TUNNEL SAFETY INFORMATION: For the safety and protection of our young visitors PLEASE NOTE: All children under 40″ tall must be accompanied by an adult holding their hand or carrying them through the tunnel during all visits to the ARGO TUNNEL.
2017 marks the 124th birthday of the ARGO TUNNEL, once known as the Newhouse Tunnel. The ARGO, 4.16 miles long as it bores into the mountain and continues to Central City, got its start 17 years after Colorado became a state. It was begun with $100,000 and 3 directors: Samuel Newhouse, Ansel Newhouse and Charles Parsons. “The object of the corporation is to run a line of railroad west from Denver, through tunnels and over the range to the coast”, according to a story in the February 10, 1893 issue of the Idaho Springs News. A few months later, the purpose of the tunnel was narrowed to that of serving as an outlet for ore from mines that would connect to it and be a drainage system since the areas’ mines had to be continuously pumped because of the large amounts of water in them. Samuel Newhouse was the man behind the Newhouse Tunnel. He came to Colorado with the Leadville boom in 1879 when he was 25.
While there, he met and married Ida Stingley in 1882. They went to work at a hotel in Ouray. One of their guests, a wealthy Englishman, became sick. Mrs. Newhouse nursed the man back to health and the man later provided the connection that would help Newhouse build the Newhouse Tunnel, create the Denver, Golden & Lakewood Railroad, which serviced the mine and invest in other mining ventures.
Work on the tunnel continued steadily until 1898 when the first of what was to become many shutdowns occurred. But the shutdown was not due to any loss of reputation for the mine, but rather due to the war between England and Spain. Work was underway again by March 1899 when English financial backing was resumed. A few months later, Louis Hanchett was hired at the insistence of the Duke of York, one of the tunnel’s major investors, to manage the mine. Things went smoothly under Hanchett’s management until March of 1902 when the mine was shut down again – this time voluntarily. The problem was that many owners of mines connecting to ARGO TUNNEL were refusing to sign contracts, since it appeared that all they would have to do was wait, and they would get the benefit of the tunnel drainage in any case. It wasn’t long before rumors of an impending contract began circulating through the mining community. But it wasn’t until early 1903 that everything was smoothed over and work resumed.
Work on the tunnel continued and progress was steady until 1910. It stopped then for one reason and one reason only – it had reached its destination of Central City! With the tunnel’s completion, the focus turned to the milling of and transportation of the greater quantities of ore expected to move through the tunnel. By 1914, the ARGO TUNNEL was running at full capacity under the management of R.E.Schirmer. But it didn’t last long. The ARGO TUNNEL closed in the following decade. In 1938, the tunnel was reopened by a mining engineer, George E. Collins. Few problems were experienced under his leadership until the disastrous flood of 1943.
Four men – Claude Alberts, Charles Bennetts, Sam Mathress and Louis Hamilton died when a powder blast released an underground body of water into the tunnel. “William Bennetts, brother of one of the miners, started into the tunnel on an electric tram after the blast,” reported in a story on Jan. 19th in the Denver Post. “He reported that when he had gone about a mile and a half, all power stopped”. He had thought a breakdown had occurred at the power plant. In reality, it was the flood breaking through the tunnel. The ARGO TUNNEL closed soon after and, although there have been attempts to reopen the entire length, they have not been successful. Today, the ARGO MILL & TUNNEL is open as a tourist attraction where visitors can get a glimpse of Idaho Springs mining history.