Breckenridge Heritage Alliance preserves two historic mine structures
Peeking above the skeletal fingers of newly naked aspen trees looms the Wellington Ore Bin building, still covered in scaffolding.
On Monday, Oct. 24, the scaffolding will come down from the building, which is located on French Gulch Road, across from the B&B Trailhead parking lot. The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance took on the project of putting a roof and adding 19.5 feet to the structure. The process took only a month, and will likely come in under its $140,000 budget, said Larry Crispell, vice president of the alliance.
Robin Theobald, a board member of the BHA and fifth generation Breckenridge resident, donated windows to the building. Some of the windows came from his mother’s home in Breckenridge. Theobald estimated that the windows are from around the 1900s.
Most of the ore bin project is completed, but the construction crew will finish cleaning up, as well as continue work on a water drainage system for the building. Tony Harris, of Harris Construction Inc. in Breckenridge, was the general contractor for the project, and has worked with the alliance on several projects to help fix historic structures.
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“We are not really restoring, we are preserving for the future,” Crispell said.
He added that the organization is more in the business of “stabilization,” ensuring that the structures will survive the elements in Breckenridge for years to come.
At some point, the Wellington Ore Bin lost its roof, leaving its uppermost level exposed to snow and wind. Crispell said that despite some deterioration, the structure held up. He attributes this to the size of the beams and the quality of construction.
The building was used to process rock ore from the mine. While the organization is still unsure of exactly when the Wellington Ore Bin was built, Crispell said that some of the pieces used in construction could give clues, such as a large washer that has a patent date of May 10 to Dec. 13, 1904. He thinks the mining company stopped using this particular building in the ‘20s, although mining in the area itself continued into the ‘80s. Theobald said that even if the Wellington Mine continued using the structure, they probably did not use it very frequently.
Currently, the only entrance into the structure is a 3-foot-tall by 22-inch-wide opening near the roof. The opening is next to a boarded doorway where carts carrying ore would have originally come into the structure. The roof area is full of new boards and beams used to complete construction and help to make the building more sound.
Down a narrow stairwell to the second level, metal tubes bear the words “Wellington Mine Breckenridge.” Crispell said that the tubes may have been used to pump heat into the building so that it wouldn’t freeze in winter.
Theobald has also helped start a new project with the alliance that will convert an old cabin into public restrooms. The cabin was originally in the South Swan drainage, but moved to Baldy Mountain. He and a small group of volunteers disassembled the cabin over a three-week period and brought it from Baldy to the Edwin Carter Museum property. He said that Breckenridge has hired a contractor to put the cabin back together. The restrooms are scheduled to be finished in the summer of 2017.
In addition to the Wellington Ore Bin, the alliance also recently completed work on the Jessie Mill on Gold Run Road. Crispell said that construction on this building was “not for the faint of heart,” as the structure was near collapse.
Piles of wood lay around the Jessie Mill, which Crispell said was originally inside a much larger structure. The fallen wood is all that remains, except for part of a wall which stands slightly behind the Jessie Mill.
“It is the skeleton of a big complex that would have looked like the Wellington Mine,” Crispell said.
The top level of the building was an ore bin. Chutes leading down to the second level would take the ore to be crushed by the stamp mill on the lower level. Larissa O’Neil, the executive director of the BHA, said that the Jessie Mill was built between 1893 and 1894.
“The Jessie Mill crushed large chunks of ‘run-of-mine’ ore, breaking it down into sand-sized particles. The stamps — 800-pound piston-like pieces of iron — pounded the ore with an up-and-down motion. Only the wooden shafts that housed the stamps and storage bins remain,” she said.
Crispell said that both the Wellington Ore Bin and Jessie Mill are on land owned by the town of Breckenridge and Summit County. Both projects were largely funded by both entities, as well as the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Commission and the Summit County Open Space Advisory Council.
The Jessie Mill stabilization project was started two years ago, when Harris was brought in to help straighten the structure, which had begun to lean. Unfortunately, Crispell said the crew that began the work on the Jessie Mill was not available for the next building season. So the structure sat dormant for a year, and its lean returned. Crispell said the crews working had to create a sort of pulley system to bring the structure back to the correct angle when working on it this year. The project was finished three weeks ago. The construction crew added beams to connect the wall behind the mill to the structure. They also added beams to prevent collapse and to keep the structure straight.
The original thick beams at the bottom of the Jessie Mill, holding everything together, were all hand-hewn, Crispell said. He also said that the process of construction during that time involved creating joints between the wood that were often held together by wooden pegs.
“It just blows me away how much labor it would have taken to build this,” he said.
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