|USGS 7.5' Map:||Handies Peak|
|Managed by:||San Juan County||1557 Greene St, Silverton, CO 81433||(970)387-5766|
|Summary:||Placer Gulch 4WD road is a short connection road between California Gulch and Picayune Gulch. It passes the Sound-Democrat Mill and the Gold Prince Mine.|
|Attractions:||History, Mining, Scenery|
|Natural - Closed by heavy snows.
June - Still snowed in
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Early snows possible
|Camping:||There were no dispersed campsites along the road.|
|Base Camp:||This area would be a good place to base camp. There are many scenic 4WD roads and ghost towns in the area.|
|Fall Colors:||Poor - The area is open and has few trees.|
|Navigation:||From Silverton, CO. through Gladstone head northeast on Greene Street toward E 13th Street for 0.6 miles. Turn left onto State Hwy 110 and go 6.4 miles. Take a slight left onto County Rd 10 and go 3.7 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 19 and go 3.1 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 9, the Placer Gulch 4WD road.
From Silverton, CO. through Howardsville head northeast on Greene Street toward E 13th Street for 0.3 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 2 and go 7.7 miles. Turn left onto Animas Forks Rd and go 0.4 miles. Take a slight left onto County Rd 2 and go 3.5 miles. Take a slight left toward County Rd 9 and go 0.4 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 9 and go 1.1 miles. Take the first left to stay on County Rd 9, the Placer Gulch 4WD road.
Henry Promer located the Sound Democrat claim on August 7, 1875. Promer was a prospector looking for placer gold that was easy to mine. The Sound Democrat would require capital investment to develop. Promer probably abandoned the claim at the time. With the arrival of the railroad to Silverton in the early 1880's and the construction of a smelter in Silverton he re-located the Sound Democrat claim. In 1895, Promer and his partners sold the Sound Democrat mine to William G. White, an early merchant in the Eureka District, who interested mining man John James in the property. Together they opened the claim and in 1897 were reportedly shipping high-grade ore to the Durango smelter. Rather than invest in building a mill, they leased the mine to the owners of the nearby Sunnyside mine, the major operation in the Eureka District. The Sunnyside was developed by Judge J. H. Terry, a pioneer Colorado mining man.
During 1898-1899, Joe Terry, J. H. Terry's son, had as many as twenty-four men working the Sound Democrat mine and shipping its high-grade gold ore to the Sunnyside mill. In the spring of 1900, the Terrys proposed spending $100,000 to build a mill on the Animas Fork and building a tramline from the mine to the mill. Nothing came of the proposal. The Terrys withdrew from the Sound Democrat mine and focused their energy on the Sunnyside, which had hit a high-grade ore body. The Terrys sold their Sunnyside Extension mine, between the Sunnyside and the Sound Democrat, to the Gold Prince company in 1903. The Gold Prince company built Colorado's largest concentration mill at Animas Forks and built a tramway to its mine at the head of Placer Gulch. The Silverton and Northern Railroad extended its line to Animas Forks to serve the mill, and the Animas Power Company extended its utility line to the mill and mine. Because of the Gold Prince, the Sound Democrat mine was near cheap power and transportation, making it a promising property.
The Sound Democrat Mill was built in 1905-1906 in Placer Gulch. On July 28, 1905, the Silverton Miner announced a sale of "great importance to this county." William G. White had sold the Sound Democrat to J. B. Ezell of Pine Bluff, Arkansas and J. W. Walker. The new owners had sent a crew to open the mine and had ordered machinery for a mill to work the ores. On October 20, 1905, the mine manager J. W. Walker started work and kept a crew busy all winter on the Sound Democrat. The mine crew also built a tramway from the mine to the mill site. Although the mill site had been excavated and timber delivered to the site for framing, the close of the season in December found the Arkansas Mining & Tunnel Company still without its mill machinery.
In June 1906, J. B. Ezell arrived to begin active work on constructing the company's twenty ton capacity mill. The mill contains two batteries of two Nissen stamps each. The Chicago Mining World of October 17, 1905, described the Nissen stamp battery as an advance in ore crushing. A two-stamp battery was equal to a regular five-stamp battery. The Sound Democrat mill's four Nissen stamps were thus equal to ten regular stamps. In September 1906, the mill was reportedly test run.
In 1907, the mining industry in the West was crippled by a national Panic. The high metal markets for copper and lead had collapsed causing Western smelters to stop purchasing ores and to curtail operations. Though the Sound Democrat was reportedly "going ahead" in the summer of 1907 the mill was not operated. On July 22, 1907, J. W. Walker's interest in the Sound Democrat was sold to the Arkansas Mining and Tunnel Company. The Sound Democrat was idle in 1908. In the summer of 1909, the American Smelting & Refining Company, operator of the Durango smelter, announced that it would again buy lead ores and concentrates. Joe Terry, manager of the Sunnyside mine and leaser of the Sound Democrat in the 1890s, had again leased the mine and mill. Joe consolidated his operation with D. B. Smith and the adjacent Silver Queen mine. During the summer of 1909 Joe Terry completed a surface tram from the Silver Queen to the Sound Democrat aerial tram terminal and began shipping ore. The mine became known as the Queen-Democrat.
For the first time, the mill produced concentrates. New concentration tables were added, standard sixteen-foot Wilfley tables. A newer concentration level was added to the lower end of the mill in 1909. (This lowest level of the mill has collapsed today) The mill was totally overhauled with a new jaw crusher, a new electric motor, a new water line and power lines. During June and July 1910, Terry shipped 150 tons of mill concentrate. In August, only crude ore was shipped, some 25 tons. The Queen-Democrat mine was closed because the operation was marginal. In 1914, the Arkansas Mining & Tunnel Company property was removed from the county tax rolls, indicative of its low value. In 1921, Ezell filed a location notice for the Pine Bluff mill site and all its improvements, which was the site known as the Sound Democrat mill. This ensured his preemptory title but also may indicate that machinery was beginning to be removed from the derelict Sound Democrat mill.
The Sound Democrat Mill is a typical amalgamation and concentration stamp mill built to treat gold and silver-lead ores. It is the last standing stamp mill in the productive Eureka district, and one of the most complete stamp mills remaining in Colorado.
Mastodon and Hanson
Rasmus Hanson, born in Denmark in 1847, immigrated to Quebec at age twenty-one, then moved to Chicago. The opportunity for adventure drew Hanson west and took an interest in mining. In 1880 he realized his dreams by discovering the Sunnyside Extension at the head of Placer Gulch. Hanson struck rich ore during the year and made enough income to buy the entire property in 1883. From that point, Hanson engaged in a cautious development strategy. Progress was slow, but steady, and once the mine was ready for major production, Hanson stood to profit significantly. In 1885 the new Hanson Mill began operation. By 1890, Hanson increased the workforce to around twenty-five miners and ten surface employees.
They generated forty to fifty tons of ore per day, ran the mill around the clock, and produced $15,000 per month. Some of the ore came from the adjoining Mastodon Mine, which Hanson linked to the Sunnyside Extension through underground workings. By 1891, Hanson felt that he had enough capital to finance the next move toward efficiency, a tramway from one of the main tunnels down to the mill. Just as the Sunnyside Extension appeared to reach a peak of production and complexity, Hanson sold the operation in 1892. The British buyers paid Hanson $200,000, retained him as manager, but ran into trouble, possibly as early as 1893. Based on Hanson's ten-year record of extracting ore that assayed well, the new owners though more rich material remained. They miscalculated, however, and exhausted the rich ore within a year or two, leaving low-grade ore that resisted treatment in the mill. Despite Hanson's efforts, production declined, and he ran the mill only intermittently, while deciding how to remedy the problem.
The Mastodon Mine was quiet during the early 1890s because its richest ore was exhausted. Rasmus Hanson leased the Mastodon in 1894 or 1895, developed the vein, and began treating the ore with limited success in the Hanson Mill.
One of the most infamous ventures in the Eureka district was the Gold Prince Mine. Originally known as the Sunnyside Extension, the Sunnyside Extension Mining & Milling Company bought the Gold Prince from Rasmus Hanson in 1892. Hanson reaped the best ore during his tenure, and the Sunnyside Extension company struggled with the complex, low-grade material that remained. In 1897, the outfit went bankrupt, company official F.W. Popple was appointed receiver, and he attempted to repay the debts through income realized from ore production. In 1900, Popple sold the property to the Smuggler-Union Mining Company, whose principals also purchased the North Star. Smuggler-Union worked with the mine for several years, decided it was not worth further effort, and planned to sell. Willis Kinney examined the operation, and thought that if it could be worked in a manner similar to his Gold King mine, the Sunnyside Extension would be at least as profitable. Flush with profits from the Gold King mine and Silverton, Gladstone & Northerly Railroad, Kinney, Davis, and Soule purchased the property in 1903 under the Gold Prince Mines Company. Kinney began planning facilities larger than those at the Gold King and made initial preparations for a substantial mill at Animas Forks and a two segment tramway to the mill. In anticipation of hauling construction materials and carrying out a stream of concentrates, the Silverton Northern Railroad finished a line from Eureka to Animas Forks in 1904, as had been proposed years before. The only viable route was up the Animas River, and the grade proved to be one of the most difficult in Mears' railroad system. It was so steep that an engine could haul only two full or three empty cars up at a time, and they were pushed to prevent breakaways.
In 1905, Kinney contracted for the mill and tramway. Meanwhile, the miners blocked six million tons of low-grade material, enough to supply the mill for fifty years. As the mill took form, and a number of innovations drew accolades from the greater mining industry. At a cost of $500,000, the mill was steel frame with reinforced concrete floors and foundations, forced-air heat, and electric power wired from the Animas Power & Water Company. The use of steel and concrete with individual motors to run specific appliances were departures from conventional mill design. The mill was capable of treating 500 tons of ore per day, and some experts claimed that the facility was the largest comparable in the state.
The tramway was an equally complex Bleichert system. The route was not direct due to the obstacle of Treasure Mountain, so the tramway featured an angle station.
However, the Gold Prince tramway was further divided into three sections, which isolated potential damage from avalanche or fire. The tramway descended down Placer Gulch to a tension station, continued to an angle station on the northwest flank of Treasure Mountain and from there reached the mill at Animas Forks. The angle station and upper terminal featured concrete bases, steel frames, steam heat, and electric power. At the end of 1906, the system was complete. Miners began sending ore down the tramway to the mill, which processed the material and operated at around one-third capacity through most of 1907.
The Gold Prince was a monumental disaster, which deeply affected the mood in the entire county. At the end of 1907, low metals prices forced the company to stop the titanic mill. Without the mill, the company was unable to generate the income necessary to meet its debt obligations. At the same time, Davis and Soule, who provided most of the financing for the Gold King and Gold Prince, faced their own crises when the recession ruined other investments they held. These conditions precipitated a domino effect that brought down first the Gold Prince and then the Gold King. Davis, Soule, and the Gold Prince company all were overextended, and creditors clamored for payments on their loans. Angry creditors threatened to foreclose on both mines, and Davis and Soule negotiated a year to reconfigure their finances. A fire subsequently consumed the Gold King plant in 1908. By the end of the year, it was obvious that Davis and Soule could not extricate themselves and were bankrupted. The Gold King and Gold Prince were placed in receivership.
J.O. Campbell assumed the Gold Prince in 1909 and prepared to resume where the company left off. Campbell was qualified by his extensive experience with ASARCo. Campbell hired Paul Hanson to restart the mill, based on his experience with the Gold King. When Campbell and Hanson brought the mill into action, they discovered that the process lost a considerable percentage of the ore's metal content, despite its careful engineering. The Sunnyside Extension Mill was a testing plant to hone treatment methods known to be effective on Sunnyside Extension ore. Hanson refitted the Gold Prince Mill, tried again, produced a considerable amount of concentrates, but was still unsatisfied with the efficiency. Meanwhile, the Silverton Northern Railroad tracks washed out, stranding Animas Forks and preventing Campbell from shipping his concentrates. In 1910, Hanson ran the mill one last time with discouraging results, and shut it down.
Historic Structures Colorado Online, 2015.
Twitty, Eric Historic Mining Resouces of the San Juan County, Colorado United States Department of the Interior: OMB No.1024-0018, Print.
National Park Service HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING RECORD Denver, Colorado: Department of the Interior
|Placer Gulch begins off of California Gulch, Cnty 19, and heads south toward Picayune Gulch, also spelled Picayne on topographical maps. The road is about one and a half vehicles wide for all of its length and is a bit rough in some spots.|
As you climb this short valley keep an eye out for the last of the old tram towers that use to connect the Gold Prince Mine with the Gold Prince Mill in Animas Forks. Shortly you will come to the Sound-Democrat Mill.
You will drive past the Sound-Democrat Mill and through the remains of the Hanson Mill, mainly piles of boards and concrete foundations. At a Y in the road you can turn back left and head down the old road, which is narrower, to the small parking area near the Sound-Democrat Mill.
Inside the mill are the remains of some of the equipment that was used to process the ore.
Back at the Y if you head to the right and continue up the valley you will pass through the remains of the Gold Prince Mine. Some of the concrete foundations are still here, but most of the structures have collapsed.
After crossing the ridge the road will drop down and connect with the Picayune Gulch road.
Data updated - March 24, 2016
4WD Road driven - August 11, 2015
Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2016