The Washington Mine, operated as a "hardrock" or "lode" gold and silver mine beginning in the early 1880s, provides an excellent example of the methods, equipment, lifestyles and hardships of the underground mining era of Summit County. The mine is located in Illinois Gulch on Barney Ford Hill, just south of Breckenridge off Boreas Pass Road.
Once gold and silver were discovered in the mountains of Summit County in the late 1870s, literally hundreds of underground mines of all sizes and descriptions sprang up in areas such as Breckenridge, Montezuma, Frisco and surrounding regions. Capital was raised, and shafts, adits, tunnels and drifts were driven to recover the gold. The Washington was, in the mid-1880s, one of the area's largest, employing over 30 men. Five main shafts and over 10,000 feet of underground workings brought the gold/silver ore to the surface where it was handsorted and then sent by wagon to the mine's concentration mill. While the 1880s through about 1905 were the mine's heyday, it was worked intermittently until the 1960s, sometimes with long periods of idleness.
Cornish miners drilled and blasted the ore, muckers loaded the blasted ore into one-ton carts, and trammers pushed the loaded carts to the surface. Simultaneously, blacksmiths sharpened drill steels, repaired tools and laid steel track in the mine, while Scandinavian timbermen shored up the workings with timbers cut from local forests. Through it all, the superstitious Cornish miners treated their underground gremlins - the "Tommy Knockers" - with kid gloves and offerings of food to insure that their underground mischief did not cause damage or loss of life.
The SHS tour of the Washington Mine takes visitors through several typical buildings of this mine's "headworks" including the original shafthouse atop two of the mine's original shafts, a typical prospector's cabin, the hoist- and steam- generation equipment, and the tramway to the "tipple" where ore brought to the surface was handsorted and loaded into wagons. SHS guides show and describe literally dozens of pieces of original equipment, explain the lifestyles and hardships of the men and their families who lived in this era, and take visitors for a tour of a typical "working" mine.
The Washington Mine offers a great opportunity to capture the spirit and to learn about the early hardrock mining boom of Summit County.
Directions: The Washington Mine is located at 465 Illinois Gulch Road just off Boreas Pass Road. From Blue River Plaza in the center of Breckenridge, proceed south on Main Street (toward Hoosier Pass and Fairplay) approximately one-half mile to the stoplight at Boreas Pass Road. A Conoco gas station is on the right (west) side of the road. Turn left onto Boreas Pass Road and proceed 1.1 miles to Illinois Gulch Road (County Road 518), located on a sharp turn in the road. Turn right onto Illinois Gulch Road and proceed 1/4 to 1/2 mile to the mine site parking lot on the left. A sign as well as old mine structures are clearly visible from the road.
More information can be found at www.BreckHeritage.com