A look at Summit’s mining history
Summit County loves its history. If you don’t believe me, try taking a tour sometime. I’ve had the privilege of taking two such journeys this fall. This first, was set up by Breckenridge Heritage Alliance archivist, Kris Ann Knish. After a summer of working she and I realized we had missed every single Bill Fountain tour, and so she pleaded with him for one more. Bill graciously combined all three of his tours into one adventure packed day for us, and cross-country skier Tom Waymire, a tour guide up from the Front Range for a little history intake. It was worth the wait.
ON THE TRAIL
Some people are just magnetic. Bill Fountain is one of those people. As our tour began in the trailhead parking lot across the street from the site of the Wellington Mine, people were drawn in. Throughout the day a mountain biker and some hikers joined our tour, unable to resist Fountain’s charisma and knowledge. It seems easy for him as he recounts each mine, owner and his own adventures through their history, but eventually you realize Fountain has been a student of Summit’s history for decades, and he’s just kind enough to share what he’s learned.
In our first lesson, Fountain held up pictures against the aspen-dotted background of the former Wellington Mine giving a glimpse to what lies beneath the surface. Massive tunnels run underground, at one time pulling carts of gold to the surface, now belying the history of the land. The Wellington was located near a series of mines including the Country Boy, Lucky and Minnie mines.
Men and their mines
The history of the men who owned these mines is as boom-and-bust as it gets. Men like John Traylor and Ben Stanley Revett ventured to Summit County with big plans. They had ideas about how to make their fortune, not just hopes. However, a lot of the time this wasn’t enough. When Traylor tried to build a 2000-foot shaft for mining, he made it 150 feet before running out of money. This wasn’t his only venture into the mining game though. Traylor was a major figure in Summit’s history. He purchased the Royal Tiger in 1917 and connected it by tunnel to one of his other claims, the Cashier Mine. Fountain has some personal knowledge of this tunnel, as he and his son have both ventured inside to get a better look.
That’s not usual for Fountain. He has several stories that seem to intertwine his research and the subject, including taking a serious fall down a 150-foot mine-shaft. He claims that three miracles happened that day: The shaft had already filled with water so he only fell about 20 feet into the splash-zone, his flashlight fell out of his hand and landed on a ridge pointing directly down at him and a board over the opening of the shaft allowed him to pull himself out. It’s kind of hard to argue his theory. And don’t worry, his wife already knows the story, as well as many others, I’m sure.
After we had all piled into Fountain’s Chevy Avalanche he continued up the road giving us the history of mining sites all along the way from the Wire Patch to information on the dredging fields. Including how Revett had refused to let a competitor run a dredge through his land. The competitor would eventually have to move the dredge over the land in order to keep dredging farther down.
This may seem harsh, but you have to understand men like Revett came to Summit before the law. The first mining claim in Summit was made by Ruben J. Spalding on Aug. 10, 1859. Things escalated quickly from there as throngs of people came to Summit for their riches.
Each mining claim was in a mining district, and the district had its own law. It was pretty loose though. There were no national standards for mining claims, so each district had their own rules for how claims were made and kept.
Being the High Country, mining could really only take place during the summer and in the winter the camps were largely abandoned. This meant for a lot of claim jumping. In one instance, a miner was chastised into taking his wife and child to Denver so that they wouldn’t have to brave the elements. When the miner returned, the same men who had implored him to go, had jumped his claim. Such was life.
It wasn’t until 1872 when national mining laws came into place that claims had to be registered. This too led to a lot of jumping; It didn’t matter who had been working the land before, it only mattered who got their claim registered the fastest. Meaning many men saw their claims disappear in the stroke of a pen.
GOING TO TOWN
Tales of glory and betrayal aren’t the only legacy of the mining era. Huge dredge piles still infiltrate the land, with rocks that have been pristinely scrubbed and cast aside in the quest for gold. Abandoned towns have become a new kind of buried treasure. Parkville was once the first County Seat, and a happening place for miners. It included two theater companies, the oldest Masonic Lodge, and had its own currency. A Parkville coin is now worth thousands of dollars, which is unfortunate in that the Mason’s memorial was destroyed by people hoping to find a coin inside.
The town was founded in 1860, and if you take Georgia Road you can still see where the town was located at Georgia Gulch. Georgia Gulch leads up the hill to Humbug Gulch which is where another outcropping of Parkville buildings was located. Unfortunately, the same mining that created the town, also destroyed it. Parkville was eventually buried under sludge created from hydraulic mining on the hillside. It is probable that many of the buildings were deconstructed or moved before the rubble over took it, but nothing is known for certain.
Parkville wasn’t the only town to spring to life during mining, only to be destroyed after time. Swan City held miners through the high points in mining history in 1914 and saw dredging become a truly viable source of income. When Dredge #7 was operational it was cranking out $1500 per day, until it eventually died in 1920. At the time it was owned by the Tonopah Company, which built a company town at the current site for Good Times Adventures.
The town of Tiger lasted longer than most. It lasted so long, it had an additional history past its days as a company town. Tiger remained a lively place until the 1970s when it was burned to the ground by the US Forest Service. In the ‘60s hippies had taken over Tiger, and their flower power didn’t really appeal to the authorities. After several clashes, everything in the town was burned except for the Assayers Office, which longtime local Maureen Nichols was instrumental in saving.
Summit’s mining history is complex to say the least. Much like Parkville, we wouldn’t exist without mining, and yet the land still bears the scars these men and machines left behind. Our bike paths were their mining roads, the railroad and stage came through Summit because of these towns and mines now buried under layers of history. If you get the chance, take a Bill Fountain tour and learn exactly what Summit’s made of.
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