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COBWEB CORNERS: When fluorspar was bigger than gold

By Mel McFarland

       In reading newspaper stories from the years around World War II, I discovered an industry in the Pikes Peak region that I had not heard of.
       Over the years I have talked about gold mining, copper mining and the processing shift that happened during the war at the Golden Cycle Mill (then off South 21st Street).
       As a bit of a review, gold mining in the Cripple Creek District was minimized at that time. Most gold mines across the country closed completely, the federal government deeming them non-essential to the war effort.
       Golden Cycle managed to keep its district mines running because of the zinc found in the ore there. The element had been a "waste" byproduct since the mill opened in 1908. But during World War II, gold became the "waste."
       Ore with zinc, lead and other minerals needed for war was also imported to the mill from other mines, such as those near Leadville and Fairplay. After processing, the zinc was sent out in a concentrate, while the mill's gold byproduct was shipped to the Denver Mint.
       Eventually the mines in Cripple Creek virtually shut down, but the mill kept running. Previously, the Midland Terminal railroad had run an ore train six days a week, but during the war this was cut back to only one or two a week.
       Fortunately for the Midland, it was able to run other trains occasionally because the Rock Island railroad was buying gravel from quarries up near Divide and rocks from the district to be used on its tracks in Kansas.
       The Midland passenger trains had stopped running a short time after Pearl Harbor.
       The new industry was milling for fluorspar, a mineral with functional and cosmetic uses. This work started here in 1944. Kramer Mines Company built a fluorspar mill off Gold Camp Road near the Standard gold mill (which had closed in 1911) west of 26th Street.
       The ore was mined near St. Peters Dome and trucked to the mill. Kramer processed fluorspar for a variety of war needs, including the flux in making steel and even synthetic rubber.
       The company had previously run a mill near Salida, but it burned. The actual operations of the local mill were quite similar to those at the Golden Cycle mill, about a mile to the east.
       Once the war was over, the fluorspar mill closed.
       This site has been used for many things. If I find more information on the fluorspar operation, I will share it with you in a future column.

McFarland’s Cobweb Corners column has appeared in the Westside Pioneer since 2004.