Breckenridge enriches mining history with Jessie Mill preservation project |

Breckenridge enriches mining history with Jessie Mill preservation project

A study showed the Jessie Mill, shown here in summer 2012, was at risk of collapsing. Breckenridge spent $25,000 this year to save one section, and will spend the same in 2014 to brace and bring the upper section upright.
Courtesy of Larissa O’Neil / Breckenridge Heritage Alliance |

The rich mining history surrounding Breckenridge is often presented as a golden opportunity for tourism, contributing to the distinct character of the area. In addition to two other current mining sites, the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance (BHA) is continuing work on a stabilization effort to preserve the Jessie Mill near town. The Jessie is the only stamp mill in Summit County left standing, said BHA director Larissa O’Neil.

Larry Crispell, BHA board member, has been working on the Jessie Mill project. He said restorations efforts this year have already significantly helped keep the historic site intact.

“The Jessie was something that needed to be preserved before it was lost,” he said. “Now we’re very close to being in a state to be happy that it’ll stay put.”

The Jessie was one of the largest mine and mill complexes in the Breckenridge area. It operated from 1885 well into the 1930s, but enjoyed its peak from the late 1880s through the early 1900s. The mill produced mainly gold, but also dealt with a significant amount of silver and lead.

The Jessie is one of the best, and most easily accessed, examples of a former mine and mill site near Breckenridge. The mill remains partially intact today, near the Gold Run Gulch area around Golden Horseshoe.

Recently, concerns were raised about the structural stability of the Jessie Mill as the structure developed a significant, visible lean. The BHA commissioned an engineering study in 2012, which concluded the Jessie was at risk of collapsing.

“The Jessie is kind of out there, it doesn’t get as many visitors, but it’s a great structure,” Crispell said. “This is the best example that’s easily accessible of a large-scale mill.”

For 2013, the BHA budgeted $25,000 to purchase equipment, install earth anchors and cover the costs of bracing and pulling one lower section of the structure upright. The BHA receives its budget from the town of Breckenridge. Crispell said for the upcoming year, the BHA is requesting another $25,000 to continue to make the upper section of the building vertical as well.

“Breckenridge is distinguished from many communities around it,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have a historic district, to have been a real mining town. These structures give us that credibility.”

In the 1970s, the mill structure had a shell around it with a sturdy frame, siding and a roof. But in time, much of the structure was lost to people stripping it for barn wood, Crispell said. The structure had been braced, but it was not a significant preservation effort.

“We realized that wasn’t a long-term solution,” Crispell said. “The mill continued to be in peril. Once it falls down — many structures collapse and then are totally lost.”

The remaining wooden structure is the stamp mill, built in 1893-94. It crushed large portions of ore in order to extract the valuable gold, silver and lead. The stamps — 800-point piston-like pieces of iron — moved up and down to crush the rocks. Only the wooden structure that once held the stamps remains.

“We’ll likely be dealing with some issues of further preservation of the wood too,” Crispell said. “We want to ensure this is a long-term solution.”

Crispell credits general contractor Tony Harris and crew chief Jimmy Reed with great work so far preserving such a “delicate house of cards.”

“There’s a deep appreciation for historic artifacts in this community,” Crispell said. “People get it. If you want heritage tourism, you’d better be concerned about historic structures.”

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