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Colorado’s longest aerial tramway was at Leavick

Letter from Harvey N. Gardiner

Mining History – January 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dear Ed Quillen:

In the November 2001 issue you reviewed Riding the High Wire: Aerial Mine Tramways in the West, and you noted theabsence of mention of any aerial tramways in Central Colorado. One aerial tramway of interest was located west of Fairplay at what was the location of Leavick, Colo. (11,294 feet). Leavick is long a ghost town, but readers will understand where this is because this area is the access to Mount Sherman, the easiest Colorado Fourteener to climb.

The road passes right by the only remaining structure at Leavick, the Hilltop Mill. Above Leavick, heading for Mount Sherman, the driveable road ends at the Dauntless Tunnel (from the 1960s). The hike up Sherman begins by following the old mine road up to Hilltop Mine at 12,900 feet.

The Hilltop Mine produced $600,000+ in silver ore in 1888. The production dwindled in the next several years, and the mine was idled with the crash of silver in 1893. In 1896 Felix Leavick (who came to Leadville in 1878 from the Black Hills with Thomas F. Walsh) and Brad DuBois (who owned the Chrysolite and Maid of Erin Mines at Leadville) bought the Hilltop Mine.

They had money for infrastructure development. First, in December 1896, they built the Fairplay, South Park and Hilltop Railroad to Leavick (this is about 11 miles). In the spring of 1897, they built the mill still standing at Leavick. The mine and the mill were connected by a 13,000-foot-long aerial tram.

This tramway had one hundred twenty-five ore buckets carrying four hundred pounds each. In contrast to the San Juan aerial trams, which descended considerable elevation in short distances, the Hilltop tram may well have been the longest aerial tram ever built in Colorado.

Ten years ago several of the aerial tram towers still stood — west of the Leavick townsite, uphill on the north side of the road, and another one above timberline but not easy to pick out from the site of the Hilltop Mine.

Leavick and DuBois made all the right moves to minimize the costs of mining. But one hopes that before they invested all this money up front, they had also proven the character of the ore in the Hilltop by mining and shipping several hundred tons to a mill of the same design as the one they intended to build at Leavick. The post office indicates what happened at Leavick: it opened in December 1896 and closed in August 1899.

Harvey N. Gardiner