Glenwood Springs, Colorado Mining
The Leadville silver boom started in 1879. At the height of the rush, an estimated 500 people a day were flooding into the town for a piece of the prospecting action. Glenwood’s founding fathers Isaac Cooper and Walter Devereux came to Glenwood via Leadville and silver-rich Ute City (Aspen).
But silver wasn’t the only valuable mineral to be mined. John Osgood mined the plentiful coal stored in the hillsides around Redstone and Glenwood Springs. The Redstone Coal Baron, as he became known, built a huge coal coking operation just south of Glenwood in a small outpost called Cardiff and lit the first coking ovens there in 1888. Coke is an ingredient necessary for the smelting of silver. At the height of his operations, there were 249 coke ovens, 199 traditional beehive-shaped ovens, and 50 Belgium stack ovens. Remnants of the coking operations and Osgood’s empire can still be seen today. Visit the Cardiff coke ovens in south Glenwood Springs, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Or take a short day trip to neighboring Redstone. This historic and picturesque mining town is home to more coke ovens, the restored homes and bunkhouses of miners, and Osgood’s mansion, the Redstone Castle.
In 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed with the effect of severely devaluing silver. As the monetary standard made the switch from the silver standard to the gold standard, Colorado’s silver mines practically shut down overnight. The area’s coking operations limped along until 1910 when they shut down completely.
During the height of mining in Aspen and Leadville, miners came to Glenwood Springs on weekend laundry trains. After a long work week, the miners could take the train to the mineral hot springs town to wash their clothes, soak their bodies and spend their money in the local gambling halls, saloons and brothels.
A coal mining operation closer to Glenwood Springs was the South Canyon Mine, located just west of town. As at other mines, workers labored to extract the coal, a dangerous job under any conditions. At the South Canyon, the miners had an added danger to negotiate. In 1910, due to unknown causes, a fire ignited in the mine’s Wheeler Vein. The burning section was closed off but there were hot spots and places where noxious gases escaped. Despite the fire burning in the mountain, the mine operated on and off until 1953 when it was abandoned for good. In 2002, the underground fire breached the surface igniting trees and brush; the South Canyon Coal Seam fire ultimately torched 12,000 acres of land and dozens of homes. The subsurface South Canyon Coal Seam continues to burn unabated to this day.
Explore all of the historical things to do, learn and see in Glenwood Springs with a modern twist; there is something for everyone and a new adventure to be had every day! For more Glenwood Springs history, visit the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum.