Silver Ledge

The Road
The Railroad
Red Mountain City
Congress Mine
Silver Ledge


   Silver Ledge Mine and Mill, San Juan County, Colorado
     Click images with borders below to enlarge, BACK to return here 

     From the deck of the Addie S Cabin, the Silver Ledge mine is located behind and below the base of the trees indicated by the point
        of the red arrow.

     Immediately around the first bend of the road below (south of) the Addie S Cabin and
     Mineral Claim
, are the remaining Silver Ledge mine buildings.  They originally included
     a combined ore and tram house (that had a trestle and carway to the east), two
     bunkhouses, a kitchen/dining room/storage building, a coal house (that had a carway
     to the northwest) that was connected to a power house, and several other out-buildings.

      Patented Mining Claims Plat Map                                                                                        1972 Topo Map


        "The Silver Ledge was located on 1 January 1883 and was patented on December 31, 1887.  Its first shaft was a tunnel 200 feet
        long running north from the junction of Mineral and Porphyry Creeks.  Free gold had been found but its main output was a low-grade
        galena.  The Silver Ledge was the first mine in the US to recover zinc as a marketable product.  By the 1910s, it was one of two mines
        still operating in the Red Mountain Mining District.  By the 50s, the Black Mining Co. had produced 786 tons of ore from the working
        the surface, yielding $14,007.

                                                                                          1904 Topo Map
     March 24, 1883. "The Pilot reports that the richest strike yet made in the new camp was on the 2d, in the Silver Ledge, located in
        February by Bates, Emery, Odenkirk and O'Brien.  An open cut 15 feet and drift 15 feet are reported all in solid material - no walls
        in any direction - the largest ore body the editor ever saw.  He claims that it carries a two foot streak of fine ore, which is pronounced
        brittle silver - a pretty big story, big enough without the last addition [Lake City Silver World].  Yes, Mr. World, we admit that the above
        is a pretty big story, but not as big as the Silver Ledge.  There is really twenty-five feet of solid mineral, and a two foot streak of fine
        steel galena, which carries over 150 ounces in silver, instead of the brittle silver, as it was at first pronouncement.  Come over Bro.
        Olney and we will take you down to the Silver Ledge and there you will see the largest body of mineral in the San Juan."

        In a spring 1883 edition of The Red Mountain Review: "the Silver Ledge [in San Juan County] is still on the front as a mine of
        undoubted value. Through the center of an immense vein of galena there runs an almost pure streak of grey copper averaging 6 inches
        in width."

        Although greater total amounts of silver were deposited in the Silver Ledge pipes, it was not nearly as concentrated as in the
        chimneys that were later discovered. With either high silver prices or extremely cheap transportation, the low-grade ore was
        economical to produce. But, even though the mine was relatively close to Silverton, there was only a pack trail to connect it.
        Transportation was not cheap, and silver prices were not especially high. The Silver Ledge mine was, therefore, only a marginal
        producer at the time

        By July 1888, the Silver Ledge was was being served by the Silverton Railroad which had been built to Red Mountain Pass (known
        as Summit or Sheridan Junction then) by the 22nd of that month.  In 1891, the Silver Ledge caught fire and burned with considerable
        loss, and in November 1889, it closed down for an unknown period.  In the early Fall of 1900, the Silver Ledge was the only mine
        working on the Silverton Railroad.  In 1919, the Silver Ledge mine permanently shut down when its mill burned.

     "The Silver Ledge Mine (in the lower right of the photograph) was located just on the southern side of Red Mountain Pass. The little
        settlement of Chattanooga could be seen in the valley below. It was a steep climb from the valley to the top of the pass, just barely
        passable by the Silverton Railroad when the famous Chattanooga loop was built in 1888. Bear Mountain was visible in the upper
        left-hand corner of the photograph. It was named for the image (formed by the trees) of a bear holding a honeycomb in its paws.
        The Silver Ledge Mine was discovered in 1878.   It took a while before its owners realized that it carried a very rich silver ore. In 1883,
        when the Red Mountain District was just coming into prominence, the Silver Ledge took the lead over all other local mines.
        Unfortunately,  its ore contained a lot of zinc which was hard to process at the smelters. So the Silver Ledge was almost forgotten
        for a decade. It did well during the 1880s but the other Red Mountain mines did much better. It was about 1890, at the end of the
        Red Mountain Mining District's heyday, that the Silver Ledge came back into prominence. Then, in 1892, the shaft house caught fire,
        igniting forty pounds of dynamite in the nearby powder house and blowing most of the mine's surface buildings into small pieces.
        The Silver Ledge again rebounded, this time building a mill in the Chattanooga Valley that could, for the first time anywhere, process
        zinc ore economically. The mine continued to operate until its mill was totally destroyed by fire in 1919."

     Date unknown.  Note the mine adit near the center
        bottom, just above Mineral Creek, on the side
        opposite the mine ore/tram building.

     Early 1900s.  

     Silver Ledge Mine, 1997

     Looking south from the highway.  Tram cables carried ore from the mine down to the mill (concentrator) located at Chattanooga
       (immediately below where the road bends and disappears in the upper-middle of the photographs).

     Looking north east from the highway  

     Combined ore/tram way house

     Looking east from the highway

     Silver Ledge Mill (Concentrator) at Chattanooga

     December 1, 1899.  

      This 1910 photo of the Silver Ledge Mill (Concentrator) at Chattanooga.  The main line of the Silverton Railroad passed in front of
        the mill. It circled around the Chattanooga Loop (to the left) and then climbed the mountainside above the mill.  The Silver Ledge
        mine is around the bend on that route to the north.  The townsite of Chattanooga is behind the photographer.  In July 1902, a
        two-track siding and a kite track had been installed by the Silverton Railroad for the Silver Ledge.  In 1904, the Silver Ledge Mill
        successfully separated zinc from the Red Mountain ore.  It was a solution to an age-old problem, but it came too late for most
        of the Red Mountain mines.  The Silver Ledge continued to operate off and on and even had a post office from September 6,
        1904, to March 30, 1905.  In 1919, the mill burned down, eliminating the only local milling facility designed to process the Red
        Mountain District ore.

         "At the extreme southern end of the Red Mountain Mining Dstrict, in the thriving settlement of Chattanooga, work was started
         August 7, 1883, on the foundation of the Mineral Creek Concentrating and Sampling Company's thirty-ton concentrator. The mill
         building was a large structure-forty-two feet by fifty-four and a half feet that used a thirty-two-inch turbine waterwheel for power.
         The mill contained a Blake crusher, two sets of Cornish rolls, and four jig and slime tables. The owners announced that ore that
         contained as little as ten ounces of silver and ten percent lead could be milled by them at a profit. By November, the
         concentrating mill was complete but, unfortunately, could not begin to operate. Its machinery was driven by water power and
         couldn't be activated because the cold winter temperatures had frozen the nearby stream.

         "The purpose of the Chattanooga mill wasn't to extract precious metals from the ore. Refining the Red Mountain silver from the
         local ore wasn't a simple matter because many of the ores were complex and could not be treated with ordinary refining methods.
         A partial and relatively inexpensive solution to the problem was the concentrating mill like that at Chattanooga. The mill simply
         rid the ore of most of the waste rock, thereby concentrating the minerals for shipment. A smelter, on the other hand, used heat
         to try to refine the rich minerals from the ore. At the time of the Red Mountain discoveries, the early smelters in nearby Silverton
         or Ouray were small lead-based operations. Since most of the Red Mountain ore was copper-based, shipments quite often had
         to be sent over long distances to get to the proper smelters.
         "Whether lead - or copper- oriented, none of the small 1880s smelters or concentrating mills were particularly efficient. Most
         smelting processes were just beginning to be perfected at the time, and a lot of trial and error went into any operation. A
         process that could capture seventy or eighty percent of the rich minerals was considered to be extremely satisfactory, and
         better results could usually be obtained only at the big smelters at Pueblo or Denver. This meant that twenty to thirty percent
         of the gold and silver was being lost in the milling process. This loss, and the high transportation costs to Denver and Pueblo,
         were the greatest expenses of the Red Mountain mine owner. The cost of getting the ore out of the ground was actually one of
         the lesser expenses."1.


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