Sweet Home Mine closes in Alma
October 27, 2004
ALMA – The party at the town hall in Alma on Nov. 6 will prove to be very bittersweet for the townspeople and local miners. The event will mark the end of a very successful era for the Sweet Home Mine located above Alma on the Buckskin Road. Workers are now wielding trowels and mortar as they seal the entrance with concrete for the last time.The mine, which started as an unprosperous silver mine in 1873, became famous nearly 100 years later as the only source of gemstone quality rhodochrosite in North America. The early miners often tossed aside the red crystals in their hunt for silver, or traded the “pretties” for drinks at the local bars. It was not until the middle 1900s that miners began to find the rhodochrosite valuable as a collectors’ mineral.
A large number of specimens from the Sweet Home Mine are on display at the Denver Museum of Natural History.Bryan Lees, owner of the Sweet Home and a number of other mines across the country, spoke with much sadness in his voice as he explained why the Park County mine is being shut down, “This one has been my personal passion. If it was up to me I’d never close it.” Lees said there have been no new veins found since the year 2000, and expenses to keep working the mine were becoming too great to keep it going. The Sweet Home most recently gained statewide attention when, on April 12, 2002, Gov. Owens signed a bill declaring the red stone to be the official state mineral.
Students from Park County’s Platte Canyon High School convinced the Legislature to name rhodochrosite as the state mineral, citing the appropriateness of the deep red color to represent Colorado, which means “Red colored” in Spanish; and as a nod to the mine at the north end of the county which unquestionably produced the highest quality rhodochrosite in the world. While many different owners tried generally unsuccessfully to extract enough silver ore from the Sweet Home to make it as famous as its rich neighbors like the Moose and Dolly Varden Mines on Mount Bross, it wasn’t until a rogue mineral and gem dealer sold a huge, superb specimen, the “Alma Queen,” to a couple of Denver mineral dealers that the Sweet Home’s real treasures began to come to light. The deep red, 10-centimeter mineral specimen was said to be a show-stopper at the Las Vegas Gem and Mineral Show in 1966.
The mine continued to change hands until Golden resident and gem collector, Bryan Lees and his wife, Kathryn, headed a corporation called Sweet Home Rhodo, Inc. and began leasing the property as a specimen mine in 1991.That began what Lees believes is one of the most successful community-mine company relationships in the mining world. “The people of Alma have been amazing,” Lees said. The mine sits above the town and very near the munincipal water supply, but there have been no disputes between the two since the Lees acquired the property. Townspeople are quick to point to the operation as an example of good stewardship of the land.Lees said because of his continuous work on the reclamation plan, there is very little to be done to complete state requirements set for the mine after shut down.