Present day Idaho Springs is located in Clear Creek County in Colorado. It is the largest town in the county, founded in 1859 when rich silver and gold veins were discovered.
In 1859, the history of Idaho Springs as we know it started with the Colorado Gold Rush. While exploring the area west of Georgia, Colorado, George Andrew saw what looked like a cloud of mist. Thinking it was an Indian camp, he proceeded with caution. It turned out to be natural hot springs.
The next day, he went farther west and while camping between Clear Creek and Chicago Creek. George panned $9 worth of gold with his coffee cup. He marked the area before leaving in the morning. He tried to keep the discovery secret, but when he paid for supplies using gold dust, rumors began to leak out that he was finding gold somewhere in the area.
In April 1859, George returned to the site with a team of men from Chicago Mining Company. Within one week, they had discovered about $1900 of gold (which was only about $19 per ounce at the time.) Mining started almost immediately and by June 1859, the area was formally organized.
It became the first mining district to be named in Colorado.
Word of the discovery soon spread to neighboring towns. This prompted the famous Rocky Mountain Gold Rush where tens of thousands of prospective miners flooded to Clear Creek Canyon in the hopes of finding fold. With this influx, the camp soon grew to become a city by 1873. During this transition, the city was given various names including Jackson’s Diggings, Sacramento City, Idahoe, Idaho City, and eventually Idaho Springs.
The ore was in plenty and rested deep in the mountains. This was a good thing for the longevity of the district, but it created challenges with the extraction of ore. As the miners tunneled deeper into the mountains, flooding into the shafts would prevent them from accessing the veins.
The pumps were not working effectively at depth, and plans to build a tunnel to drain water were made.
Construction of the Argo Tunnel began in 1893 and ended 1910. At the time of completion, it was the longest tunnel in the world and served all major gold mines. It also provided logistics needed to transport loaded ore cars to Argo Mill. It was over 4 miles long.
Argo Mill began its operations in 1913 and at the time, it was the most modernized in the world. Nicknamed “Mighty Argo,” the mill processed about 300 tons of gold daily. There were minor challenges especially during the Colorado Labor Wars. Other than that, operations were productive and the mill produced millions in gold until 1943 when tragedy struck. Miners blasted into a water filled tunnel, killing 4 of miners.
Also Read: Gold in Colorado
Not long after that, the start of World War II saw the closure of most precious metals mines in the U.S., which effectively ended most of the hard rock mining around Idaho Springs.
Today, the city of Idaho Springs is a hub for tourists. Argo Gold Mine and Mill is open for tours by visitors. A heritage centre in town was also built where tourists can learn about the city’s mining history.