The Leadville mining district is located in Lake County, around the town of Leadville. Although Leadville’s current population is around only 2,600 people, it has experienced past population explosions into the tens of thousands during boom times. The town of Leadville was founded in 1877 by mine owners Horace Austin Warner Tabor and August Meyer. Mines at Leadville have produced gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc and manganese. California Gulch placers were some of the richest gold discoveries in the district along with the Printer Boy gold lode. While mining for gold in nearby Oro City (now incorporated), heavy sands — formerly a nuisance to gold placer mining operations — were discovered to be silver-bearing cerussite. In about 1875, these sands were traced back to their origin at Leadville and a silver boom started. This marked the beginning of Leadville’s most productive mining period, which subsequently declined after the collapse of the silver market in 1893. Zinc was the main product from 1903 until the 1920s. The Black Cloud Mine was the last operational mine in the district.
The distinguished American geologist Samuel Franklin Emmons (1841 – 1911) played an important role in the history of the Leadville mining district. In 1879, Emmons became the first geologist in charge of the Denver based Rocky Mountain division of the United States Geological Survey, which had only just been formed. His first task was to determine the mineral wealth of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The work “Atlas: Geology and Mining Industry of Leadville, Colorado” was ordered by Clarence King, the first Director of the United States Geological Survey, in 1879. It was King’s intention that it should form part of a series of monographs which would in time include all the important mining districts of the country, and thus furnish an accurate and permanent record of the manner of occurrence and geological relation of the metallic deposits of the United States, as well as a report of all substantial improvement in the methods of obtaining the metals from their ores. Emmons, assigned this task by King, set to work on what became the ground breaking geologic atlas and a later monograph (1886) of the Leadville mining district. The resulting documents set a new standard in economic geologic publications with their painstakingly detailed presentation of geologic information.
The full 1883 text and atlas (PDF download — note, large file! — 591 Mb)
1886 monograph (PDF download, 49 Mb)
1912 Emmons’ Biography (PDF download, 1.5 Mb)
Below: Notable topographical features in the Leadville mining district.
Notable mines in the Leadville mining district:
- Adelaide Mine
- Carbonate Mine
- Shamrock Mine
- Irene Mine
- Little Pittsburgh Mine
- A.Y. Minnie Mine
- Crescent Mine
- Evening Star Mine
- Matchless Mine
- Union Mine
- Highland Chief Mine
- Chrysolite Mine
- Black Cloud Mine