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Travel Back into the Heart of the Colorado Gold Rush

See History for Yourself

Gaze into the past and see captivating photos of the generations that came before us. The Argo is fortunate to have extensive archives of the Colorado Gold Rush and is thrilled to share it with our guests. Learn more about its history and significance, or book a tour to see it for yourself.

Argo Mill

Mine and Mill Equipment

Railroad and Drilling

Argo Tunnel

Idaho Springs


Name: Argo Tunnel surface plant
Date: Circa 1900
Phase: Tunnel operations prior to Argo Mill Construction
Notes:  The two smokestack structures are the GEM Company coal fired electric power plant that served the Argo and the City of Idaho Springs.  The larger building above the left of the stacks was the blacksmith and machine shop.  Other structures included locomotive and car shops, miner’s change house, stables, coal and wood storage, assay lab, and offices.  A timber yard was to the left of the image.  The cribbing structure contained ore bins for mills and smelters in Idaho Springs or the Denver area.

Name: Abandoned and vandalized Argo Mill
Date:  1960 – 1976
Phase:  Prior to Jim Maxwell’s purchase
Notes:  Lean-to shed on left housed bags of high value ore concentrates bound for Denver smelters or the U.S Mint via the Colorado Southern Railroad.  The lean-to shed on the right is the coal bunker for the mill boiler.

Name: Abandoned Argo Mill and ore bins
Date: 1976
Phase: New owner Jim Maxwell
Notes: Roof repairs are visible on the badly deteriorated mill structure. Two large timber braces are preventing imminent collapse of the ore bin onto the old Colorado and Southern’s right of way (now Riverside Drive). The never-ending flow of water from the Argo Tunnel is just to the right of the ore bin cribbing.

Name: Abandoned waste rock dump east of the Argo Mill
Date: Circa 1960
Phase: Maxwell era
Notes: The old Colorado and Southern right of way has yet to be converted into a city street. The ore bin cribbing is still relatively sound despite its appearance.

Name: Abandoned waste rock dump east of the Argo Mill
Date: Circa 1960
Phase: Maxwell era
Notes: The old Colorado and Southern right of way has yet to be converted into a city street. The ore bin cribbing is still relatively sound despite its appearance.

Name: The Argo Mill
Date: Circa 1970
Phase: prior to Maxwell purchase
Notes: The mill just a few years before purchase by James Maxwell and a new era of stabilization and restoration. The advanced decay and collapse of various additions to the main structure are testament to ravages of time and neglect.

Name: Argo Mill early restoration and public activity
Date: 1978
Phase: Maxwell era
Notes: Window coverings are partly installed, and a new sign makes a prominent display on the top level. Drilling and mucking contests were events at the Annual “Gold Rush Days” Celebration in Idaho Springs

Name: Argo Mill backdrop to a picnic in the park
Date: Circa 1955

Name: Argo Mill: signs of life
Date: 1977
Notes: The earliest evidence of a new era. The Maxwell years that saved the mill from total destruction.

Name: The Argo, backdrop for the evolving Courtney Ryley Cooper Park
Date: 1977
Notes: Courtney Ryley Cooper Park was named after a popular early American writer and part time Idaho Springs resident. The foreground log structure is the Chamber of Commerce building and the City Visitor Center. The statue to the right of the building is the World War II comic strip character Steve Canyon. The author and illustrator was Milton Caniff a summer resident of Idaho Springs. He also created the comic strip Terry and the Pirates.

Name: Family panning for gold in Clear Creek
Date: Circa 1960’s
Notes: Argo Mill is in the background. Looks like a For Sale sign on the mill.

Name: Jim Maxwell, new Argo owner
Date: 1976
Notes: The earliest days of the Maxwell ownership illustrating one small section of the massive restoration project.

Name: Argo Mill
Date: Circa 1944
Notes: The very beginning of the over 30-yearabandonment chapter. The windows would not survive very long.

Name: The Argo, backdrop for evolving Courtney Ryley Cooper Park #2. (Duplicate of #9)
Date: 1977
Notes: Courtney Ryley Cooper Park with Argo Mill in background. Cooper was a writer residing part time in Idaho Springs. The foreground log structure is the Chamber of Commerce and the City Visitor Center. The statue is a World War II comic strip character Steve Canyon created by Milton Caniff. He was an author and illustrator who was a summer resident of Idaho Springs. He also produced the comic strip Terry and the Pirates.

Name: Overview of Argo Mill and surface plant
Date: Late 1970’s
Notes: Early Maxwell era with the Argo Town tourism shops to the right of the Mill. The Cold Soda Springs Gazebo with its hand water pump is lower left bottom of the photo near the stand of trees.

Name: Economy for rent cabins with the Argo Mill background
Date: Circa 1942
Notes: The cabins and the “questions Mark” cabins so called because they were arranged in the question mark pattern. Each unit was named after a state.

Name: High grade or “Smelting Ore” bins
Date: 1940
Notes: The high grade ore required no milling and was shipped by rail to Denver area smelters. The structure atop the cribbing housed a rotary tunnel car dumper like the surviving dumper above the crude ore bins.

Name: High grade or “Smelting Ore” bins
Date: 1938
Notes: Structure atop the cribbing houses the rotary car dumper

Name: Ore bin at east end of Virginia Street, west boundary of the Argo waste rock
Date: Circa 1920
Notes: This abandoned small ore bin was used to send ore from the Argo Tunnel to local mills for assay and processing prior to the Argo Mill construction (completed 1913). Conveyance of the ore was by ore wagons. The loading mechanism for the bin has been removed in this photo.

Name: Westbound Colorado and Southern freight train
Date: Circa 1938
Notes: Train is passing the Argo’s smelting ore bins

Name: Argo rotary ore car dumper
Date: 1913
Phase: Mill years 1913 to 1943
Notes: The Argo was noted for employing cutting edge technology. The surviving early ore car dumper emptied three tunnel ore cars at a time into the low-grade milling ore bins.

Name: Steam power mine hoists
Date: Unknown
Phase: 19th and early 20th century
Notes: Hoists have been a necessity in mining from the very beginning of the industry.  Humans, animals, water, steam, and air power have all been commonly used. Modern hoists are electrically powered.

Name: Argo Air Compressor
Date: Unknown
Phase: 1893 to 1943
Notes: This surviving compressor is one of two electrically powered at the Argo. Massive rock drilling operations in the numerous mines served by the Argo Tunnel required large volumes of compressed air. Even the advancing Argo Tunnel alone used twelve drills simultaneously.

Name: Argo Reversable Tripper
Date: Unknown
Phase: 1913 to 1943
Notes: The distribution by conveyor belt, of partly crushed ore to the correct ore bin was the job of this machine. The unusually large number of ore bins at the Argo Mill reflected the large number of mines connected to the Argo Tunnel.

Name: Argo flotation cells
Date: 1923 to 1943
Phase: Argo Mill technology
Notes: The development of flotation cells improved the recovery of valuable metals from low grade sulfide ores. This allowed the mill, already an efficient operation, to increase profits for both mine and mill owners.

Name: Argo Mill boiler
Date: Circa 1977
Phase: Early Maxwell years
Notes: The coal fired steam boiler was used to maintain a steady temperature for ore processing reagents. It heated only limited areas of the sprawling mill. It did not power mill machinery.

Name: Argo Mill Bucking Room
Date: Circa 1976
Phase: Early Maxwell years
Notes: The north end of the mill’s bucking room was area of intense activity. All the ore delivered to the Mill’s ore bins were first crushed to a more uniform size (2 inch maximum), then transferred to elevators for additional processing in the upper levels of the Mill.

Name: Preparing Argo equipment for display.
Date: Circa 1980
Phase: Maxwell years
Notes: The machine set up for viewing is a machine shop press. The south view illustrates the long-gone Dairy King, the mini golf office (behind the raised dump truck bed) and the Krenzel Motel. Also, pictured is the Grass Valley School with the bell tower which now serves as the Idaho Springs City Hall at another location.

Name: Argo Mill Chemical Handling Equipment
Date: Circa 1960
Phase: Later abandoned years
Notes: This device, located on the chemical deck of the Mill, handled and broke down caked soda ash. That chemical was used to adjust the Ph of the metal recovery processes.

Name: Jaw Crusher
Date: Circa 1965
Phase: Late abandoned years
Notes: Smaller scale rock crushers were used around the Argo Mill because of the wide variety of ores, both quantity, and quality, that were efficiently processed. Records show over 100 mines from throughout Clear Creek and Gilpin Counties used the Argo Mill.

Name: Reversable Tripper Above Ore Bins
Date: Circa 1960’s
Phase: Abandoned era
 Notes: The reversable tripper traveled back and forth on rails within the loop of the conveyor belt. Whatever bin the operator placed the machine over it “tripped” the ore into that bin.

Name: Small Mine in Mountains Above Idaho Springs
Date: Late 19th century
Phase: Beginning industrialization
Notes: The presence of an early vertical steam boiler indicates the possible involvement of an investor who was convinced the shaft should be driven deeper.

Name: Horizontal bull wheel
Date: Unknown
Notes: The unusual horizontal arrangement possibly indicates a double cable into a shaft with two   cages or skips acting as counterweights to each other. No accommodation for aerial tram buckets     is visible. Location unknown.

Name: Gold Dredge on Clear Creek
Date: 1939
Phase: Approximately 10 years’ operating hydraulic dredge on Clear Creek
Notes: Looking west immediately east of Idaho Springs. The Humphry Company operated this small dredge and two larger dredges in the Golden area. The men are unidentified.

Name: Argo Mill Flotation Cells
Date: Circa 1935
Phase: Depression era
Notes: Even during the depression the Argo operated more than other area mills because of its high metal recovery rates and flexibility in processing a variety of ores.

Name: Flotation cells
Date: 1935
Phase: Depression era
Notes: Another view of the flotation cells. The large gear in the foreground is part of the Marcy Ball Mill.

Name: Small mine in Clear Creek County.
Date:  Late 19th Century
Phase: Beginning of local mining industrialization
Notes: The enclosed steam hoist and other buildings extended working season into the bitter high-country winter. Not all small mines had such luxury.

Name: Mule train packing likely high-grade ore from a mine above Silver Plume in Clear Creek County
Date: Unknown
Phase: 1859 to 1941
Notes: The Jacks and Jennies were used above and below ground throughout the local mining district’s history until World War II.

Name: Screening and crushing of ore to uniform size
Date: Circa 1935
Phase: Depression era
Notes: The ore rocks that are too large to fall through the screen flow to the crusher in the foreground.

Name: Argo Mill Dorr-Oliver Company classifier
Date: Circa 1935
Notes: This type of rake classifier was common throughout the world. These were one of several types of classification systems used by the Argi through its history.

Name: Stamp Mill displayed at the Argo Mill
Date: Circa 1980
Phase: Maxwell era
Notes: This stamp mill sports ten approximately 500-pound stamps. It was used in a mill in the Spring Gulch area immediately south of Idaho Springs. The twenty Argo Mill stamps weighed 1050 pounds apiece.

Name: Argo Tunnel motor remnants
Date: 1977
Phase:  Early Maxwell ownership
Notes:  The only surviving heavy tunnel motor. Six of these powerful locomotives served the Argo.  Other motors remain buried deep inside Seaton Mountain in the 1943 flood debris along with hundreds of ore cars.

Name: Drill patterns
Date:  1936
Phase:  Depression era
Notes:  Specific drill patterns are used for many reasons including rock type, powder strength, tunnel size, etc.  This is a small hard hand rock mine tunnel among dozensconnected to the main Argo Tunnel.

Name: Drill pattern at mine portal
Date:  1936
Phase:  Depression era
Notes:  The symmetry displayed here formed a portal drilled through previously poured and cured concrete.  That symmetry would not continue inside the mountain as miners encountered fractured rock, soft zones, etc.

Name: Two miners at new mine portal
Date:  1936
Phase:  Depression Era
Notes:  The tunnel described is being driven deeper by miners using air-powered rock drills.  One hose feeding compressed air for power, the other provides water used for drill cooling, lubrication, and dust suppression.  The small tunnel cross-section is typical in hardrock mining territory.

Name: Working face or breast of a mine tunnel
Date: 1938
Phase:  Depression era
Notes:  This working face is displaying the possible beginning of serious water problems as the tunnel advances.

Name: Argo Tunnel portal with short train
Date:  Circa 1920s
Phase:  Productive years before depression
Notes: A short train of empty tunnel cars entering the tunnel. The myriad mine railroad tracks under the overhead electric trolly wires hint at the extensive rail yards. The building on the left is the blacksmith and machine shop. The horizontal tank at the right edge is the compressed air receiver for rock drill operations.

Name: Two miners pushing ore car
Date:  Late 1800’s
Phase:  About 1873 when the Argo began
Notes:  This early small scale mine may have eventually connected to the Argo complex of over 250 miles of mine workings.

Name: Abandoned Argo Tunnel car
Date:  Circa 1975
Phase:  The final year of abandonment
Notes:  The 250 cars from the tunnel were larger than the typical ore cars and had no end door for dumping.  Tunnel cars were designed for use in the rotary car dumpers only and were, therefore, never used for waste rock.  The waste rock cars were emptied at the end of the track on the growing waste rock pile.  Denver newspapers reported on a total mine car fleet of over 700 cars in the Argo operations in 1914.

Name:Ore cars and motor on exhibit
Date: Late 1970’s
Phase: Early Maxwell years
Notes: A close view of three tunnel ore cars rescued from the ravages of acidic mine drainage water.

Name: Articulated ore wagons
Date:  Unknown
Notes: On display in mining town exhibit in Montana

Name: First Argo Tunnel motor
Date:  Circa 1898
Phase: Early tunnel construction
Notes:  This Baldwin Mine Motor sports the abbreviated message of The Argo Mining, Drainage, Transportation and Tunnel Company.

Name: Miners using air-powered rock drills
Date:  Before 1897
Notes:  The single hose indicates the two miners are using a dry air-powered rock drill known as the “widowmaker”. The thick dust clouds produced by these machines consisted of millions of razor-sharp particles that quickly induced silicosis, a commonly called miner’s consumption.

Name: Miners descending into an inclined shaft

Date:  unknown

Notes:  Inclined shafts, as opposed to vertical shafts, were common in the Argo’s hardrock mining district.  Rather than a cage to travel in a vertical shaft, a skip that rides on 4 flanged railroad-style wheels on rails is employed in an inclined shaft.

Name: Two hand cars inside the Argo Tunnel
Date:  Unknown
Notes:  Also known as inspection cars, this efficient form of transportation was commonly used at the Argo.  The lateral tunnel pictured here was one of those that served multiple mining operations.  The larger overhead pipe provided large volume, low pressure fresh air, or a vacuum to remove obnoxious blasting fumes, depending on the miner’s needs at the moment.

Name: Setting up for a raise
Date:  Unknown
Notes:  The “raise” is a shaft driven from inside a tunnel in an upward direction. Actually digging a shaft from the bottom.

Name: Argo Tunnel at Gem Lateral
Date:  After 1921
Phase:  Unknown
Notes:  A string of empty ore cars pulled by a heavy tunnel motor is passing the Gem Mine lateral tunnel.  The Gem was one of the largest and most profitable mines associated with the Argo.  The tunnel name was changed to Argo from Newhouse in 1921.

Name: Argo Tunnel with handcar
Date: Unknown
Notes: Two gentlemen using a hand (or inspection) car passing a lateral tunnel. The air duct laying on the parallel track is a temporary condition as the duct was normally secured against the tunnel roof. Randal photo.

Name: Near Argo Tunnel portal
Date: 1950 to 1976
Phase: Abandoned years
Notes: The decayed building debris, condition of the painted sign, and ponderosa growing in the waste rock provide clues to the era of this photo.

Name: Gem raise inside Argo Tunnel
Date: Unknown
Phase: Early Argo Tunnel development
Notes: The timbering is still underway and the ore chutes from upper level mining are not yet complete. Only one track has been constructed so far in this double track section of the tunnel.

Name: Newhouse (later named Argo) Tunnel
Date: Unknown
Phase: Before 1921
Notes: Two men heading deep into the tunnel were passing a lateral tunnel. The drainage ditch between and below the track level is clearly visible here. Several hundred gallons a minute of mine drainage water flows through this conduit.

Name: Newhouse Tunnel and blacksmith machine shop
Date: Unknown
Phase: Very early development
Notes: The temporary wood portal, the very few tracks and the good condition of the building clearly say the enterprise is still quite young.

Name: Newhouse Tunnel double track
Date: Unknown
Phase: Low production period
Notes: Only the left hand track is in use and the disarray of the air ducts and other materials indicate little activity. Randall photo.

Name: Looking out of tunnel portal door
Date: Unknown
Phase: Maxwell era
Notes: Photo taken during lead up to waterflow control bulkhead construction. Public access to the tunnel was still a few years away.

Name: Argo Tunnel portal
Date: Unknown
Phase: 1970 to 1981
Notes: Uncontrolled mine drainage prior to bulkhead construction

Name:  Aerial view of Idaho Springs looking west
Date:  1982
Notes:  The massive waste rock pile of the Argo Tunnel overlooking Idaho Springs and I-70 is clearly visible.

Name: Idaho Springs with Natatorium
Date:  Unknown
Phase: 1895 to 1910
The large building at front and center is the City’s Natatorium or swim pool. Water from the nearby hot springs kept the pool naturally heated. Now occupying the site is the County Medical Clinic.

Name: Early living near Idaho Springs
Date:  Unknown
Phase:  Late 19th Century
Notes:  The mining frontier offered a hard scrabble primitive lifestyle mostly but also provided happy times.

Name: Hot Springs early development
Date: Unknown
Phase: Early commercial development
Notes: Idaho Springs has always been a “tourist” town along with its mining industry.              That plus the proximity of the Denver area and the narrow-gauge railroad made this settlement a permanent and thriving City.

Name: Gold mining dredge east end of Idaho Springs
Date: Unknown
Phase: 1930 to 1941 Depression years
Notes: The hydraulic gold dredges were often highly profitable. This small dredge operated by the Humphry’s Company was no exception. It was a local employer during those dark times.

Name: Looking west over Argo Surface Plant and Idaho Springs
Date: Unknown
Phase: Early Argo development
Notes: The Argo Tunnel is still being driven here before the mill was constructed and also during the construction of the electrically powered Argo Railroad. In addition to the track also visible are the many trolley poles and the reel of trolley wire on the railcar near the center of the photograph.

Name: Early cabins with squared logs
Date: Unknown
Phase: Late 19th Century
Notes: The hand trimmed logs in these two cabins illustrate the evolving construction of structures in the region. From the earliest lean-to shelters, using wagon parts, to rough cabins, hand hewn logs (as depicted here) to milled timbers this progress reflected the changing life in the mining camps. F.L. Wideman photo.

Name: East end of Idaho Springs
Date: Unknown
Phase: 1970’s Beginning of the Henderson Mine era
Notes: I-70’s impact on Idaho Springs has already occurred and the mobile homes have appeared to provide housing for the miners at the new Henderson Molybdenum Mine.

Name: Miners
Date:  Unknown
Phase:  1859 to 1910
Notes:  Idaho Springs was a perfect example of a “melting pot” of cultures at the mining frontier. Throughout Europe the lure of the golden opportunities in the American West was felt. The miners depicted here likely did not all have a common language.

Name: Teller County Arcadia Mine: Night shift
Date: Unknown
Phase: Prior to the development of hard hats 1915 to 1920
Note: The presence of rain gear worn by some of the crew clearly indicates parts of the mine had that pervasive problem of water entering the workings. F.L. Wideman photo.

Name: Miners in rain gear in Argo Tunnel
Date: February 1, 1921
Notes: The problem of the endless inflow of water is obvious. Some mine workings connected to the Argo Tunnel presented working conditions similar to a hard rain that never stopped.

Name: Miners with donkey and dog
Date: Unknown
Phase: Before hard hat development 1915 to 1920
Notes: Animals, working, and pets, are common in photos of miners. The use of burros and mules in small mines was very common due to their small size relative to their strength and their calm nature compared to horses. The Cornish Miners refer to the burros as Jacks and Jennies.

Name: Lunch box for miners
Date: Unknown
Phase: 1870’s to 1920’s
Notes: The tins with bails were probably serving as lunch buckets. A wide range of commodities such as lard, industrial grease, etc. arrived in such containers and was “recycled”.