Ironton: Where Silver Once Flowed Like a River Deep Within Red Mountain

Nikola Petrovski
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Pushing their way up Mineral Creek and to the north of the town of Silverton, a couple of prospectors managed to discover rich deposits of gold, silver, and copper.

The year was 1879, and the whole area very quickly earned the moniker of “Red Mountain Mining District.”

What is left of Ironton today Author: Carl Mikoy – CC BY 2.0

In 1881, a prospector by the name of John Robinson decided to explore a bit more around the area. According to oral tradition and what information has managed to survive throughout the years, Robinson went on hunting and by doing so managed to discover an abundance of high-quality lead and silver.

Soon, two new mines were born dubbed “The Yankee Girl” and “The Guston Mines.”

What is left of Ironton today. Author: Sandy Horvath-Dori – CC BY 2.0

The region was known as Ironton Park. It didn’t take long before others decided to join Robinson in this area. One by one, and each with their own dream of a better tomorrow, they came to the area.

Two years after the initial discovery, a small town called Copper Glen was born. By April that same year, the town received the moniker “Ironton.” In 1884, on March the 20th, Ironton town was officially platted.

A rusty old can found inside one of the buildings. Author: Sandy Horvath-Dori – CC BY 2.0

The number of residents grew slowly, but new people came each month. A large percentage of people were living in tents, although with time the town developed all of the commodities of modern life. There were no less than twelve saloons and four restaurants in Ironton at one point; there was even a bookstore.

In 1889, the Silverton Railroad came to the nearby town of Silverton. This narrow-gauge short line connected the Red Mountain Pass, where Ironton was located, with Silverton.

Silverton today. Author: Daniel Schwen – CC BY-SA 4.0

By 1890, Ironton was home to around 320 people – enough to keep the mines operating smoothly and to keep the wagon traffic constant or around two trains per day fully packed with silver ore.

However, these days of abundance did not last. In 1893, the U.S. Government decided to demonetize silver – an action that caused a crash in silver prices. But this wasn’t the only problem Ironton’s miners were faced with.

Abandoned buildings at Ironton. Author: John Fowler – CC BY 2.0

The whole area was also rich in sulfide ore, which was also mined. When it came into contact with the underground waters, this ore turned into sulfuric acid, and this constantly damaged the miners’ equipment.

With the market for silver at its lowest and the additional costs of maintaining equipment, production at Ironton dropped.

To top things off, the Silverton Railroad decided to pull back from the area and to relocate its services to Red Mountain Town. This was the end of the Silver era but far from the end of Ironton. In 1898, gold was discovered in the area.

Closeup of an abandoned window. Author: John Fowler – CC BY 2.0

Six years later, a project was launched to drain the mines. The whole operation lasted for three years but was all in vain. Despite all efforts, Ironton’s population and popularity continued to drop. During the 1910 census, the town had less than fifty people.

A decade later, the post office shut its doors. Almost everyone left soon after. As if that wasn’t enough, a number of wildfires made sure to erase almost every trace of this small and once prosperous town.

Entrance to an abandoned building. Author: Sandy Horvath-Dori – CC BY 2.0

As the years went on, the number of small buildings that managed to survive the fires fell victim to heavy snowfalls and fell under the pressure.

One of the buildings still standing. Author: Sandy Horvath-Dori – CC BY 2.0

According to researchers, the last people to leave the town were two miners named Harry and Milton Larson. Harry passed away in the 1940s. Milton lived for two more decades and passed away during the 60s.

Only a handful of buildings remain standing today to serve as reminders that there was once a prosperous town up in these mountains.