrower than that now) or ride the tram buckets down. In Silverton, they would spend their money on gambling, whiskey, and women and head back to the mine after the weekend dead broke. Some miners had better sense, saving up money to send for their families in Cornwall or Ireland or elsewhere.
With the improvements made, mining continued in earnest. Over 16,000 ounces of gold was removed from the mountain by 1908, but then the veins dried up. The panic of 1907 also dried up the money for further investment, and the property defaulted back to the Neigold brothers. Eventually the mine was lost to back taxes, and the last of the brothers died in 1927.
Other owners worked the mine sporadically until 1967, when the Dixilyn Corporation brought new investment. The Mill Level Tunnel was continued over 5000 feet into the mountain and other levels were also extended and connected. A modern mill was built with better techniques for processing the low-grade ore, but the mine remained unprofitable. By 1973 it was finally realized that the deeper veins just weren’t there. The buildings and mill were torn down and sold for scrap. To find out more about the history of the Old Hundred Mine, go to: http://www.minetour.com/history.php.
For our tour, we donned hard hats and slickers, then boarded an electric tram and travelled deeply into the Mill Level adit. There is something a bit spooky and exciting about zipping along a railroad line underground in an open car. Since this mine only closed in the 1970s, they have kept some equipment inside in working order. Our guide demonstrated a working drill and even a pneumatic mucker, which are not usually available. Lots of old muckers are found with the rust painted over as standing displays outside of the mines (including some at this mine), but this is one of the only times I’ve seen one actually working.
The tour was truly enjoyable, and I would recommend it as one of the best in Colorado, along with the Mollie Kathleen Mine tour in Cripple Creek. Our guide was knowledgeable and he gave us a good explanation of the technologies and history of the mine. Running my HD camcorder to record all that the tour guide said meant I couldn’t take many photos during the tour itself and some were taken rather hastily and turned out blurry in the darkness. After the tour I took photos around the mine entrance and of the boardinghouse high above us on the cliff. I also bought a used hard hat in the gift shop to add to my collection.