Leadville History Month: Explore the Mineral Belt TrailMarch 14, 2020
In honor of Leadville History Month, in April, we’re bringing you a few of the many, many history highlights from the Cloud City’s colorful past. We’ll start with the Mineral Belt Trail, a family-friendly 12-mile trail encircling Leadville that showcases both the stunning natural beauty in North America’s highest city and its rich mining heritage.
Here are just a few fascinating sites along the part of this local gem found in Leadville’s East Side Mining District, starting near East 7th Street.
The Tabor Legend: Riches to Rags
Just north of East 7th Street is the Matchless Mine, which is open for tours in summer and part of the Tabor legend. In 1880, Leadville silver mining magnate Horace Tabor completed his purchase of the Matchless Mine, which at first looked like a very poor investment and ultimately became one of the era’s richest silver mines.
After a scandalous affair in which Horace left his wife Augusta, he and Elizabeth “Baby Doe” McCourt married and lived an opulent lifestyle. As silver markets fell, Horace lost all of his riches and died in 1899, leaving his family penniless. After his death, Baby Doe moved into to a small cabin that still stands near the Matchless Mine. More than 30 years later, her body was found frozen in the cabin.
One of Leadville’s Richest Mines
From the East 7th Street bridge, the low, multi-colored mine dump on the north edge of the road is the site of the Robert E. Lee, one of Leadville’s richest mines. It was located in 1878 by George Belt and William Knight, and many magnificent specimens of its ore appeared at an 1882 mining exhibition in Denver. The ore was so rich that the resident manager offered $10,000 to his partners if they would let him work for one hour with only a pick in an area four feet square. They turned him down.
Just southwest of where the Mineral Belt Trail crosses East 5th Street is the site of the Wolftone Mine, where a formal banquet took place underground in 1911, to celebrate the discovery of zinc carbonate. Flowers decorated the tables, and an orchestra played. More than 250 men and women came to this feast, held 1,000 feet underground.
An Electrifying Experience
The headframe of the Blind Tom Mine near Graham Park, to the south, is where George Edwards got the biggest Fourth of July bang of his life. He was struck by lightning near the spot on July 4, 1860, and lived to tell the tale. Five months later, a fire started by a burning candle destroyed the surface building of the Blind Tom, named for a blind mule who worked in the mine below.
Just north of where the Mineral Belt Trail crosses County Road 2, you’re a full two miles above sea level. This is where the Leadville empire was born. The glitter of gold in black sand in California Gulch first caught the Fifty-Niners’ eyes in 1860, setting off the gold rush and the beginning of Leadville. When the placer gold was exhausted in the late 1860s, the miners traded their gold pans and rockers for a new set of tools—the pick and giant powder. They dug deep into the surrounding hills for silver, lead, and zinc.
See the Whole Trail
For more Leadville history and jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains, travel the entire Mineral Belt Trail. Gaze at the mining structures as you glide past, and stop to read the many plaques with details of the town’s intriguing history.
If you like to fat bike, come see us April 11, 2020, for the East Side Epic! This tour of Leadville’s historical mining district is part of the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Race Series. Or come next February for the Leadville Loppet Nordic ski race, a fun annual fundraiser for the trail.