the COLORFUL Tintic Mining District
Juab & Utah Counties, UTAH
The Tintic Mining District, northwest of Nephi, Utah had eluded me for many years. Every time I'd previously been in the area, the region was subjected to nasty thunderstorms, and as a result I never got a chance to visit the area – until late June 1995. I revisited the Tintic in early July 2008, as part of a road trip along US Highway 6 between Bishop, CA and Price, UT. This is a fascinating place - a compact region filled with red, white and beige hills covered with stands of juniper, sagebrush and other greenery. The slopes of the Tintic Hills are pockmarked with caved-in mines, peppered with eroded tailing piles, all mixed up with rusty tin shacks, colorful rock foundations and other detritus of the silver-mining era. Narrow ribbons of dirt meander off, ducking around wildflower-strewn grassy knolls hiding the remains of dead mining camps and massive milling complexes It was from these colorful, rumpled hills that some half-billion dollars in silver and gold was unearthed, from a half a thousand mines, in a tad over one hundred years of mining.
The original discovery of silver here was made by a Mormon shepherd in 1865. As the Mormons were discouraged from prospecting, his find was forgotten until 1869, when a non-Mormon cowboy herding cattle rediscovered the rich ledge. He and his partners took samples and showed it off. The rush was on. Mines were staked and mining camps popped up all over the district, which was named after the Ute Indian, Chief Tintic. Because of the richness and durability of the mines, the Tintic’s main towns still counted over 8000 people in 1910, 40 years after the boom started. This was a stable and productive mining district where Tintic mining company stock continued traded briskly at the Salt Lake City stock exchange.
However, things have changed drastically since then. The Tintic’s mines are much quieter now, but with the massive run-up in silver and gold prices, there is new interest and activity in some of the area’s mines, some which once produced ore assaying $2500 per ton. The legacy of the Tintic remains in its mines, so, as a caveat - IF you wander off the roads to explore - please be cognizant of the fact this was and STILL IS mining country. Please show respect for the rights of the property owners and abide by all posted signs.
There are three main ways to reach the Tintic.
1. From the south on US Highway 6.
2. From the north off Interstate 80, thence south on State Highway 36.
3. Or west US 6 from I-15 at EXIT 248, through the sleepy agricultural community of Santaquin.
Our visit to the Tintic will begin at EUREKA, the "metropolis" of the Tintic with a 2000 population of 766. This is up from 562 folks in 1990, but still way down from its peak. We’ll see what happens with the 2010 census. Other than MAMMOTH, EUREKA is the only still-living town in the Tintic, its downtown a long
lined with a wonderful collection of one and two-story stone and masonry buildings, mostly unoccupied. There are several still-in-use churches and the city hall, built in the 1890s. Most of the businesses string out along Ruby Gulch, now the route of US 6. Houses meander up the sides of the hills on either side of the highway, a mixture of various vintage mobile homes and century old cabins. This sleepy old mining town still dreams of the days when it was Utah’s ninth largest city.
The mines that birthed EUREKA were part of the original discovery in December 1869, when a cowboy named George Rust found a chunk of silver ore. He showed it around, which created interest in the mountains to the east of the grazing land where he worked, especially once word got out that it assayed at $1500 per ton! The Tintic Mining District was born and named after a local Indian chief. The next year several settlers found rich ore a little further north in a little valley. They sold to a Captain E.B. Ward, who named his mine the Eureka Hill Mine. By 1871, over 500 mining claims had been filed, and a ramshackle mining camp sprawled across Ruby Hollow. It called itself EUREKA, and like most mining towns, the main street followed the bottom of the gulch, the houses and mines sprouting up wherever a spot of level land made itself available. Churches, schools, and commercial buildings quickly popped up along the streets, and by the early 1890s, EUREKA was a small city. A flash flood wiped out the main street in 1890, while a fire in 1893 tried to knock it out again. When it was rebuilt, the town was built of rock, and bricks, bigger and better than ever, most buildings still remaining.
By the turn of the century, EUREKA was a real city. It had several thousand people and a long main street lined with one and two story brick buildings. The 1910 census counted 3400 people in EUREKA, and the booming mining town had the second J.C. Penny's store in the country. It also had a 12,000-book library, a band, an Elks Lodge, and two newspapers among its amenities. EUREKA had a well-deserved reputation for being a quiet town, not one of the stereotypical, rip-snorting, hell-for-leather rowdy towns that dominated the West at the time. In 1930, it was still going strong, counting a population of 3041. The mines were worked through the 1930s, but in 1942 were closed down by government order. This sounded the death knell for EUREKA and the other towns in the Tintic. After the war ended, several mines did reopen, but the spark was gone. The last mine shuttered its portal in 1957. With higher mineral values today, there is some activity. Whether much ore is being mined, or if it’s just exploratory work, I don’t know.
An entire day could be spent poking around this wonderful old town. Unlike many mining towns that have gussied up and commercialized their history, or put on fancy airs to attract tourists, EUREKA missed that boat, which is a real advantage to those of us in search of authenticity when we seek the historic past. Most of the buildings are of buff-colored brick construction: some with red brick fronts, some painted, some plastered. Most date to the late 1890s, and most are now unoccupied. A walk along the cracked and heaving concrete sidewalk leads past dead store fronts faced with peeling paint, missing roofs, crumbling mortar joints and tattered canopies. Inside some of the windows dusty merchandise waits patiently for non-existent customers. Faded advertisements compete for wall space with structurally unsound stairs; broken windows; ornately decorated facades filled with gewgaws, knobs and other pretties; while rusty balconies hang by nearly rotted-through bolts. A 1950s vintage air raid siren perches atop the 1899 city hall and modern streetlights look out of place next to century old brick buildings like the Shea Building with cantilevered brick corbels along the top of the front wall. The white fronted "BPOE Block" with its elk head sticking out of the upper facade and modern glass storefront windows almost mocks the fading advertisement for overalls, hay, grain and coal, painted on the east side of the old building. EUREKA has experienced its share of boom and bust cycles, and its current non-booming state dominates its architecture.
Southwest of EUREKA US 6 descends a long hill. At the bottom is the upper part of a "Y" junction with SH 36 (MP 138). Down along the railroad about three miles from EUREKA is what remains of TINTIC STATION, a onetime bustling railroad station and shipping center for the district that is seldom shown on maps. It is an outgrowth of an earlier railroad town called IRONTON, whose long-fogotten and abandoned site sits about a mile west of the current route of the Union Pacific tracks. IRONTON was established in 1878 when the Salt Lake and Western Railroad pushed its tracks through the Tintic Valley. By the 1880s, the railroad relocated its tracks to the east, shifted the terminus to the south. It then opened a new depot several miles to the north at what was called TINTIC STATION. Ironton was now a homeless, railroadless orphan left to wither and die, its stores, saloons and lodging houses either torn down or relocated. Today, TINTIC STATION has a small section house, water tower and several outlying buildings along the road at what is called TINTIC JUNCTION.
Off to the east, along the midway point between the two tops of the “Y” junction, at MP 137, a paved road leads east up an alluvial fan covered with typical Utah greenery. Two miles from US 6 scattered cabins and mines announce the faded mining town of MAMMOTH. About the only building of any consequence remaining is the large, buff-colored fire station, which appears to be of 1950s or 1960s vintage. The only other buildings left are cabins, most of which appear occupied. A few aren't. There is also a large stone monument to the old Tintic Hospital, whose location is a barren site.
As the rush to EUREKA ensued in 1870, the Mammoth Mine was discovered just over the hill to the south of EUREKA. In 1873 the discoverers sold out to the McIntyre brothers, who basically swapped the mine for the herd of cattle they were driving towards Salt Lake City. Not too long after the McIntyres started mining, they hit an ore body that created another boomtown. Other mines quickly developed, and the town of Mammoth grew up on the upper end of the alluvial fan that leans against the head of the valley. Mills were built, including one at the mouth of the valley, a mile below the main camp of Mammoth. The small town that grew up around that mill was called Lowertown, or Robinson, after the mill's foreman.
The Mammoth Mine pumped out bismuth, copper, gold, lead, and silver, while the town of Mammoth grew. Upper Mammoth, at the head of the valley grew into the residential district, while Robinson developed into the commercial district which also included a dozen or so saloons. Both had their own post office, until 1910, when Mammoth incorporated, and a single post office was established at Middletown (midway between the two ends of town). In 1910, Mammoth had 350 plus homes along with enough commercial establishments to serve a population up to 2500. The Mammoth mines produced around $20 million in silver, and the town had one amenity that was lacking in most boom mining towns - a hospital. Mammoth had its fires, and its downturns, but unlike Eureka, Mammoth died. In 1930 its population still stood at 750, but it disincorporated, and continued to fade. Today, only a few scattered cabins remain at the upper part of town and a few mines are still being worked. The rest of MAMMOTH is rubble, foundations and memories.
A few changes occurred since my last visit in 1995. A large brick building has disappeared (OR I didn’t know where to look!) as has a large concrete wall ruin. At the time of my visit in July 2008, the mine at the top end of town appeared active. Whether it was active mining, or just exploratory work, I was unable to determine, as I couldn’t find anyone to ask, and the property was posted against trespass. In 1995, the right side of the building had a tall wooden structure covering the head frame machinery. That has since collapsed or been removed.
Just 0.2 miles south of the southern leg of the US 6/SH 36 "Y" junction is a dirt road heading east. It wanders past the massive concrete foundations of the Knight Mill complex and the now-abandoned remains of a large tailing pile that was undergoing heap leaching in 1995. This is the west end of SILVER CITY, which lies 0.7 miles up the road. All that remains of this onetime boomtown are a few holes where mines were, a number of colorful tailing piles, foundations and rock rubble.
Silver City was the original mining camp in the district, even predating Eureka by a year. It was founded at the time of the rediscovery of silver in 1869. Like Eureka and Mammoth, it was a long-lasting town, still going strong in 1899, when it claimed a population of 800. However, water flooded the mine and a major fire in 1902 damaged much of the community, killing the town’s spirit. Folks vacated, heading to more promising locations. But the decline was short-lived. In 1907, Jesse Knight bought up most of the mines and built a huge mill and 100 new houses. Silver City boomed a second time, and in a year had 1500 people. The boom only lasted until the mill closed in 1915. A decade later, Silver City was another forgotten ghost town: its buildings gone, the massive mill reduced to concrete foundations, the large concrete-walled reservoir dry, and the store forgotten – with only basement walls and steps remaining. The SILVER CITY cemetery is located about a half mile south of the town site and about 300 yards east of US 6, but I did not visit it, so cannot verify what remains or the condition.
The rest of the Tintic Mining District is mostly hidden from view. Some of the other old camps were Diamond City, Ironton, Tintic Mills, Harold, Dividend, Homansville, Knightsville and so on. BURGIN is visible from US 6 and looks to be home to a very active mine. BUT, the others? Nada. These places now are nothing more than memories and a few faded pictures in the state archives. I haven’t visited these backcountry ghosts, so don’t really know what remains. However, it is said they are nothing but barren sites or some with a little rubble. That is except HAROLD. The old company town of HAROLD itself is mostly forgotten. BUT, the site is highly visible. This company-owned milling town was located below the magnificent ruin of the 1921-1925 era Tintic Standard Company mill which is highly visible from US 6 three miles east of Goshen. The mill processed the silver ore from the company’s mine at DIVIDEND and the mill workers lived in a little community at the base of the mill.
The silvery past truly comes alive in the Tintic. When you come here in search of ghost towns, come with an open mind, plenty of time and fresh camera batteries. The ghosts of Utah's rich Tintic Mining District will