Eureka day: The Tintic Mining District’s center hangs on as a volatility-resistant time capsule

A photo of an 1896 picture of the Bullion Beck mining operation burns away to its remains in 2021 in Eureka, Utah. | Photos by Reuben Wadsworth, collage by Chris Reed, St. George News

FEATURE — Most boom and bust mining operations are known mainly for just one mineral extracted within their reaches. However, the Tintic Mining District strewn between Juab and Utah counties produced gold, silver, copper and lead.

It also wasn’t a short-lived operation like the typical mining forays in the West. It was subject to major economic volatility like all mining, but it somehow held on for just over a century when most of its counterparts lasted less than two decades. 

Today, Eureka, the district’s most populous community, is not a ghost town but a community still hanging on without major mining operations. Walking through its downtown is a trip back in time, where time has seemed to stand still for about 50 to 70 years.

But walking through this “time capsule” today provides a great glimpse into what the town would have been like when mining was at its peak.

Tintic Mining District history

In the 1860s, a group of Latter-day Saint cowboys found a piece of “float,” silver ore brought to the surface, in the area.

“Illuminated by beams from the sun, the outcrop led to naming the claim ‘the Sunbeam,’” Philip F. Notarianni wrote in his chapter about the Tintic Mining District in the book “From the Ground Up: The History of Mining in Utah.” “Shortly after this discovery, those involved formally organized the Tintic Mining District on Dec. 13, 1869.”

The district took its name from a Ute chief of the same name.

The district’s story played out like many other metal-mining operations in the West: When first discovered, prospectors swarmed in to work the surface operations. 

This 1896 photo of the Bullion Beck mining operation is on the interpretive plaque near the company’s headframe west of Eureka, the only remnant of the company’s mining operations still standing, Eureka, Utah, April 5, 2021 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

“When these early outcrops were depleted of high-grade ore, individual effort gave way to corporate interests, which had the large outlays of capital necessary to mine the depths,” Notarianni explained. “Thus,in the early 1870s, Eureka’s main mines were staked, and by 1899 the Eureka Hill, Bullion Beck and Champion, Centennial-Eureka, and Gemini became known as the ‘Big Four’ and ensured the area’s growth.”

Its story also played out like other places in that it developed in stages, first the camp stage, then a settlement, and then to the city stage. Augmentation of transportation infrastructure was key in this development, which was not as rapid as other mining areas in the West. At first its ores were shipped to San Francisco, Reno, Baltimore and even as far away as Swansea, Wales for smelting. Later, it was sent to be smeltered in Argo and Pueblo, Colorado as well as the Salt Lake Valley, Notarianni wrote. 

In 1872, the Lehi and Tintic Railroad Company was formed, wanting to build a 50-mile track from a junction with the Utah Southern Railroad line in Lehi. But the Panic of 1873, a short economic depression, led to its demise. By 1878, the Utah Southern extended its line to Ironton, just five miles short of Eureka. This led to output in 1879 being double the previous year’s production.

The Union Pacific, through a subsidiary, extended the line from Ironton to Silver City in 1882. In 1892, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, through its subsidiary, came on the scene with a branch line completed from Springville by way of Santaquin and Goshen.

“The entrance of the railroad was heralded as one of the most important events of the year since it gave Tintic the advantage of two competing lines,” Notarianni explained.

In the mid-1880s, mining activity practically ceased because of litigation between the Bullion Beck and Champion and Eureka Hill interests over property rights. However, both companies took advantage of the pause in operation for renovation and development work. For instance, the Bullion Beck remodeled its hoisting works and installed new machinery. Eureka Hill did much the same. In June 1888, the two companies arrived at a compromise that ended the feud. 

“The Salt Lake Tribune heralded the event for injecting new life into Eureka, one sign of which was the increase in the number of residences and business establishments,’ Notarianni noted.

Milling and smelting operations in the area were sporadic. Many were short lived.

“Due to the fluctuations in types of metal mined, mills and smelters opened and closed as specific grades of ores were located and treatment methods worked out,” Notorianni explained in his chapter. “Just as significant in explaining the sporadic nature of mineral processing were the battles waged by competing smelters and railroads over smelting and shipping rates.”

Many felt that the rates charged by Tintic milling operations were exorbitant and touted the need for a milling operation that was independent of mining and railroad interests. One man ended up doing just that. 

In the mid-1890s, Latter-day Saint mining entrepreneur Jesse Knight came onto the Tintic scene with the Humbug Mine and “exemplified the tenacious owner bent upon breaking trusts by creating his own,” Notarianni explained.

Knight built his own smelter, his own narrow-gauge railroad, power plant, mill, drain tunnel and even his own dry farm in his quest for self-sufficiency in mining operations. His town, Knightsville, was approximately one mile east of Eureka.

“Knight discovered through basic desires or corporate need that if no one would supply certain services at the right price, he would just have to supply them himself,” Notarianni noted.

This historic photo shows a panorama of the town during its heyday, Eureka, Utah, circa 1920 | Photo courtesy of the Tintic Historical Society, St. George News

As was the case with most mining towns in Utah, Eureka and the whole Tintic Mining District featured greater ethnic diversity in its population than was seen elsewhere in the state. Cornish, Welsh, German, Finnish and Irish workers made up a significant portion of the mining pioneers in the area and Chinese, who were vital in the construction of the transcontinental railroad, came to Tintic to run laundries and cook. Many of these individuals were veterans of mining or railroad operations elsewhere in the West.

The district became a bastion of Catholicism with the district’s Irish residents asking for a resident priest, who in 1885 erected St. Joseph’s School, operated by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Notorianni wrote. A permanent branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began in 1884. A Methodist church was finished in the fall of 1891. 

“Prosperity appeared eternal in the years 1891 through 1893, but it proved fleeting as the economic downturns of 1893, coupled with labor strife, brought Tintic to its knees,” Notorianni explained.

The repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which required the Federal Treasury to purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver per month, caused the silver market to become unstable and led to falling prices. This economic instability led the mine owners to launch an attack on wages and unions in the winter of 1892-93. They wanted to lower wages commensurate with the price of silver, but a compromise failed to materialize with both sides standing pat in their respective positions.

In early March 1893, the Bullion Beck Mine brought in strike breakers, inexperienced miners, to the chagrin of the townspeople. Even a group of 40 women marched to the mine to protest and express their discontent. At the request of the mine, by mid-March U.S. marshals were on duty at the mine. For a mining town experiencing a strike, the number of arrests for violence was surprisingly low. 

The Bullion Beck headframe west of Eureka is a prominent reminder of the town’s mining history and the only remaining structure still standing of the former mining company, Eureka, Utah, April 5, 2021 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

Reports of LDS church interference on behalf of the mine ran rampant, Notorianni explained, prompting Church president Wilford Woodruff to reply to a letter from the union protesting against LDS bishops acting as employment agents. Woodruff explained that he had no previous knowledge of the situation and if bishops took action to give aid to the needy, it was completely justified, but it was not justified if the bishop was indeed acting as an employment agent. 

Frictions arose to the point that a mine employee exchanged shots with striking miners, resulting in injuries, but no deaths. In June, the homes of two nonunion miners were blown up with dynamite, thankfully resulting in no fatalities. The strike was eventually broken and the peaceful orchestration of the strike by the union, despite the dynamite incident, set a standard for the expected behavior of the miners. 

In the aftermath of the strike, more LDS miners came on board and the feared chasm between LDS and non-LDS miners did not materialize.

“Ethnic homogeneity, identified community interests, and the presence of the well-regarded Mormon entrepreneur Jesse Knight explain this phenomenon,” Notorianni wrote. “Knight had established a town inhabited primarily by Mormons only one mile east of Eureka; it was reputed to be the only saloon-free, privately owned mining town in the country.”

The strike had a positive effect on the community resulting in mutual understanding. Some of Eureka’s merchants had once been miners, making them relate with their working conditions. Surprisingly, class conflict did not exist in Eureka and its “cultural uniformity proved of signal importance,” Notorianni noted.

The strike signaled many of the mines constructing their own mills, sparking a recovery and making it less expensive to process their ore. A rise in prices and the gold standard of currency in the late 1890s enlarged the mines´ output and led to more investments in them.

The year 1899 became a banner year for the Tintic Mining District as production – the value of ore sold or treated in the district in one year – reached just over $5.2 million, the highest in its history to that point. It was considered one of the top mines in the country during that time period, partly due to its mine owners who sought to guard its potential and wealth by sound mining development, Notorianni explained. 

Eureka emerged as the mining district’s population and financial center. The first decade of the 20th century proved an economic seesaw with fluctuations in mining and intermittent economic downturns. In 1909, the Chief Consolidated Mine was incorporated, which would become a major player in the area’s mining from thenceforth.

A former mine shaft sits among gravel used to cover old “mine dumps” west of Eureka, Utah, April 5, 2021 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

The second decade of the 20th century was much the same, albeit without much labor conflict. In 1916, the rich ore body of the Tintic Standard Mine was discovered, “sending many patient Eureka stockholders to the banks rich,” Notorianni wrote. In September 1914, a cave-in at the Centennial Eureka mine killed 11 miners and in 1917 a major winter storm crippled both the mines and the railroad, bringing them to a standstill briefly. In 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic ravaged the town.

During the 1920s, production remained at an encouraging level, but by 1933, production plummeted to just under $1.9 million, nearly $4 million less than production in 1930. Like most of the rest of the country, the Great Depression brought a negative change to the mining district.

“Employment lagged, payrolls declined, production practically ceased, and most commercial enterprises suffered greatly from 1929 to 1934,” Notorianni explained. “Minerals existed, but there was no market; and a decline in mining operations affected taxes, power consumption, and even the circulation of books from the Eureka Public Library.

Mining output continued to decrease in the 1940s. In 1940, Eureka’s Safeway grocery store closed and with it, the “Eureka Reporter” newspaper noted that “this town is going down by degrees.” In February 1941 the Mammoth Mine closed and in April of the same year so did the Blue Rock Mine. World War II pulled a lot of young men away from the area to serve in the military, causing a labor shortage. 

Mining continued into the 1950s and 1960s, then slowed in the 1970s. Chief Consolidated Mining managed to hold onto its properties and Kennecott Utah Copper worked a few mines for a while but moved out of active mining in the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, Centurion Mines, an Australian-based company, actively pursued reprocessing the expansive mine dumps of the district, Notorianni wrote, and also emphasized mapping the district to produce a historical record to document specific areas of mining activity and the grades of ore mined.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared Eureka a superfund site because of its high levels of lead in soil samples, which prompted the removal of potentially contaminated soil. That soil has been replaced and covered, creating a new landscape feature in the town: hillsides that resemble a gravel pile.

The Tintic Historical Society was founded in 1973 and in 1979, the Tintic Mining District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1983, the historical society received the Albert B. Corey Award from the American Association of State and Local History for its creation of the Tintic Mining Museum, publication of a history of the Tintic Mining District and its preservation of several significant homes in the area. The award is the highest honor in the nation for a local historical society

“As EPA bulldozers move rocks and alter the face of the district, the Tintic Historical Society continues to ensure that those changes will be seen in the context of Tintic’s valuable and unforgettable history,” Notorianni wrote.

Visiting Eureka and the Tintic Mining District

Eureka is located approximately 3.5 hours north of St. George on I-15 and a combination of U.S. 50 and U.S. 6 from Fillmore by way of Delta or by exiting at Santaquin and taking U.S. 6 west from there.

The Tintic Mining Museum in downtown Eureka spreads over two buildings: the old blue railroad depot identified as the museum itself as well as the old Eureka City Hall. It features a large relief model of the district showing the location of every mine in the area as well as a diorama representing a shack depicting how miners used to live. The old depot shows examples of minerals that have been mined in the area as well as historic pictures, among others. In back of the depot sit examples of old mining equipment used in the area’s mines.

A former train station is now the Tintic Mining District Museum, Eureka, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Tintic Historical Society, St. George News

Tintic Mining Museum Bookkeeper and Treasurer Warren Holman said he was grateful that they’ve been able to save what has been preserved. For example, he said many old cabins have been used for firewood and they were fortunate to move and preserve the Porter Rockwell Cabin from Cherry Creek to across the street from the museum about a decade ago. They had to use lumber from other cabins to complete its restoration. 

Thankfully, as previously noted, several mansions of some of the mining big shots have been preserved and are still inhabited. Visitors can also get an up-close look at some of the old Chief Consolidated mines, Holman said.

The most prominent remnant of the former mines in the area is the Bullion Beck headframe on the west side of town. It allowed mining to depths from 300 to over 3,000 feet below the surface with miners being lowered in a cage suspended by a cable system. The plentiful gravel visitors see on the hillsides, especially on the south side of the highway near the headframe are covering the old mine dumps, Holman said.

Another prominent remnant of the area’s mining visitors will see if approaching Eureka from the west along SR 6 is the former Tintic Standard Reduction Mill on a hillside in Goshen. Visitors can only view it from afar, however, as it unfortunately has become a target of vandalism. The property is now part of the Goshen Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area, and has posted no trespassing signs as it still contains dangerous levels of arsenic. Officers with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources issue citations to visitors trying to get an up-close look at it.

The museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, but Holman said they hope to open it again this summer.

For more information about Eureka and Tintic Mining District history, please visit the Tintic Historical Society website.

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About the series “Days”

“Days” is a series of stories about people and places, industry and history in and surrounding the region of southwestern Utah.

“I write stories to help residents of southwestern Utah enjoy the region’s history as much as its scenery,” St. George News contributor Reuben Wadsworth said.

To keep up on Wadsworth’s adventures, “like” his author Facebook page, follow his Instagram account or subscribe to his YouTube channel.

Wadsworth has also released a book compilation of many of the historical features written about Washington County as well as a second volume containing stories about other places in Southern Utah, Northern Arizona and Southern Nevada.

Read more: See all of the features in the “Days” series

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