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Leadville’s last mine runs out of ore

Brief by Central Staff

Mining – August 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Leadville’s Last Mine Runs Out of Ore

It’s official. After 140 years of drilling and mucking, Leadville is no longer a mining town.

The announcement, which was no surprise, came on June 28 from ASARCO, operator of the Black Cloud Mine, which sits at timberline about a dozen miles east of town.

The Black Cloud, a silver-lead-zinc operation with a small mill, halted production on Jan. 19 and laid off 105 employees.

A skeleton crew remained for some exploration work in the hope of finding new ore reserves, but according to mine manager Sid Lloyd, all they found was low-grade stuff that couldn’t be profitably mined.

Current plans are to begin salvaging underground equipment immediately. When that is done in late September, restoration work would begin, which would include removing the surface structures.

ASARCO was an acronym for American Smelting and Refining Co., which has been around Leadville for a long time. The story starts in Philadelphia, though, with Meyer Guggenheim, patriarch of the famous Guggenheim family that created the Guggenheim Foundation that now endows scholars and art museums.

In 1880, Guggenheim had varied interests scattered around the country, and he helped out a business associate by investing $5,000 for a half interest in Leadville’s A.Y. Mine. A few weeks later, they bought the Minnie Mine, and by 1882, the properties were producing $2,000 a day.

This success in mining ore inspired Guggenheim, along with several of his sons, to invest in smelting ore. After a few years, one result was the big Guggenheim smelter in Pueblo.

Another result was that other smelter operators felt threatened by the Guggenheims, and in 1899 combined their operations into a new trust: the American Smelting & Refining Co.

The Guggenheim smelters remained profitable and competitive, though, and soon they were invited into America Smelting & Refining Co., with Daniel Guggenheim serving as chairman of the board.

It operated Leadville’s longest-lasting smelter, the Arkansas Valley Smelter, which ran until 1961. Its slag piles, which the railroad quarried for track ballast, are still visible on the southwest side of town.

ASARCO returned with the Black Cloud in 1970, and will remain a presence as the operator of the Yak Tunnel water treatment plant.