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On Walkabout At: The Western Museum of Mining & Industry

Basic Information

  • Name: Western Museum of Mining & Industry
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Cost: $8 adult, less for seniors and children
  • Hours: 9am – 4pm, Mon – Sat
  • More Info: WMMI website

Narrative

With as rich a history as Colorado Springs has and the amount of tourists that visit the city; this has caused Springs to become home to numerous museums.  I have slowly been taking the time to go and check them out.  The latest one I have stopped by and visited was the Western Museum of Mining and Industry located north of town near the US Air Force Academy:


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The entrance to the museum can be a little tricky to find but the best way to spot the entrance from North Gate Boulevard is to look for this old farmhouse:

If you see this farmhouse then you have found the entrance to the museum.  Just drive around to the back of the farmhouse and the museum is easily visible:

Mining has historically been an important industry here in Colorado with gold and silver being the most important mine operations near Colorado Springs due to the 1890 gold rush at Cripple Creek.  Coal has also been a major industry in Colorado with many old coal mining communities located in the mountains south of Colorado Springs. The Western Museum of Mining and Industry provides a facility that has been open since 1970 that chronicles mining in Colorado with over 4,000 artifacts on display on a 27 acre indoor/outdoor facility, which includes a ten-stamp ore mil, a theater, and a 5,000-volume research library.

The first and most obvious thing on display when visitors first walk into the museum is this large steam engine:

This is called a Corliss steam engine that was a popular piece of milling equipment back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Here is a picture of some of the equipment used to measure and check the purity of gold used by assessors back in the day:

Here is a small sample of the gold that these assessors would have been determining the value of for the miners that brought them in:

On the lower right of this picture you can see a small sample of pure gold in the vial:

Here are examples of the pans that these miners would have used to find gold in the various mountainous creeks outside of Colorado Springs:

Eventually when the alluvial gold ran out the miners had to start digging into the ground which eventually turned mining into an industrialized process that needed equipment that only large corporations could provide and manage.  One of the large tools used by industrialized mining companies are these large drills that were used to cut into solid rock in search of gold:

Here is a model of what one of these mines would have looked like:

Here is an example of a mine shaft in one of these mines:

Here are examples of the lanterns that early miners would have used:

Before electrical lighting being a miner most have been quite a dark and claustrophobic feeling when only carrying one of these lanterns into a mine shaft.  The museum also had on display a number of the minerals that are mined besides gold that are extremely valuable in their own right:

Being a museum that promotes mining the curators made sure that they had a display that shows various every day items that include mined materials that many people may not realize contains:

Besides all there is to see inside the museum outside there is plenty of things to see outside the building as well.  Here is an old piece industrialized equipment that would have been used to remove top soil for mining:

Here is an old train with cars that would have been used to move ore from the mines

Behind the museum there is a small hill that has an old mine building located on it:

Near the building is this old mine shaft:

I walked up the hill to where the building was located but it was all locked up.  The top of the hill was capped by this mine elevator:

From the top of the hill I had some nice views of Pikes Peak and the nearby Rampart Range:

I didn’t spend too much time wandering around outside when I visited the museum simply because it was quite cold out.  So I headed back to my car and called it a day.

Conclusion

Overall I found the museum to be quite interesting simply because I like history and it is fascinating to learn more about an industry that played a key role in the growth of Colorado.  If it wasn’t for the various gold strikes in Colorado it would have been many more years before Colorado would have become a state in 1876.  Assuredly Colorado Springs would not be the city it is today without the Cripple Creek Gold Rush that saw money from locals that struck it rich like Spencer Penrose and W.S. Stratton put back into the community through both business and charity ventures that continue to this day.

Learning about mining history in Colorado may not be for everyone, but I think it is well worth taking an hour or so depending on your interest level and wander through this museum.  The admission isn’t overly expensive and it is pretty clear that the curators have put a lot of hard work into creating a nice and informative museum about mining in the area.  A visit to this museum in conjunction with a visit to the US Air Force Academy I think makes for a nice half a day itinerary for those visiting the Colorado Springs area.

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