Way We Were: Park City’s Fragile Mining History

The Spiro Tunnel machine shop under preservation and renovation construction, ca. 2005-2006. The building was converted into commercial space for the Sundance Institute and is still commercial space today. Photo credit: Park City Historical Society & Museum.
Spiro tunnel machine shop

Mining in Park City began in earnest in the 1870s, and by 1903 the land around Park City contained more than 80 major mine openings (shafts or tunnels), as mapped by the U.S. Geological Survey ( John Mason Boutwell, 1912).

At each of these mine openings there were a variety of structures to support mining operations, including shaft headframes, lift and compression houses, warehouses, maintenance shops, offices and living quarters. for mine workers.

The larger mines also included large buildings for mills and trams. Photographs from the day show smaller operations with just a few structures to large complexes like the Daly West and Silver King Coalition mines with up to 20 separate structures at each mine.

But visit these same sites today and you may see little evidence of these structures, such as their concrete foundations.

The most common reason most of these mining structures have disappeared is that they were torn down by their owners when they were no longer needed or worth the cost of maintaining them. A few of the old mining facilities have been redeveloped and still exist today. For example, the Spiro Tunnel and the Thaynes Shaft were redeveloped in the early 1960s for the “Skiers’ Underground” ski lift.

Three of the district’s main mine drainage tunnels are still maintained today as water sources. The former Spiro tunnel machine shop is also currently maintained as a commercial space. One of the former guesthouses of the Silver King Coalition mining complex has been moved to become the current Mid Mountain Lodge at PCMR.

Another culprit for the loss of structures is the harsh winters in the Wasatch Back. Previously heated in winter, once operations were completed and buildings cooled, winter snow accumulated on roofs and against walls, eventually leading to severe damage or cave-ins.

There are many examples of old mining buildings suffering from these types of damage, including the remaining Thaynes and Silver King buildings.

Every year more and more of the metal roofs and walls of these buildings are collapsing. So was the roof of the Judge Mine & Smelter Company building in the Lower Empire Canyon. Although the walls of this building were constructed of durable concrete, the roof and roof trusses were failing until the Empire Pass Master Owners Association stepped in to repair the roof a few years ago.

Another reason for the disappearance of old mining structures is fire, as many important mining structures around Park City were built of wood. Each mining complex included several sources of fire water and hydrants for emergencies, but it was difficult to control once a major fire had broken out.

Almost the entire surface mill of the Daly West mine and mill burned down in December 1913 and was replaced by steel structures the following year. The recently raised Daly West headframe dates from this reconstruction.

Ironically, the only wooden structures remaining at the former Daly West mine site are three small sheds that housed fire hydrants. Another major fire occurred in 1920 when the Silver King Coalition factory burned down and was entirely replaced by the present but decaying steel structure in 1921.

There have been other notable mining facility fires, but perhaps the most famous example of a local fire is the destruction of the Silver King Coalition Building in 1981. It was the iconic terminal of the Silver Aerial Tram King Coalition which was near the current site of the Municipal Elevator Base.

Physical evidence of Park City’s rich mining history is sparse, and the few remaining structures are in jeopardy for the above reasons (among others, including vandalism and the collapse of the underground shaft).

The Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History, a committee of the Park City Museum, carries out the important mission of stabilizing the few remaining historic mining structures in the hills of Park City. Learn more about their mission and accomplishments to date at parkcityhistory.org/mining/.

The Park City Museum and Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History are hosting an in-person lecture entitled “Park City and Kennecott—Post-Mining Land Use at Two Historic Sites in Utah” given by Donovan Symonds, Amy J. Richins, and Michael G Nelson on Wednesday October 5 from 5-6 p.m. in their Education and Collections building at 2079 Sidewinder Drive. register here.