COBWEB CORNERS: The gold mills in Colorado City

By Mel McFarland

       When gold was discovered in Cripple Creek, it took several years before a railroad was built there from Colorado City. The next question was: “When is Colorado City going to have a gold mill?” Most of the gold was being processed in Leadville at first. Soon mills popped up south in Florence. The first Colorado City mill was the Colorado-Philadelphia, built in 1894 (off what is now 31st Street near Red Rock Canyon Open Space). The second was the Portland (where Penrose Stadium is now), almost a decade later. The third was the Telluride (currently Gold Hill Mesa), but it could not handle the Cripple Creek ores. After it sat empty for several years, it was remodeled as the Golden Cycle. Another mill, the Standard, was built behind the Colorado-Philadelphia (off present-day Ore Mill Road, near what was then the Midland railroad, now Highway 24). In 1910 the closure of the last Florence mill, the Union, brought an end to most of the ore shipments south. By this time, Golden Cycle had pretty well taken everyone's business away. Not only that, but the waste rock from many of the old mills was being shipped to Golden Cycle for reprocessing.
       The Colorado-Philadelphia and Standard mills closed in 1911. There were still mills in Cripple Creek handling some of the smaller mines, and those in Colorado City were unable to compete with the big Golden Cycle. It easily handled the output of all the mines. As the mills in Colorado City closed, there were other concerns about the business. Once anxious to see these industries built, Colorado City and Colorado Springs were now waiting to see the mill buildings torn down and the sites cleaned up. Tales of cyanide poisoning upset many of the residents. Dust from the waste piles regularly blew around Colorado City. As the dumps were hauled to Golden Cycle for reprocessing, that mill's pile only grew!
       The Portland closed, and that mill's waste went to the Golden Cycle. Later, the mill's owners bought the Midland Terminal railroad. Things ran pretty smoothly until World War II. The railroad ran minimal trips to Cripple Creek, and the Golden Cycle and MT started to do defense work. After the war, work started up again; the Midland even got a few war-surplus steam engines. Tune in next week for the painful part.