Inside the National Mining Hall of Fame

Featured Article, On the Road, Travel Destinations
on May 21, 2013

A replica of a late-1800s hard-rock mine and an exhibit of modern products made from minerals—including toothpaste and televisions—showcase the history and significance of the resource-extracting industry at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville, Colo. (pop. 2,602).

Established in 1987 in the silver boomtown’s 1899 former high school, the cavernous museum features a mother lode of mining tools and equipment, scale models of historic mining towns and railroads, and specimens of gold, silver, crystals, minerals and gemstones. One shiny specimen in the museum’s Gold Rush Room is a 23-ounce gold nugget extracted in 1892 from Leadville’s Little Jonny Mine.

“Lots of people found their fortune in Leadville,” says museum curator Kat Neilson, 29.

In addition to early prospectors, many of the town’s present-day residents work as miners. One of the museum’s exhibits highlights the extraction of molybdenum, a metal used in steel production, from the nearby Climax Mine.

The first automobile made with molybdenum, a 1923 Wills Sainte Claire, is displayed at the museum. Other attractions include a prospector’s cave with mineral-rich rock walls relocated from two historic Colorado mines: quartz from the Idarado Mine near Telluride and iron pyrite from the Eagle Mine near Gilman. A realistic walk-through replica of an underground hard-rock mine features timbered walls and tunnels, a lifelike donkey pulling an ore cart on railroad tracks, a blacksmith shop and an assay office where the ore was priced.

The museum’s top-floor Hall of Fame honors prospectors, geologists, inventors and even a 12-year-old boy who contributed to the nation’s mining heritage. In 1799, the lad, Conrad Reed, skipped Sunday school to go fishing and found a 17-pound gold nugget in Little Meadow Creek in Cabarrus County, N.C., the site of America’s first gold rush.