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Leadville Heritage Museum

By Sharon Galey

The Heritage Museum, located at 102 East 9th Street in Leadville, has a focus on preserving and sharing Leadville’s history. Built in 1904, and primarily funded through a Carnegie grant, the building served as Leadville’s public library through the early ’70s.

When the newer Lake County Public Library was built to serve a growing population, the building was purchased by the Lake County Civic Center Association (LCCCA) to house their collection of Leadville historic artifacts and items donated for historic preservation and display.

Visitors to the Heritage Museum will first notice the outdoor display of mining artifacts from Leadville’s storied mining history. It hosts an impressive collection, including an actual mine, mining equipment, old wagons and tank cars, and a miner’s cabin moved to the property.


Entering the museum, visitors often comment on the beautiful craftsmanship of the interior, especially the handcrafted staircase leading to the second story. The ground level features a diorama room, which tells the amazing story of Leadville’s mining history, from the first miners to find gold, to the discovery of rich deposits of silver, to present day molybdenum mining at Climax Mine. Another room on the first story contains antique clothing, Victorian furniture, everyday household items, and a square grand piano, along with other donated collections of bottles, inkwells and crockery of the day.

Also on the ground level, a gift shop provides visitors with the opportunity to purchase Leadville collectibles such as geodes, and cubes of iron pyrite (fool’s gold), as well as many books on the history of mining, Leadville, and its colorful cast of characters, from Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, to the Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Climbing the staircase to the landing, a display of 10th Mountain Division artifacts tells the story of these troops, trained near Leadville at Camp Hale for battle in high elevations and winter conditions during World War II. The personal stories of many members of the 10th Mountain Division are featured in this collection.

One of the most-appreciated displays at the Heritage is on the second level of the museum. The scale model of Leadville’s famed Ice Palace occupies an entire room. Built as a tourist attraction after the crash of the silver market impacted Leadville’s economy, the Ice Palace opened on January 1, 1896. It was the size of a city block, and was built on the 400 block between East 7th and 8th Streets. Although pictures of the structure are impressive, the scale replica brings to life the many attractions inside this Norman castle-inspired palace made of blocks of ice. Inside were a carousel, a skating rink, shops and meeting rooms. The Ice Palace started melting during an unusual early thaw in mid-March of 1896, and it closed, not making a profit, and was never rebuilt.

Many other artifacts are on display upstairs at the Heritage. Two full-size sleighs, collections from fraternal organizations, schools, and photographs display the rich historic past of Leadville.

The Heritage Museum (719-486-1878) is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The LCCCA encourages locals and interested visitors to join their membership to contribute to the preservation of local history and the presentation of cultural activities within the community.

Sharon Galey is a part time volunteer at the museum, and a member of the LCCCA.