Leadville is the highest altitude town to be occupied year round in the United States, situated at 3094 m (10,592 ft) above sea level. The area was a booming silver mining town in the late 19th century and while the mining era is all but over, relics of it are still plentiful around Leadville.
The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum (NMHFM) offers an interesting look at the geology and mining of the region, and its Hall of Fame portion recognizes the men and women who were important mining pioneers. A relatively new institution, the nonprofit NMHFM was founded in 1977 and the building it occupies renovated in 1987. Initially it was to be on the grounds of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, but Leadville was ultimately chosen. The museum is housed in the old Leadville High School, which was constructed in 1899.
There are three levels of exhibits in the NMHFM, occupying 71,000 sq ft (6,600 sq m). The museum exhibits do a great job explaining the story of mining here and elsewhere. There are wonderful gem and mineral displays from mines around the world. One of the exhibits features a display of fluorescent rocks, our very first clue. There is an elaborate model railroad, a walk through of a simulated underground mine, a Gold Rush room, and a mining art gallery.
Of special interest to me was the 1923 Wills Saint Clair automobile. These are uncommon cars that made an important technological advancement in that they were the first car to incorporate molybdenum (a mineral mined near Leadville to this day) to provide durability to the metal (which it does). Only 80 of the 10,000 Wills Saint Clair cars produced still survive.
A terrace on the fourth floor provides a nice viewpoint for the town and surrounding Rocky Mountains. The Hall of Fame is on the fifth floor and is a federally chartered memorial for men and women who have achieved lasting greatness in the mining industry, with inductees selected by the museum’s board of governors. Consideration is given to “prospectors, miners, mining leaders, engineers, teachers, financiers, inventors, journalists, and geologists”.
The museum is worthy of at least a two hour visit and if you enjoy minerals and geology, as I do, then you can fill a half day studying all the exhibits. An enjoyable diversion, especially on a rainy summer day.
Here are some of the exhibits we enjoyed during our visit: