Breckenridge mining relic named among Colorado’s 2015 Most Endangered Places
COLORADO’S MOST ENDANGERED PLACES OF 2015
Reiling Gold Dredge
Location: Breckenridge, Summit County
The Reiling Gold Dredge is considered to be one of the most intact dredge sites in the United States. The dredge was one of nine gold dredge boats that worked the Breckenridge area in the early 20th century.
Denver Tramway Company Streetcar No. 4
Location: Arvada, Jefferson County
Built by the Denver based Woeber Carriage Company, the streetcar today is a rare example of a converted narrow gauge streetcar and was the last car to run on the Denver trolley line in 1950.
Ute Ulay Mill and Townsite
Location: Lake City, Hinsdale County
Date: 1873 to early 1900s
The Ute and Ulay mines were at one time some of Colorado’s best-known silver and lead producers. The mines were largely responsible for the formation of Lake City and today survive along the Alpine Loop Backcountry Scenic and Historic Byway.
Gold Medal Orchard
Location: Cortez, Montezuma County
Gold Medal Orchard was one of the earliest planted orchards for commercial purposes in Montezuma County. The orchard brought national attention to the region when it was awarded a gold medal in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition in St. Louis.
For years, Summit County has worked to protect endangered species like Canada lynx. Now for the first time, Breckenridge and the county are officially home to an endangered place.
The site of the Reiling Gold Dredge, which mined millions of dollars in gold from French Gulch east of Breckenridge about 100 years ago, was named to Colorado’s 2015 Most Endangered Places list on Thursday, Feb. 5, at the 18th annual Saving Places Conference in Denver.
From about 30 nominated sites, Colorado Preservation Inc. chose to list the Reiling site, along with three others, to promote the dredge’s preservation as a rare remnant of Colorado’s mining history.
The four sites chosen this year represent diverse aspects of Colorado history, said Jennifer Orrigo Charles, Endangered Places Program manager.
“These places tell the story of our state and its people. These places are the backbone of our Main Streets and the heart of our traditional neighborhoods,” she said. “The collective impact of our efforts to protect, preserve and promote these significant though threatened historic places is the legacy we leave to future generations.”
Charles said about 700 people attended the Saving Places Conference, including preservation professionals, developers, architects, interested residents and students, to discuss aspects of preservation from hands-on restoration techniques to grant writing.
MAKING MILLIONS, RUINING RIVERS
The Reiling Gold Dredge was built in 1908 to mine gold from Summit County for the French Gulch Dredging Co.
As constructed, the dredge was a large barge-like boat, about 30 feet wide by 80 or 90 feet long with mining machinery on a floating substructure. Large gold dredges, like the Reiling, turned rivers and streams upside down.
Buckets dumped river rocks, stream sediment and dirt into a rotating steel cylinder that sloped toward a rubber belt. The belt carried away oversize material and dumped the rock behind the dredge. The cylinder allowed undersized material, including gold, to fall into a sluice box for collection.
Gold dredges allowed mining companies to retrieve gold from harder-to-reach locations and had the capacity to move 2,000 yards of material a day. In Summit County, dredge boats mined for about 45 years, from 1898 to 1942.
The Reiling operated for 14 years until its accidental partial sinking in 1922. For most of that time, the Reiling mined year-round, chugging away 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Larissa O’Neil, executive director of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.
With its sister dredge, the Reliance, the Reiling produced about $7 million in gold, at a time when gold was worth about $19 an ounce. O’Neil said gold today is worth $1,200 to $1,300 an ounce.
Though most of the gold mining profits left the area for the pockets of the owners and investors of the large, private mining companies, the operations employed plenty of locals, she said. “The Reiling was a major economic driver for Breckenridge.”
The nine dredges that mined in Summit County also drastically changed the landscape and decimated ecosystems. O’Neil said the Reiling should be preserved as a reminder of humans’ potential harmful environmental impacts.
STILL SUBMERGED 93 YEARS LATER
The Reiling’s metal parts were removed during World War II, but much of the original wood, Douglas fir brought by train from California, remains.
Summit’s other two dredges are the No. 4 Dredge, remnants of which can be seen off Tiger Road, and the Reliance off Wellington Road, which is not visible because it’s buried by sediment.
Though the Reiling is rotting, especially at the water level, and parts of the structure have collapsed, it is one of few intact dredges left in the country.
“We’re frankly just lucky that this one is still partially standing,” O’Neil said.
In 2012, Bracing cables were installed to provide temporary stability to the structure. To prevent further deterioration, future plans will require stabilization of the structure, basic repairs and a method to reduce rot at the water level.
“The fact that it’s a partially submerged structure at 10,000 feet makes this a completely unique endeavor. It’s not like preserving a building, which can be much more straightforward,” she said.
Government officials with the town of Breckenridge and Summit County are in the process of contracting a hydrology study to better understand how water moves around the dredge. O’Neil estimated the study would cost about $10,000.
She acknowledged that some local residents believe the dredge should be left alone to deteriorate, and government funds shouldn’t be spent on fighting nature’s reclamation given the dredge’s destructive environmental effects.
However, the community overall supports preservation efforts, she said.
The old dredge lies along a hiking path, so preservation could entail adding an educational element to the site.
Colorado’s Most Endangered Places Program was developed in 1997 to spotlight significant historic resources in need of assistance by Colorado Preservation Inc., a statewide nonprofit founded in 1984 to promote and advance historic preservation in Colorado.
The program is funded mainly through the History Colorado State Historical Fund, created by a 1990 constitutional amendment that allowed limited gaming in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk and stipulated that a portion of gaming tax revenues be used for historic preservation.
Every year sites are confidentially nominated, and a preservation professional is assigned to each one for review. Those experts then present the sites at regional meetings, and the sites that go on to the state level are ranked by the Preservation Inc. board.
The program’s sites are located in every region of the state and in 49 of the 64 counties; they include Native American locales, farms, ranches, railroad depots, mines, schools, industrial buildings, commercial districts, private residences, mid-century buildings and historic neon signs.
The organization now has 106 sites in the Endangered Places Program. Of those, 36 have been labeled as “saves,” and six were lost. The program is supporting preservation efforts for the remaining 64.
Charles said the organization doesn’t have one definition for what saving a site means because the sites are so different and face a variety of threats.
For information about the listed Endangered Places or to learn about volunteering with the program, call Jennifer Orrigo Charles at (303) 893-4260 x237 or visit http://coloradopreservation.org/programs/endangered-places.
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