COBWEB CORNERS: Colorado City’s first gold mill

By Mel McFarland

       The gold at Cripple Creek was a problem. A false claim brought gold seekers to the area more than 10 years before the big strike in 1890. It was hailed as quite a hoax, but now we know the truth. They did not know what to look for! Cripple Creek gold took a trained eye. The gold near the surface looked nothing like the gold found in California or west of Denver.
       It would be 1894 before a railroad reached Cripple Creek, but the gold ore was being hauled out just weeks after the first mine opened. It was being taken to Leadville, Pueblo and Denver mainly, to be mixed with gold from the other mining camps. The ore traveled in wagons to the nearest rail lines at Canon City and Florissant, where it was put on a train. Some of the better mines in Cripple Creek were even milling their own ores.
       According to the newspapers of the time, Colorado City people were calling for some sort of mill to be built in their town soon after the first discoveries. Land and water were available. Plus, there was coal to run the machinery, and Colorado City Mayor Matt France was in the business! Finally, in 1894 Spencer Penrose and his partners announced a plan to build a mill here.
       The Colorado-Philadelphia mill would sit against the ridge southwest of Colorado City, just off the Colorado Midland yards. It employed hundreds during its construction. Red rocks from the quarry just on the other side of the ridge (now Red Rock Canyon Open Space) were used as foundations. Once the mill opened, many men in the area went to work there. Dozens of cars were processed every day. For a decade the mill was generally busy, but it declined when a newer process came in. The Colorado-Philadelphia eventually closed, in the shadow of two other, more modern and better mills.
       Today the spot where it stood can still be seen. Thirty-first Street runs where the railroad tracks were. Red stones mark where parts of the mill stood. People walk over the ridge into the old quarry from a Red Rock parking lot where freight cars used to sit waiting to be unloaded. There is more to this mill's story, so we will go into that next time!