Home > Argo Mill & Tunnel | Colorado Mining History
Argo Mill & Tunnel | Colorado Mining
The Argo Mill and Tunnel are an integral part of Colorado’s mining history. When this combination of facilities opened, the mines in the area were able to contribute to the local economy in ways that were not possible before the building of the Argo Mill and Tunnel.
Located on Clear Creek in Gilpin County, Colorado, the opening to the Argo Tunnel begins in Idaho Springs. The mill sits near the mouth of the tunnel. From there, this underground transport route extends a full 4.16 miles, terminating within Eureka Gulch.
The tunnel does not have a large circumference. Being eight by eight feet for the most part, the last section of the shaft tapers down to just five by eight feet.
An Ambitious Project
The Argo Tunnel was started by Samuel Newhouse, a New York City local who left the hustle and bustle of urban life for Colorado. He tried his hand at several businesses upon his arrival, ranging from freight transport based in Leadville to a hotel with his wife in Ouray.
The Gilpin County mining industry was already losing momentum by the time Newhouse moved forward with the Argo Tunnel. But this infrastructure was just what was needed to lift up the mining industry.
In order to make the processing of mined materials even more efficient, the Argo Reduction and Ore Purchasing Company but a state-or-the-art mill near the mouth of the Argo Tunnel. During its time, the Argo Tunnel and Mill were the largest and most ambitious of projects of their kind in the world.
A Better Way to Ship and Process Ore
Built specifically as a source of efficient drainage and transportation for mines within Gilpin County, the Argo Tunnel intersected with nearly 100 tunnels in the area. The tunnel was built beneath several mining towns: Central City, Gilpin Gulch, Nevadaville, Quartz Hill (renowned for the Glory Hole), Russel Gulch and Virginia Canyon.
This layout was possible because of the nearly two-thousand-foot difference in elevation between the tunnel entrance in Idaho Springs and the many mines near Central City.
The Argo Tunnel allowed for raw materials to be transported directly to the Argo Mill. This was a more inexpensive system for transport and processing, and the opening of the Argo Tunnel enabled mines that had been dormant to begin operating again.
Part of the Colorado Economy
The Argo Tunnel and Mill remained in use for nearly fifty years. By the end of its operations, the mill had processed one hundred million dollars worth of gold values. More than two million dollars of rich ore had been shipped for smelting in Denver after being drawn out through the Argo Tunnel.
Many jobs were sustained because of the success of the tunnel and mill. It was not until an unfortunate incident in the winter of 1943 did the tunnel close.
An Unfortunate End
In January of that year, several miners were carrying out blasting and drilling near the Kansas Shaft. The pumping out of water had been put on hold in the intersecting tunnels near the Kansas Shaft, as the mine was going to be drained via the Argo Tunnel by the crew conducting blasting.
However, too much water had accumulated in the mine shafts above the Argo Tunnel that day. The hydrostatic pressure grew in intensity, and the ceiling of the tunnel was not able to withstand it. The support wall gave way and the water within the flooded shaft above rushed onto the four miners working in the tunnel, drowning them.
A loaded ore train happened to be making its way out of the Argo Tunnel at the time, supervised by a fifth miner. Upon hearing the roar of the oncoming flood, he reportedly abandoned the ore train and ran. By the time he arrived at the mouth of Argo Tunnel, he was swimming waist-deep in the onslaught of water.
All industry activity at the Argo Tunnel and Mill ceased from there on.
The Argo Tunnel and Mill Today
To this day, water still pours from the tunnel. It must be processed at a nearby treatment plant as sludge containing heavy metals is suspended in the drainage water. However, it is safe to visit the historical site.
Shortly after the water pressure incident, most of the machinery was removed from within the tunnel. You can still take a stroll through the outdoor collection of authentic old mining equipment which showcases a vintage drill press, rock bit grinder and rock crusher, just to name a few.
The Argo Mill also houses a display of many hand and machine drilling tools sure to spark intrigue.
The Argo Mill and Tunnel Tour actually allows you to walk into the Argo Tunnel for several meters, up to the point where a reinforced metal door blocks off the remainder of the tunnel.
You will notice that water is constantly being pumped out past you as you walk the tunnel, perhaps giving you an idea of what it would have been like to work as an Argo crew member. At the end of the tour you will have the opportunity to pan for gold on site.
To see what the Argo Tunnel and Mill are like, you can also take a virtual tour, which includes a view of the inside of the tunnel and the old mill.