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National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum

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Last October, when Integra Resources COO Tim Arnold was a guest on the Mining Minds podcast based in Spring Creek, Nevada, he talked about a fundraiser he was involved in to raise money for the National Mining Hall of Fame. Arnold told the podcast hosts the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville, Colorado, is definitely something they should check out.

“It’s absolutely worth taking the trip off I-70 to get up there,” Arnold said. “For one thing, you get to go to Leadville, which is really cool. That’s a cool old mining camp. And the Hall of Fame is a pretty nice feature.”

Leadville is about two hours from Denver, tucked away up in the Rocky Mountains. The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum has as many as 24,000 visitors in a good year, and they come from all 50 states and many foreign countries.

At 10,152 feet, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in North America. The city is surrounded by mountains, including two peaks that are over 14,400 feet.

Gold was discovered in the area in 1860, and with the news of the gold rush about 10,000 people trekked up into the mountains to the Leadville area. When the silver boom hit in the late 1870s, around 40,000 people lived in the Leadville area. Leadville was a wild west town with lots of famous and infamous colorful characters, and some people made incredible fortunes.

Today most of the gold and silver in the area has been stripped away and there is little mining anymore, except for at the Climax molybdenum mine about 13 miles from town.

The Leadville population is now around 2,600, and the town’s economy relies largely on tourism. The travelers who make their way to town have plenty to enjoy, including all the outdoor recreation opportunities, and the old west history you can feel as you stroll the downtown National Historic District.

Many visitors to Leadville spend some time at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. Some are interested in learning more about the history of the area, and some are interested in mining and want to see the Hall of Fame and the museum exhibits, but some may not know much about mining and may not even really be aware that mining still takes place in the United States. The mission of the museum is to share the history of mining and the Leadville area, and to also give people the opportunity to learn about the role of mining in today’s world.

National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum Executive Director Stephen Whittington recently told museum visitors about the museum’s history and future before giving a tour of the exhibits.

“We’re more and more focusing on the present and future of mining rather than the past,” Whittington said. “We’re trying to move away from the view that we’re a history museum. Because we feel that where mining is now and where it’s going in the future may be the more significant things to talk about.”

The museum’s origins began in the 1970s with a group of people interested in developing a mining hall of fame. A mining hall of fame organization was founded in 1977 in the Denver area, but it didn’t have a facility. Members considered places like Golden, on the west side of Denver, and other mining towns around the West.

In Leadville, the school moved into a new building around 1985, and the large school building that had been built in 1899 on a street overlooking the town sat empty. The mining hall of fame organization saw that this would be a great place to put a National Mining Hall of Fame in a museum in a town with a rich mining history.

The facility received a national charter from Congress in 1988, making it official that it is the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.

“Through time, the organization put in exhibits to grow throughout the three interconnected buildings that we have,” Whittington said. “So now we have 25,000 square feet of exhibit space, and they’re all filled.”

The buildings have five levels, and top level is dedicated primarily to the Mining Hall of Fame. There are currently 253 plaques in the Hall of Fame honoring people important to the mining industry. Some of the plaques are accompanied by objects associated with the inductees.

At the entrance to the hall, there is a large screen where people can search for and find information about the inductees, including videos about those who have joined the Hall of Fame in more recent years. All this information can also be found online, at mininghalloffame.org.

Every year people submit nominations for those they feel deserve to be honored with an induction to the National Mining Hall of Fame. A board of governors reviews the nominations, and selects four or five people for induction, and they pass those selections on to the Hall of Fame’s board of directors.

In the past, the annual Mining Hall of Fame induction banquet has been held in various cities, but for the past five years, the event has been held in the Denver area. Usually around 300 people attend. Last year the induction ceremony was held virtually, and people watched online. This year the induction ceremony will again be an in-person event. The 34th annual induction will be Oct. 23 at the Westin Denver International Airport Hotel. The ceremony probably will also be broadcast online.

This year, in addition to the induction of four people into the National Mining Hall of Fame, Liz Arnold of Reno, Nevada, will receive the 2021 Prazen Living Legend of Mining Award. There is a Q&A with Liz Arnold about the award and her involvement with mining in the Summer 2021 Mining the West magazine.While the top level of the old school building is dedicated to the Mining Hall of Fame, the other four levels are the National Mining Museum, which currently has about 68 exhibits and 950 artifacts.

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An audio tour is available, which takes you through the museum for an overview in about 45 minutes. Most visitors spend about an hour and a half to two hours in the museum.

“If you read everything, it would probably take you a week,” Whittington said.

The exhibits on different types of mining include lots of displays and facts about gold, silver, zinc, copper, molybdenum and marble mining.

One hallway displays plaques showing what is mined in each of the 50 states in the U.S., so that people can see that mining is still going on in their state. Every state in the U.S. has at least one mine.

The exhibit about mining in outer space includes a video about mining asteroids, a picture of the only geologist to ever go to the moon, and panels that talk about what is likely to happen with mining on the moon in the near future.

A display on the famous 2010 Chilean mine rescue includes information about the safety of mining today.

A large room is filled with an impressive collection of minerals from around the world.

An exhibit on mining lighting through the ages features a collection of old mining lamps.

In the crystal cave, you walk between two walls that were found in mines.

There are some walk-through exhibits that take you into the experience of being in a historic underground mine, complete with sound effects. The walk-through hard rock mine is based on the Black Cloud Mine, which was in the Leadville area. The 19th century coal mine exhibit includes lots of details to look for, such as dinosaur footprints on the ceiling.

A temporary exhibit tells about the connection between baseball and mining in the early 20th century.

In one area of the museum, you walk through the rooms of a house and see all the household items, from the computer to beauty supplies to food in the refrigerator, that are made using mined minerals.

The first exhibit many people see when they visit the museum tells about the history of mining in Leadville and shares some of the story of the Matchless Mine, which is just above town.

People can also visit the Matchless Mine site, which is owned and operated by the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. You can stroll around the site and see “Baby Doe’s” cabin, the powder magazine house, the hoist house, blacksmith shop, headframe and mine shaft, and you can learn how to pan for gold. You can also go on a guided tour of the Matchless Mine, and your host will share a motherlode of stories about the mine and the characters who struck it rich in the early days of Leadville.

The National Mining Museum is filled with a multitude of exhibits, but work on the museum is not done, and several new exhibits are in the works. An exhibit is being planned on the ethnic groups in Leadville to show from which countries and areas people were drawn to come to Leadville in its early mining days.The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum is in the midst of a three-year campaign to raise $6 million for an endowment to increase the organization’s sustainability. More then $1 million has been raised so far, and they only need to raise a total of $3 million from donors to reach the goal since the Avenir Foundation has pledged to match up to $3 million in donations to the endowment during the three years of the campaign.

The interest from the endowment will supplement the operating budget of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.

A letter on the endowment campaign says, “An endowment will enable the board and staff to focus their energy on implementing the 2018 Interpretive Plan and developing cutting-edge exhibits and educational programs to recruit the next generation of mining professionals ….”

“This is a move to make sure that in the future this place can survive the ups and downs of things like last year,” Whittington said.

Last year with the pandemic, visitation was way down at the museum, but this year people are eager to get out and see the world, and lot of people are enjoying spending some time at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.

“The museum, in terms of visitation, and the Matchless, are both doing great this year,” Whittington said. “The museum in June and July had their best June and July since I’ve been here, which is seven and a half years. We had more visitors, and they’re spending more money, than any time recently. And that’s great.” 

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