In 1896, at the foot of the hogbacks, near the eastern edge of what is now the Red Rock Canyon property, the Colorado-Philadelphia Reduction Company built a chlorination mill for refining Cripple Creek gold ore. The mill which was completed in September of 1896 was the largest of its kind in the United States. Hundreds of tons of red sandstone from the Kenmuir Quarry in Red Rock Canyon went into its three foot thick foundation.
As with any such project, the history of the Colorado-Philadelphia Mill has its roots in events years before and is woven of many threads:
By 1884 Irving Howbert had conceived of a railroad from Colorado City to the rich mining districts of Leadville and Aspen, a grandiose scheme which would require a massive investment of money and energy. And, in 1884, the man who had money and drive arrived in Colorado Springs, a small, and at that time very sick, man named James J. Hagerman. Hagerman had made a considerable fortune as head of the Milwaukee Iron Company and had been a business colleague of Andrew Carnegie. In June of 1885, Hagerman became president of Howbert’s Colorado Midland Railway Company which soon built its rail yards and shops in Colorado City and began laying track around the north end of Red Rock Canyon, on around Manitou, up Ute Pass to Hayden Divide, through Florrisant, and on across South Park. The Colorado Midland built a spur almost a mile up Red Rock Canyon to haul stone from the quarries.
Cripple Creek was not yet producing gold when the Colorado Midland was built. In fact, the Cripple Creek Mining District wasn’t organized until April of 1891. By the time Cripple Creek traffic had grown to support a railroad, the Colorado Midland was owned by the Santa Fe, and the directors of the Santa Fe had no interest in building a spur to Cripple Creek. However, Harry Collbran, who was general manager of the Midland, and W. K. Gillett, the Santa Fe passenger auditor, did. By diverting Colorado Midland resources to this project, they were able to build the Midland Terminal Railroad from the Hayden Divide station (now Divide) to Cripple Creek.
Meanwhile, David Moffat built the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad which reached Cripple Creek on July 2, 1894, 18 months before the Midland terminal. During the first 18 months of operation, the F&CC made enough money to recover all of its construction costs. But, once the Midland Terminal reached Cripple Creek, the F&CC never made a profit again.
Rather than being metallic gold in quartz like the ore from many gold mines, Cripple Creek’s ore was in the form of gold tellurides: sylvanite and calverite. The conventional stamp mill in which the ore was crushed and the gold amalgamated with mercury was almost useless in refining Cripple Creek ore. A new kind mill of was built in the town of Lawrence which at one time adjoined the town of Victor. This mill used a new chlorination process imported from the Transvall. At first, the process didn’t work well, but it was refined by Charlie MacNeill until it produced very good results.
In December of 1895, the chlorination mill at Lawrence burned to the ground.
Two men from Philadelphia, Spencer Penrose and Charles L. Tutt, had a real estate business in Cripple Creek and owned a Cripple Creek mine named the C.O.D. When the C.O.D. sold for $250,000, Tutt and Penrose decided that milling ore was a better way to make money than mining it. They got Charlie MacNeill who had run the chlorination mill at Lawrence to join them and, with the backing of Irving Howbert, Winfield Scott Stratton and some Philadelphia investors they formed the Colorado-Philadelphia Reduction Company. They reasoned that it would cost less to ship ore down from Cripple Creek than to ship coal up to Cripple Creek to power a mill in the mining district; and they built the Colorado-Philadelphia Mill on the outskirts of Colorado City. The location of the mill at the base of the hogbacks was well chosen since it was less than a quarter mile from the main Midland tracks, close to an abundant source of building stone, and on the outskirts of Colorado City which was the industrial center of the region.
The operation was extremely successful, and in 1901 Tutt, Penrose and MacNeill expanded the scope of the venture by bringing in New York investors to form a mill trust named the United States Reduction and Refining Company, which was capitalized at $13 million. United States Reduction sought to monopolize the milling of Cripple Creek ore by acquiring mills in Florence and Canon City as well. United States Reduction also built a second Colorado City mill, the Standard. The Standard Mill was about a quarter mile south of the Colorado-Philadelphia, and like the Colorado-Philadelphia, it was at the base of the hogbacks. Within a few years, Tutt, Penrose and MacNeill sold their mills to the Guggenheim family.
Meanwhile, the mine owners had become displeased with the high prices they were paying to ship ore on the Midland Terminal and have it refined at that Colorado-Philadelphia. So, they decided to build their own railroad and their own mill. The first shovel full of dirt for the new Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railroad was turned in January of 1900. The CS&CCD connected most directly to the new Portland Mill which was located at the present site of the Penrose Equestrian Center.
The Colorado-Philadelphia, Standard, and Portland mills were all doomed to a short life. In 1907 John Milliken built the Golden Cycle Mill which was the most modern cyanide mill in the world. The chlorination mills couldn’t match the production of the new cyanide mill and were shut down within four years. The Golden Cycle continued milling Cripple Creek ore until 1948 and created the immense tailings pile we now know as Gold Hill Mesa.
In the 1920’s and 30’s another Philadelphia man, John George Bock, assembled the Red Rock Canyon property. In his book, In Red Rock Canyon Land, he lamented that: “The small sum of three hundred dollars stopped him from buying the Philadelphia Standard and Reduction Mill for twenty five hundred dollars …”
Originally published in the Red Rock Rag, Volume 4, Number 7: July, 2003,adapted with minor revisions