A Brief History of Lake City:
The Mining Era, 1874-1904
The End of Mining
Hinsdale County production remained modest compared to the other San Juan counties. In 1891, Hinsdale produced $80,000 in silver, ranking seventh out of eight mineral-producing western slope counties (others were Pitkin, San Miguel, Ouray, Gunnison, San Juan, Dolores, and La Plata counties).*
Mining near Lake City continued into the first decade of the twentieth century, although production declined after the 1893 Silver Panic that drastically decreased silver mining throughout the Rocky Mountain West.
By 1895, Hinsdale County gold production had tripled, lead production had doubled, and silver was being mined in larger quantities to compensate for the steep decline in the price of silver.
In 1897, there were nearly 500 men working in the mines and some 108 mines and prospects. Mineral extraction continued as a local economic base until 1904. The mining era ended when the Golden Fleece Mine closed that year.
Mining resumed elsewhere in Colorado from the early 1900s through the mid 1910s, as the industry recovered from the crash of 1893 and as capital investment and improvements in mining and milling technologies allowed profitable mining of low grade ore. However, in northern Hinsdale County, ore deposits had been depleted.
Mining continued intermittently through the twentieth century, consisting primarily of prospecting or leased operations with marginal production. Ore production included lead, zinc, and copper, as well as silver and gold.
The Ute-Ulay Mine was worked infrequently with minimal profit. During the 1930s, prospecting activity increased when the federal government raised the fixed price of gold from $16 to $32 an ounce. Investors in the Empire Chief Mine near Engineer Mountain built the Empire Chief Mill, which opened in 1929 to process lead, silver, and zinc ore. The mill operated only briefly, closing with the Great Depression and a winter snowslide that killed several miners.
With ore shipments, freight transportation, and passenger service greatly diminished, the Lake City Branch of the D&RG ceased operation in August 1933.
* Western Colorado Resources - Mineral, Agricultural, Horticultural, Stock Raising, Manufacturing and Other Industries Accurately Enumerated by Reliable and Painstaking Historians, Aspen, Colorado: Western Colorado Congress, 1891, 5.
Despite promising activity, Hinsdale County's mining districts lacked three key factors in mining development:
Year round transportation
Capital to develop underground workings
Photo above is a detail of a stereoview card by Alex Martin, Georgetown, Colorado, circa 1900. From the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, New York Public Library. Click on image for larger pop-up view.