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The mine is 12 feet deep and only a few feet wide. It uses wood originally intended to shore up a 19th-century mine, and soon a rail made back in the 1890s will be laid on its dirt floor. Farther …
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The mine is 12 feet deep and only a few feet wide. It uses wood originally intended to shore up a 19th-century mine, and soon a rail made back in the 1890s will be laid on its dirt floor. Farther down the shaft, a blasting pattern will be drilled.
The shaft was designed to be a small and primitive mine. But it has to be, in order to fit under the stairs at the Idaho Springs Heritage Museum at the Visitors Center.
“It’s a complicated business, and we’ve learned so much just playing with this little tunnel,” said the historical society’s board president, Bob Bowland. He and other volunteers have spent time recently collecting supplies and building the exhibit.
“We know what we’re doing based off of (old) photographs — we couldn’t engineer our way out of a wet paper bag,” Bowland said.
Started a few weeks ago and now near completion, the exhibit is part three of a six-phase project that the Historical Society of Idaho Springs hopes will turn the museum into a major tourist attraction.
“Usually between 50,000 and 60,000 people a year stop here,” Bowland said. “So what we’re doing we’re feeling really good about, because we’ve got an audience that is coming through all of the time.”
During the project’s initial phases, the volunteers built cabinets displaying aspects of Clear Creek County’s mining history, oftentimes with donated supplies and artifacts. More recently, a life-size cabin with four displays was built and unveiled at the opening celebration for the 150th anniversary of the Gold Rush.
“A lot of this thinking (about projects) is in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep,” Bowland joked. “We didn’t know what to do for an area under the stairway, and then all of a sudden it just popped in: ‘Well, my gosh, there is a place for a really shallow tunnel under the stairway.’ And we wanted to show (a) blasting pattern because people are interested in blowing stuff up, apparently.”
The next few phases, scheduled to be finished this year, will dwarf both the cabin and the mine. The volunteers plan to bring in an ore bin recently removed from the county’s historic West Gold Mine; build a ceiling-to-floor mine elevator/shaft house; and lastly construct a giant timber bridge over the museum’s inner entranceway.
Bowland said he had many of the ideas one day while waiting for his car to be repaired.
“I was there for a couple of hours, so I started sketching,” he said.
The drawings of the future projects are as detailed as they are elaborate — a fact made even more interesting because they’re being solely with volunteers and donations. The mine exhibit has cost essentially nothing but time to create.
“The rocks are free — helped the county clean up their roads a little bit — so it is just a matter of thinking it through and just making it happen,” Bowland said. “I’ll tell you what, when in a nice building like this and you start hauling a bunch of old, dirty timber in, I think, ‘What are we doing?’ But it’s working.”
Bowland said the work has been a “blast” because the volunteers are having fun with the creative process.
“These first few phases … were kind of a shot in the dark,” Bowland said. “We imagined what they were going to look like and thought it would be great, but until you open it up and hear how the public reacts, you didn’t really know. Well, it couldn’t have been better — they love it.”
The Historical Society of Idaho Springs is having its annual meeting at 7 p.m. March 31 at the Visitors Center. The public is invited to attend.
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