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The Argo Mill and Tunnel’s storied history punctuates the scale of the Colorado Gold Rush and the ambitious businessmen who ravenously chased after golden opportunities buried underground.
The 4.2-mile tunnel connected several mines in one of Colorado’s richest districts. The Argo served these mines by draining hazardous floodwaters and transporting ore turning risky operations into lucrative honeypots. Two mines in particular, the Sun & Moon and Frontenac, played a large role in The Argo Tunnel’s chosen location. These mines also serve as perfect examples for the impact The Argo Mill and Tunnel had within the mining community.
Gold Mines in Colorado: The Frontenac
Due south of Central City and just east of Russell Gulch sits the forgotten remains of the Frontenac Mine. Dating back to the 1880s, the Frontenac was one of the highest producing mines in Central City. The Argo Tunnel broke ground in 1893 but would take nearly 20 more years to reach South Willis Gulch, where the Frontenac was nestled.
In 1911, H.P. Lowe managed the Frontenac and nearby Aduddell property. He estimated the lifetime gross production for both mines to be $2,250,000 ($62,343,181.82 when adjusted for inflation). Mines within South Willis Gulch used the Gilpin Tramway to deliver raw materials from its ore chutes. Despite this, Frontenac directors still saw a need to excavate toward The Argo as soon as possible.
“Connection should be made with the Newhouse [Argo] Tunnel without delay, so as to improve the drainage of the mine,” J.J. Stein and A.L. Muggeridge wrote in 1909 while addressing shareholders.
Flooding quickly became a difficult problem to solve for mines. Companies spent millions, adjusted for inflation, draining water via powerful pumps. Smaller mines that couldn’t afford this luxury hand baled their tunnels with large buckets. When The Argo Tunnel connected gold mines in Colorado, they also solved this problem by providing a route for floodwaters to follow.
In 1911, the Frontenac resolved its longtime flooding issues by finally connecting to The Argo Tunnel. The mine’s upper levels were rich in silver, but the gold was below 700 feet. Dewatering at this depth proved near impossible without solid drainage. Thus, The Argo played a direct role in the sustained success of the Frontenac mine.
Gold Mines in Colorado: The Sun & Moon
Formed in 1897, the Sun & Moon Mining & Milling Company operated one of the largest and well-equipped mines in Colorado. The Sun & Moon mine had one shaft in 1897. That same year would see the mine join with The Argo Tunnel. The Sun & Moon Mining & Milling Company was extremely profitable, so they poured tons of money into cutting edge equipment and surface facilities. A large part of this profitability came directly from its early connection to The Argo Tunnel.
The Colorado Labor Wars
The Sun & Moon mine made headlines in 1903 during what is known as The Colorado Labor Wars. Miners in the state unionized and demanded eight hour work days for the same pay. Most Idaho Springs mines complied after a lengthy strike. However, The Sun & Moon refused. Rather, they continued the operation by hiring non-union workers.
In response, two previous mine employees wrecked the transformer house with kegs of dynamite and destroyed much of the mine’s surface operations. Many died in this attack, including one of the previous mine employees who had lit the dynamite. This instance of violence cascaded into riots and large-scale arrests in Idaho Springs. Many see this as the event that led to the eventual end of the “Labor War,” at least in Idaho Springs. The civil unrest brought many of the workers’ issues to the forefront of mining company directors, creating lasting change within the mining industry.
In 1906, the Sun & Moon ceased immediate extraction operations to focus on two intensive activities: shipping their existing tonnage of high-grade ore and extending the lateral from the Newhouse. Despite their mining operations being lucrative, the company recognized the incredible profits available when extending their connection to The Argo. In addition to flooding, the Sun & Moon mine had serious issues with air quality. The Argo would solve both problems by providing drainage and airflow.
The stories from these two mines dramatically displays Idaho Springs’ rich history. Millions upon millions of dollars were buried below the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains for those brave enough to find it. The Argo still stands to serve as a reminder of this history, connecting gold mines in Colorado with incredible engineering ingenuity.