Messing with Maps: 1883 San Juan Mining Districts Edition
Here's one for the Colorado history nerds
This is one for the Colorado/mining history nerds. My apologies to everyone else. We’ll get back to our regular more broadly regional programming on Friday.
Today’s featured map is “E. Fischer’s map of the San Juan Mining Districts, 1883, copyrighted by F.C. Lawrence and Geo. Freund. Durango, Colorado.” If you can’t see the image in the email version, or if it’s blurry, click on the headline and view it on the Land Desk website. It’s worth the trouble!
This is one of those maps that I just can’t stop looking at. It’s elegant in its simplicity, beautifully drawn — I love the way the Animas River oxbows above Durango are rendered — and accurate enough to navigate by. And every time I zoom in and examine another area, I learn something new about how the cultural landscape of my home-corner of Colorado once looked. At first glance, for example, it would seem that the major wagon roads of 1883 are more or less on the same path as today’s big highways. But a closer look reveals that in 1883 there were roads that are barely even trails now.
Let’s take a closer look:
This one shows the southern end of the map (I removed the Durango/Silverton plats because I’ll focus in on those below). Things I noticed on this:
Down at the very bottom center, amid the coal fields, there is something labeled “Creeks Iron Deposit.” I don’t know what to make of this, but I sure as heck had never heard of that before. Readers: Please educate me!
Next to the iron deposit, the route to Farmington appears initially to follow what is now La Posta Road, but then veers to the west. Seems weird that it wouldn’t follow the Animas River.
It’s not quite visible on this, but the Animas River gorge above Rockwood is labeled “Grand Canyon.”
It appears as if the wagon road up Junction Creek actually followed the stream rather than going up above the gorge. Seems like that would have been a bit rough going. And the “Old” Kennebeck Trail on the map appears to follow the current road.
Now let’s check out the northern end of the map:
The first thing that strikes me is how heavily developed the mining district already was at this point. Not only were there claims everywhere (the little round circles), but also most of the towns/camps had been built up and established a mere decade after the Brunot agreement had expropriated the area from the Utes. Also:
Trout Lake was aptly named; it was one of the only places that the Hayden Survey of 1874 found fish in the San Juan high country.
Note the relatively diminutive size of Telluride and other nearby communities such as Ophir and Silverton and even San Miguel, which lives on as the Shell station and San Miguel Country Store.
The primary wagon road out of Silverton went over Stony Pass to Del Norte — quite the trek in winter time. The railroad arrived in 1882, rendering that supply route almost obsolete.
Zooooming in even more:
Not a whole lot of note in Silverton, in part because the place — at least the general layout — hasn’t changed much. Note there were still a couple of smelters in town at the time, which never did all that well. They wouldn’t last; the railroad made shipping ore to “Smelter City,” aka Durango, feasible. This also shows a different path for the railroad tracks in town, putting its terminus at Empire & 14th St. (rather than the current Blair & 12th). Anyone know if this is accurate?
This one of Rico is cool just because it shows how happening the little town was. It looks like there were a couple smelters and a couple of reduction works already. Impressive.
And last but surely not least: Durango as it appeared in 1883. The first thing that jumped out to me here was the street names. In the main part of town, the east-west streets were lettered (rather than numbered, as they are now). And the north south streets were called streets (rather than avenues, as they are now). In the northern end of town, the streets went by names such as Dolores, Smith, Delaware, Spring, Cherry, Locust and Pine (now they are all numbered, with the exception of the inexplicably named Alamo Street, where I grew up, and Alamo Drive). Also:
It appears that the Swinging Bridge (a footbridge across the Animas at 14th St.) existed, but that it was one block south of the current location.
The “Water Works” pulled liquid from the Animas River, pumped it to a reservoir on College Hill from where it was then sent back into town. This was just as ore milling was catching on in the upstream mining camps. Within a few years, the dumping of mill tailings into the Animas and its tributaries would turn the river into a silt-laden, murky gray, fish-less stream all the way to Durango and beyond. Initially Durango tried to get controls on tailings dumping, but were powerless against the mining industry. In the early 1900s Durango began getting its drinking water from the Florida River to the east, which wasn’t polluted by mining.
The Junction Creek wagon road went through what is now the Crestview, aka Tupperware Heights, neighborhood.
How about y’all? What about these maps jumps out at you? I’d love to hear your observations. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about putting the map on a t-shirt or something. Suggestions?
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