Congress Mine

The Road
The Railroad
Red Mountain City
Congress Mine
Silver Ledge


   Congress Mine, San Juan County, Colorado
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     The Congress mine was located at an elevation of 11,400 feet just south of the Ouray-San Juan County line.

      Patented Mining Claims Plat Map                                                                       1972 Topo Map

                                                                                        1904 Topo Map

     The Congress, Carbon Lake and Salem mining claims overlap.  After their initial locations in 1881, their operations were
      consolidated (together with the St. Paul and Senate) into one operation subsequently referred to as the "Congress".

      Believed to be Congress Mine - date unknown                                     Congress 1998. Arrow: Carbon Lake Mining Marker

     1998 looking west over Salem to Congress                        

     Looking north over Salem.  Note in photo on left, date unknown, there does not appear to be a second
        building beyond dining and lodging building on the right, as appears in the photo below. Photo on right
        taken in 1998.

     Salem mine, date unknown but believed to be around 1885, was part of the Congress complex. The
        "Congress" continued to ship ore as late as 1918. Note tall stove pipe on roof of building on far left in left
        photo above.  This building was probably newer than the dining/lodging building, far right in back.  It does
        not appear in the much earlier photo above it.

       1998 Salem                                                                                       1998 Salem two-story dining and lodging building

     1987 looking south at remaining Salem buildings                               1998 looking south at remaining Salem buildings      

     2001 looking west from Salem                                                                  2001 looking west from Salem at Congress  

       2001  looking west at Congress                                                                    2001 looking west at Congress

     2001 looking west over Salem at Congress                                                   2001 looking west over Salem at Congress 

     2001 looking west from Salem                                                                 2001 looking east at Salem lodging/dining building
                                                                                                                       rom Salem mine

        "In 1881, due to extensive prospecting activity in the area, the Red Mountain Mining District was officially formed. A significant
        number of patented claims would now be governed by their owners' own rules and regulations. It was also recognition that the
        district contained a large amount of mineralization. Although its exact geographic boundaries were never defined, the district has
        always included much more territory than just the Red Mountains proper-usually including McMillan Peak (12,804 feet), Trico
        Peak (13,321 feet), Telluride Peak (13,508 feet), and the long ridges down each side of Ironton Peak (Hayden Mountain on the
        west and Brown Mountain on the east). Later, the district was often extended south to the base of Red Mountain Divide at
        Chattanooga. However, it was just as often defined as ending at the Ouray-San Juan county line. A few mining men extended
        the Red Mountain district to cover the eastern Red Mountain slopes that drain into Cement Creek. But to most geologists, the
        Red Mountain district was defined as extending from Ironton Park on the north to Chattanooga on the south, and east and west
        to the ridge lines of the neighboring mountains -an area about eight miles long and not quite that wide.

        "Because of the severity of the winters, the inaccessibility of the location, and the lack of adequate roads or trails, the
        prospectors continued to flow slowly into the Red Mountain country. In San Juan County, J. G. Haines, Adams, and Craves
        located the Congress Mine in July 1881. History would only later prove it to be one of the great mines of the district. That
        summer, the men at the Congress sank a shaft some thirty-five feet deep, and the entire seven-by-nine-foot hole was found to be
        solid in minerals. Unfortunately, the owners of the Congress were unfamiliar with the character of the low-grade copper and silver
        ore and didn't realize that it also contained a fair amount of gold. As was common at the time, they assayed the ore for silver
        alone and believing it to be only low-grade, they discontinued work for the rest of the year. Although gold wasn't present in
        sizeable quantities, if it had been detected, the ore would have been found to be worth shipping. The Senate, Salem, St. Paul,
        and Carbon Lake claims were also located in the summer of 1881, and they eventually came to be worked with the Congress
        as a recognized mining group located on the southern slopes of Red Mountain No. 3. But they, too, caused no great excitement.
        As far as their owners were aware, their group was basically composed of low-grade ores.

        "In August 1881, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad had reached Durango and construction had immediately continued due
        north toward Silverton. The arrival of the railroad at Silverton in the summer of 1882 meant that some of the lower-grade ore, which
        had been piling up on the Red Mountain dumps, could be shipped inexpensively to the smelters and mills. Perhaps the freight
        charges would be low enough for the mines to make a profit, even with the moderate silver prices of the time.

        "The first real excitement of the summer of 1882 came when tests done in June showed that the Congress ore was, in fact,
        valuable enough to ship. Two men were hired to continually work its main shaft, which they quickly deepened to fifty feet through
        a solid, although low-grade, ore.

        "With the prospect of relatively cheap transportation imminent, some of the Red Mountain ore seemed to have economic value.
        By July 1882, the Congress Mine had been sold for twenty-one thousand dollars and then was sold again to Silverton parties.
        Drifts were run out from the main Congress shaft, and the new owners learned that what had previously been thought to be low-
        grade ore was, in fact, a richer copper ore that contained from one-half to two ounces of gold and up to fifty ounces of silver per
        ton. The Congress's main shaft was immediately deepened to eighty feet, but at that point the workers hit foul air, making it
        necessary for them to stop work until additional machinery could be brought to the site and a tunnel driven into the side of the
        shaft to improve the ventilation. The Congress ore realized a little more than sixty dollars per ton in Silverton, which made it
        profitable to work, but with the high transportation costs from Red Mountain, the Congress still fell far short of being considered
        a bonanza.

        "One of the biggest events in the history of San Juan mining was the arrival of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in Silverton
        on July 8, 1882. The railroad's shipping rate from Silverton to the smelters in Pueblo was only twelve dollars per ton. Most of the
        Red Mountain ore appeared to be low-grade, and the apparent location of the majority of the ore was on the Silverton side of
        Red Mountain Pass. Silverton seemed to be the town that would supply the Red Mountain Mining District. However, unforeseen
        events were about to occur that would change forever the attitude of mining men toward what looked like an extensive but
        unimpressive supply of low-grade ore at Red Mountain.

        "In September 1882, the owners of the Hudson were confident enough of their future that they built living quarters near the mine
        so that their miners could work all winter. In that same month, the Congress Mine shipped ore that now assayed at eighty to
        one hundred dollars per ton and that on occasion contained ore that ran sixty percent copper, three and one-half ounces of gold,
        and eighty ounces of silver. Every time the ore of the Congress Mine was assayed, it contained ever larger and richer amounts
        of copper ore. An eighteen-foot-wide deposit of its rich ore had been exposed, and a shaft, drifts, and crosscuts were being
        driven. The Congress became the first of the Red Mountain mines to start making regular daily shipments of ore, each and every
        day sending to Silverton about five tons of ore that by late summer contained a steady value of about one hundred dollars per ton.
        "Back in the midsummer of 1882, Red Mountain's worth had hardly even been recognized. By October, only sixty days after the
        big discoveries, it was obvious that the region would become one of the major mining districts in the San Juans- perhaps in the
        entire United States. By November, the La Plata Miner pronounced the Red Mountain Mining District "officially open" and
        predicted a half-million dollars in ore would be produced during the winter of 1882-1883. In December, the same paper
        acknowledged that "people are in a habit of making a most liberal allowance for exaggerated newspaper reports as well as any
        verbal reports which come to them in reference to the mineral wealth of a country. The Red Mountain district has not been
        exaggerated, nor has it been puffed to the extent which its merits warrant.

        "South of the divide, the Congress temporarily stopped shipping ore because of the problems connected with freighting in the
        winter. It did, however, continue to do development work, operations needed to make it easier to mine the ore but that didn't
        produce ore. In this case the development work was a tunnel that, it was hoped, would solve many problems. This "adit" would
        drain water from the original vertical shaft, provide better ventilation throughout the mine, and make it easier to get the ore out.
        The Senate, St. Paul, Carbon Lake, and Salem claims were all now worked in connection with the Congress. In October,
        the Hudson Mine came into prominence only two thousand feet north of the Congress but on the other side of the divide. Its
        owners had developed a forty-six-foot shaft that produced ore that averaged thirty-two percent copper, twenty-nine ounces of
        silver, and half an ounce of gold per ton. The Hudson was one of the first of the Red Mountain mines to make the decision to
        stockpile ore during the harsh winter and ship only in the summer. The move was a wise one, because it saved up to seven
        dollars per ton in shipping costs.

        "In December 1882, the Salem became the first of the Red Mountain mines to actually shut down because of water flooding
        its shaft. Nonetheless, by the second week of January 1883, a force pump had been brought in by sled through the deep snow,
        and the mine was put into operation again.

        "Soon the Congress Mine was also reported as having trouble with water seepage. The owners ordered a pump that was four
        times larger than their first one, which had itself only been put into operation a few months before. The problem that was to
        plague most Red Mountain mines was becoming apparent. Their shafts followed the rich ore chimneys straight down into the
        earth-there was no way for the water to naturally flow from the workings. This necessitated the use of huge boilers that
        produced steam to activate the large pumps used to get the water out of the shafts. The boilers used massive amounts of wood
        and coal, which had to be brought in over large distances. All of this was expensive, and the operation got even more costly as
        the shaft got deeper. Nevertheless, the owners of the Congress were optimistic, and the mine was soon back in operation.
        It continued to produce two and a half tons of valuable galena ore each day.

        "In February, the Congress, the Salem, and Carbon Lake became the first Red Mountain mines to apply for their patents,
        which officially transferred ownership of the mine from the United States to the new owners. The next month, the Silver Crown
        Mine was proclaimed to be developing "an immense body of mineral," and the owners of the nearby Silver Ledge Mine
        announced that they had discovered one of the largest bodies of ore yet. Meanwhile, because of the problems they had with
        winter production, even the Yankee Girl was forced to reduce its work force to two men. Even so, the mine had already
        produced and shipped galena ore containing 32,000 ounces of silver and 408,000 pounds of lead.

        "The activity in those mines that did continue during the winter of 1882-1883 was remarkable because, in light of the harsh
        and bitter conditions, most Red Mountain mines couldn't produce or ship any ore at all. It was simply too hard to work in the
        deep snow, too hard to transport the ore out or to ship in supplies. Only the local newspapers didn't seem to be affected by
        the deep snow. Their articles became more and more glorious as they reported the mineral wonders of the Red Mountain
        region. Especially vocal were the Red Mountain Review at Red Mountain Town and The Red Mountain Pilot at Red Mountain
        City. The papers on the Ouray side of the divide announced that "the Hudson is visited daily by many people who come away
        astonished at its richness and the amount of ore in sight. The Silverton press boasted that "the Congress ... is one of the
        wonders of Red Mountain and with the coming season will develop into one of the richest mines of Colorado ... Recent
        developments have proven that the ore increases in richness and quantity as the shafts are extended, a fact that, as a natural
        consequence, greatly enhanced the value of the Congress, and one, too, that will continue to increase its intrinsic worth." It
        was reported that the Congress ore needed no sorting and was shipped just as fast as it came out of the shaft. However,
        despite the glowing reports of the Red Mountain newspapers, the actual statistics reveal that at the time the stories were
        printed, the Congress had only shipped ore worth $15,674.40, and the Hudson Mine hadn't done any better.

        "Although it was difficult to work in the winter, development resumed quickly at all of the mines as the first signs of spring
        appeared in 1883. By late April, the Congress's drainage tunnel had intersected its shaft, but the tunnel was now eight feet
        higher than the bottom of the eighty-foot-deep shaft, since work had also continued there. It was reported that the adit went
        through solid ore the last eight feet before it hit the shaft, which indicated that the ore body could be twenty to thirty feet wide.
        Its ore contained about twenty to thirty ounces of silver, three-eighths to one and one-half ounces of gold, and was at least
        twenty-five percent copper-an average value of one hundred dollars per ton.

        "Even at the Salem Mine, near Congress (its thirty-foot shaft was discouraging in production and its forty-foot tunnel wasn't
        much better), a workman who was shoveling what was thought to be plain dirt discovered a small vein of copper ore near the
        main shaft. Although limited in quantity, selected portions of this ore were reported to contain twenty-five ounces of gold and
        two thousand ounces of silver.

        "During the summer and fall of 1883, the Congress worked fifteen men and shipped about twenty tons of rich ore daily. Enough
        activity was going on in the Red Mountain district that by September the Red Mountain Review could boast that "Red Mountain
        already has forty producing mines and prospects, fifteen of them shipping. How's that for a camp scarcely one year old. Oh!
        we're a gitten thar.  In the summer of 1883, the Congress Mine sent a large pack train daily to Silverton via Del Mino.

        "Once again the newspapers let their optimism get the best of them. Only a month later it was obvious that, because of adverse
        weather conditions, the Red Mountain mines would have to shut down or at least severely curtail production for the winter. The
        Senate announced it would buck the trend and attempt to work three men all winter. The Hudson stopped mining but made the
        decision to continue to ship its stockpiled ore for as long as possible into the winter. The owners of the Congress concentrated
        on bringing in lumber and timber to be used later to build additions to its boardinghouse and to construct ore sheds and a new
        hoisting apparatus. In an attempt to get ahead of the winter snows, the Congress shipped 850 tons of ore in August and

        "Even in the face of all the mines shutting down for the winter, the Red Mountain Review still optimistically proclaimed that
        certain Iowa and Nebraska capitalists who had visited Red Mountain that fall had returned home to gather five million dollars to
        develop various Red Mountain claims the next spring.  All together, it was estimated that the Red Mountain mines produced
        fifty-five hundred tons of very rich ore in August and September alone. In its wrap-up for the year 1883, Ouray's Solid Muldoon
        figured that the Yankee Girl had shipped 3,000 tons of ore worth $450,000; the National Belle 980 tons worth $69,600; and the
        Congress 2,500 tons worth $220,000.

        "In October 1883 spur road to the Congress Mine from Mearís road was completed and in the fall of 1883, the owners of the
        Congress Mine finished their rough road to a point just outside of Chattanooga and announced that during the winter they
        hoped to sled ore all the way to Silverton.

        "In retrospect, it is easy to discern that the great Red Mountain strikes were made at an incredibly bad time in mining history.
        For hundreds of years, the secret to mining success seemed simple-find the ore, dig it out, and, if it is valuable enough, send it
        on to the smelters. But during the 1880s the economics of mining changed radically, and to complicate matters further, many
        unique production problems cropped up in the Red Mountain Mining District.  At the beginning of 1884, the Red Mountain
        economy was sound enough that the number of men working in the mines had begun to grow dramatically. Development work
        was being done as rapidly as possible, and ore of all types and values seemed to be everywhere. For example, in January 1884,
        the Congress Mine hit a high-grade ore in one of the few volcanic pipes on the south side of the divide. A tunnel was driven to
        connect with the mine's main shaft, and the workers hit good ore while still twenty feet away. The tunnel had therefore provided
        ventilation, drainage, and, best of all, given an indication of a large ore body in the mine

        "All told, the Red Mountain Mining District from 1871 to 1900 produced at least fifteen million dollars in ore -some authorities
        would claim a figure as high as thirty-five million dollars. Later operations (mainly during and after World War 11) added many
        more millions to that total. At today's metal prices the total output of the district would come dose to a quarter of a billion dollars.
        Many of the Red Mountain mine owners couldn't believe the end had come. They attempted to keep producing- even at a loss if
        necessary. Other mines hit rich pockets of silver ore that allowed production to continue for short periods of time. Some
        operations were kept alive by mining small amounts of gold that had always been in the ore but that had been ignored until this
        time (at one time a find of less than one ounce of gold was not even paid for by the mills). Gold actually began to appear in
        greater amounts in the deeper Red Mountain ores, although it certainly was not plentiful. Some Red Mountain mines struck other
        minerals, such as fluorspar, that allowed profitable short-term production. Base metals such as copper, zinc, and lead
        experienced an increase in price due to an expanding American industrial economy. Whole new markets opened up a demand
        for metals such as copper for use in electric wire and lead for automobile batteries. All metals were recovered more efficiently in
        the twentieth century, when better milling and smelting procedures were developed.

        "Even though the year 1898 brought a rise in metal prices (and by July 1898 the Congress and the Silver Bell regularly shipped
        a wagon full of ore to Red Mountain Town each day to be loaded on the train), the glory days were over for the Red Mountain
        Mining District. A strike at the Durango smelter in late 1898 completely shut down the few mines that had remained open. On
        November 16, 1898, the Guston post office was closed. The winter of 1898-1899 was especially harsh; the January 6, 1899
        Silverton Plaindealer reported five feet of snow on the ground at Red Mountain Town. Only ten men and two women lived in
        "The Town" that winter, and only nine families were at Ironton. At the turn of the century only the Silver Ledge, Congress, and
        Silver Bell were being worked, and they would not have been in operation if it hadn't been for the recent discovery of small
        pockets of rich ores in them. The 1900 census gave Ironton a population of seventy-one in the summer, but it was just too much
        hassle for most families to try to spend all winter on the Red Mountain Divide.

        "For ten years, work continued on the joker Tunnel at a constant but slow pace; the ore shrunk in both quality and quantity at
        the bottoms of the old mines. Originally, the tunnel was to run all the way to the workings of the National Belle, Hudson, and
        Congress, but it never got past the Genessee. The tunnel eventually saw periods of disuse and occasional activity into the
        1940s.  Even though it was near the joker Tunnel, Ironton's population fell to forty-eight in 1910. Red Mountain Town dwindled
        to twenty-six inhabitants, and on February 28, 1913 its post office closed. After the joker Tunnel closed in 1914, the Silver
and Congress were the only major Red Mountain mines that continued to operate. The Congress shipped about one
        hundred carloads of low-grade ore each year from 1912 to 1918. Zinc, copper, lead, and other base metals were in great
        demand during World War I, and a few of the Red Mountain mines made small shipments during that period. The Silverton
        Railroad continued to operate at a loss. its deficit in 1917 alone was over twenty-five thousand dollars.

        "In 1919, the Silver Ledge Mine shut down when its mill burned, eliminating the only local milling facilities designed to process
        the Red Mountain districts ore. Ironton was the last active town in the district. Its post office dosed on August 7, 1920, but
        Ironton continued to have a saloon even after that time. The old way of life had changed forever. It was too easy for miners to
        live in Ouray or Silverton and commute to Red Mountain. New roads, electricity, and telephones had all helped bring the
        transformation. In 1921, regular operations ceased on the Silverton Railroad, and on June 17, 1922, a hearing was held before
        the Interstate Commerce Commission to determine if the Silverton Railroad could be abandoned. Although attorneys for the
        mines and the town of Silverton all protested vehemently, the ICC allowed the request." 1


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