Asarco plans to close the Black Cloud

Brief by Central Staff

Mining – December 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Mining Ends in Leadville

The Black Cloud, which employed about 120 workers near timberline a few miles east of Leadville, is shutting down. It has been on stand-by since last summer, when production halted on account of problems in the mill.

However, the mill had been rebuilt, and the closure announcement caught people by surprise.

Asarco, the mine’s corporate owner, said that recent low prices for lead, zinc, and silver were responsible for the decision.

But when we went to press, lead was fetching 50¢ a pound, up from 46¢ a year ago, and zinc was 53.7¢, up from 52.4¢. Silver had dropped from $5.43 an ounce to $4.81, though.

Anyway, the company stressed that the mine “is not being permanently closed and will reopen when economic circumstances permit.”

But it’s hard to envision when those circumstances might appear.

Carl Miller, now a state representative and once miner at Climax, observed that “Once a mine is closed, it’s difficult to re-open.”

Two years ago, the Black Cloud superintendent told us that rail service was vital to the Black Cloud — it wasn’t a rich enough operation to stand the additional cost of trucking concentrates to a distant railhead for shipment to the smelter in Montana.

The looming railroad abandonment thus presents another circumstance that militates against a re-opening of the Black Cloud and a restoration of those good-paying jobs.

Ironically, Leadville is more or less Asarco’s birthplace. The corporation began in 1899 as the American Smelting & Refining Company, and among its founders were several Leadville smelter owners who joined forces to fight the Guggenheim smelter trust — which in turn got its initial capital from Meyer Guggenheim’s rich A.Y. and Minnie silver mines at Leadville.

Local editor Grant Dunham observed that “I’m afraid we’re losing a piece of ourselves” with the closure of the Black Cloud.

Among Colorado mining towns, Leadville is what the Rolling Stones are to rock ‘n’ roll bands — the biggest, wickedest, gaudiest, and longest-lasting.

But the Stones haven’t performed much lately, and Leadville has lost its last working mine.

Leadville will become even more reliant on tourism, and even more a bedroom town for the resorts of Summit and Eagle counties along the I-70 corridor. When further gentrification arrives, will it be renamed “SouthVail” or “SummitWest”?