Silverton’s Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour
By W. R. Jones
Mention “cliff dwellers” and you probably think of the ancient Anasazi ruins of the Southwest built high on the cliff side. Mention “gold” and you probably think of the beautiful shiny valuable metal – but not the mysterious underground world of the gold miners who toiled for the metal lusted after by kings and commoners alike. But on Galena Mountain gold miners combined cliff dwelling and “cave dwelling” to extract gold at the Old Hundred Gold Mine about five miles south east from the historic mining town of Silverton.
After the last gold mine closed in Silverton in 1991, local assayer Bill Jones, and partners got a crew of out-of-work miners to reopen the famed Old Hundred Gold Mine, not for mining gold, but for visitors to tour! After gathering up historic 1950’s era San Juan mining equipment, cleaning out tunnels, laying new track, installing lights, and rebuilding the miner’s “dry room” the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour was born! Now in it’s 22nd year, the mine takes thousands of summer visitors over 1/3 mile into Galena Mountain to see real mining equipment in a real gold mine. See www.minetour.com.
The mine has quite a history.
The mine tour uses the mine’s lowest tunnel on the mountain, built to access the original mill. The first 700 feet was drilled in the 1907-10 era but stopped work long before hitting the vein. Back then the good gold vein was found to outcrop over 2,500 feet above the valley floor up at 12,500 feet! But how could the miners get up there 107 years ago before cars, 4×4’s, helicopters, etc.? They had to live at the mine tunnel entrance so they could walk to work each day for their 12 hour shift. They needed a boarding house, but where to build it on the steep cliffs of Galena Mountain? The solution was inspired by the Mesa Verde ruins “discovered” only 6 years earlier – a “cliff dwellers” boarding house!
Built in 1907, the Old Hundred Boarding House is perched at 12,100 feet on a narrow ledge of rock partly blasted out of the cliff. The two and a half story wooden structure was literally pinned to the rock face with wire rope and rock bolts to help keep it standing. Over 30 men lived, slept, and ate in the boarding house for weeks on end. To get up there they rode in the ore buckets of an aerial tram, like a ski lift, which also hauled the gold ore down to the mill to be crushed and the gold extracted. Last used in the late 1930’s, the old building sat neglected for years. Down in Silverton at sunset at certain times of the year, a boardinghouse window reflected the setting sun back to town like a silent beacon, beckoning the miners back. And eventually they did come back……
To the Rescue
In 1968, Dixilyn Corporation, a Texas oil company came back to the Old Hundred with big dreams (and a big bank account). They reopened the old mill level tunnel now conveniently located next to a county road and started tunneling. By the time they finished in 1971 they had blasted several interconnected tunnels a mile deep into the heart Galena Mountain looking for the “mother lode,” the old timers missed. But alas, the mountain kept its secrets, and its gold. Dixilyn spent millions and even found a nice quartz vein but gold content was too low to make a profitably mine. In 1975 the tunnels were abandoned and tracks and buildings were torn up.
The transformation into a Mine Tour
But today these wide and tall modern era tunnels with their excellent ventilation and stable rock provide the ideal access for visitors to see the underground world of the gold miner. After an electric train ride 1/3 of a mile in, the miner-guides walk you through the tunnels, showing the quartz vein, colorful minerals, and they even fire up the old mining equipment including jack-leg and lyner drills, air tugger, slusher and mucking machine. Outside you can try you luck panning for gold in the Old Hundred sluice boxes. And high above the tour, still clinging precariously to the side of the cliff stands the Old Hundred Boardinghouse, now a Colorado Historic Landmark. Open daily through September, the Old Hundred can be combined with the Silverton Heritage Pass (offering a 15% discount) to visit the new Silverton Mining Heritage Museum, 1901 Silverton Jail and the 1929 Mayflower Gold Mill. So head on down to Silverton for a day of exploring Colorado’s gold mining heritage!
Thanks Bill of the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour in Silverton Colorado.
This was written by Bill Jones owner of the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour in Silverton, I have taken many a Mine tour over the Years and as far as grading the Old Hundred I would have to give it close to a 10 compared to the rest. The interaction and visuals are far and above any other mine tour I have ever been on. And that is my quick and dirty review-Clay
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