Most people visit the mountain resort town of Park City, Utah for the world-class skiing and other outdoor recreation. But in both the recent and distant past, precious metal was the main attraction. In 2002, Olympic athletes and thousands of spectators came here to “go for the gold” during the Winter Games. More than 145 years ago, miners and investors rushed in seeking a different precious metal— silver. In fact, the area’s 300 silver mines were among America’s most productive and longest lasting, which in turned made 23 mining millionaires during its boom years. George Hearst, father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, was one of the fortunate men. In addition to the abundant silver, some lead, zinc, copper and gold were also found in them thar’ hills around town. In total, the mining industry generated about a half billion dollars in precious metals between the 1870s and 1970s.
The best place to learn about the mines, men, machinery, working conditions, town history, and prominent citizens of the day, is at the Park City Museum in the heart of Old Town. The 12,000 square foot museum provides a wealth of knowledge, and has both permanent and traveling exhibits. Its location is actually the former City Hall (built in 1885) that also served as the territorial jail. Stroll through the multi-level museum on your own, or take a docent-led tour. The world-class collection of information and memorabilia acquaints you with every phase of silver mining, in addition to explaining how the equipment was used.
If you’re not familiar with hard rock mining, the fabulous two-story Mega Mine display allows you to see the intricate underground workings of a typical mine. You’ll also learn that some of the best inventions back in the day were blasting caps and mechanized drills. Blasting caps, when used with an electrical detonating system, eliminated dangerous open flames and made the blast timing more precise. Hand drills were replaced with compressed air powered drills. Although silica-bearing rock dust wreaked havoc on miners’ lungs, the hazard was later reduced by injecting water through the drill tip, which cut down on the amount of dust that was inhaled. Think you can handle a drill? Want to push a blasting plunger? The museum’s hands-on dioramas give you the chance to feel the ground shake! Don’t miss the museum’s “dungeon” where you’ll find old walk-in jail cells. The museum also features an original Park City fire truck, a Kimball Stagecoach, an old railcar turned into a skier subway, and much more.
Modern day Park City is a good example of a boom and bust mining town booming again—revitalized in grand style as a year-round destination. In 2008, Forbes Traveler magazine named Park City one of “America’s 20 Prettiest Towns.” More than 60 of Park City’s buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many of which are located along the town’s Main Street alongside restaurants and plenty of shops and boutiques. Two years running— 2008 and 2009— Deer Valley Resort was named the number one ski resort in North America by SKI magazine. Whether you like to ski, shop, eat, hike, mountain bike, or just take in the scenery, a visit to Park City is a great place to treasure America’s mining heritage.
If You Go to the Park City Museum:
Park City Museum
528 Main St.
Park City, Utah 84060
Phone: (435) 649.7457
Seniors 65+, Students, Military: $8
Children: $5 (age 7-17); 6 and under are free
Monday-Saturday: 10 am-7 pm
Sunday: Noon – 6 pm
Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas.
If you will be visiting in April, May, November or early December, please call the museum to double check off-season hours.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends, the Park City Museum also offers walking tours of Historic Main Street Monday-Friday at 2:00. Cost is $5 per person.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com