A new book detailing the rich history of mining in Silverton was just released last week after three years in the making, but the story’s relevance and timing could not be more appropriate.
Mines Around Silverton is the latest from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, which chronicles the history of a wealth of subjects, including small towns, local landmarks and architecture, to name a few.
The book was written and complied by Karen A. Vendl and Mark A. Vendl, who are based in Chicago but have been visiting Southwest Colorado for the last 30 to 35 years. The Vendls worked in cooperation with the San Juan County Historical Society, which is headquartered in Silverton.
Retired Fort Lewis College professor Duane A. Smith wrote an introduction and also helped work on the book over the past three years.
Smith, a renowned historian of the region, said the goal of the book is to preserve a rich history that is quickly disappearing.
“Mining, of course, is the heritage for this whole region,” Smith said. “It’s the reason why we’re all here. Basically, we’re trying to make people aware of our heritage because it’s rapidly disappearing or has disappeared.”
Silverton, at its height, was one of the state’s most lucrative mining districts, known for its vast deposits of gold and silver. Mining boomed in the region from the 1880s to the early 1910s, and tapered off around the time of the First World War. Still, mining operations continued around Silverton, with the last mine, Sunnyside, shutting down in 1991.
“Because mining is gone today, we wanted people to see what it was like: the low pay, the danger,” Smith said. “We wanted to recapture an era which is gone.”
Smith also said the book tries to set the record straight on some of the “wild stories” that surround the myth of mining towns. One such tale was that at one point, Silverton was home to more than 200 prostitutes.
“Those are some of the strange stories you get,” he said. “We wanted to get away from some of those wild stories and back to realty.”
Mines Around Silverton is especially significant given the reignited interest in the Upper Animas mining district after the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill.
It paints a portrait through a number of archival photographs of the people and places that gave life to the mining culture, before it was abandoned and became known for its lingering impact on the environment.
“It’s part of our history,” Smith said. “The question is, do we want to save it or not?”
The book’s official release was Sept. 14.