The 12,000-square-foot museum in the heart of Old Town 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. You can 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. The fabulous two-story Mega Mine display allows you to see the intricate underground workings of a typical mine. Don’t miss the museum’s “dungeon,” where you’ll find old walk-in jail cells along with exhibits on the Miners Union Hall. There’s also an original Park City fire truck, a Kimball Stagecoach, railcars that had been turned into a skier subway, and much more.
Mines, Men and WomenPark City turned out 23 mining millionaires during its boom years; their photos and biographies are among the museum’s displays. George Hearst, father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, was one of those fortunate individuals who became tremendously wealthy. Hearst bought the Ontario Mine in 1872 for $27,000. His investment eventually produced $50 million and formed the basis for the Hearst fortune. The Ontario was the last silver mine in Park City to close, shutting down in 1982.
In February 1880, the Daly Mining Company was established. Within the next year or two, John Daly established more mines, including the Crescent, Anchor and the Mayflower. In 1892, several businessmen organized Park City’s most productive mining company—the Silver King—by consolidating smaller mines and claims. For almost 60 years, the Silver King employed the latest technology, and followed veins to find new and greater ore bodies.
Although business at the time was mostly a man’s world, Susanna “Susie” Bransford was successful enough in business to become known as Utah’s Silver Queen. She married the local postmaster, Albion Emery, in 1884 and the couple invested $8,000 in the Mayflower Mine. They really struck it rich when their mine merged with the Silver King. Susie outlived four husbands, including a Russian prince. By 1894, it was rumored that she was earning $1,000 a day from her interest in the Silver King. With her fortune and flamboyant lifestyle, she was a darling of the nation’s magazines and newspapers for much of her adult life.
Most other women in Park City back in the day were not so lucky and many single women made their living as “ladies of the night.” Prostitution was a regular source of income for Park City. Court records show that prostitutes and their “business managers” were regularly arrested, fined and released.
The Life of a Miner
Most early hard rock miners worked for $2.75 to $3.50 per day, depending on the job. It wasn’t considered bad wages for the time, but it meant long hours working in wet, dark, loud and dangerous conditions. Very few safety measures were in place. Some of the early machinery was impressive, but it was basically human and animal muscle that was responsible for the mines’ success. Some beasts of burden spent years underground. Unlike miners, horses were treated well because it was expensive to buy and train another horse.
Mining companies adopted technology to boost production and cut jobs, with the sole purpose of producing more profit. However, a side benefit was the increased health and safety of underground workers. In 1890, most Park City mine owners replaced hand drills with mechanical drills powered by compressed air. Silica-bearing rock dust wreaked havoc on miners’ lungs, but that 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!
Electricity arrived in Park City in the 1880s but it was a luxury many could not afford. In 1889, it took almost half a day’s mine wages to pay the monthly power bill for a single light. Light bulbs were expensive and in short supply. To discourage theft, the Silver King stamped their bulbs “Stolen from the Silver King Mine.” Another interesting tidbit you’ll learn at the Park City Museum includes how to clean up with pig fat. A large mercantile in the early days, Smith & Brim, sold 50- and 100-pound buckets of rendered pig fat (lard). It could be used for cooking or combined with lye to make soap. Thrifty customers made their own soap, often using the same bar to do the laundry, wash the floors, and take a bath! The MEATS sign you’ll see hanging in the museum was the first electrified sign along Main Street. It used 80 light bulbs!
The Greatest Snow on Earth
Prior to the 1920s, snow wasn’t given much thought in terms of making money or even for having fun. After all, snow caused cave-ins and train derailments and generally got in the way of mining. But skiing gradually became more widespread around Park City as some miners and other workers began regularly taking the mine train to the top of a mountain and skiing down. The first ski jump was built in 1930, and in 1936, Park City hosted its first winter carnival. Five hundred skiers arrived at what is now Deer Valley Resort, making the event a great success. The first ski lift went into operation in 1946, and the frozen white stuff began to be seen as a real treasure. The foundation was in place to market what would later be called The Greatest Snow on Earth.
During this same time, the local mining industry slowed down. The stock market crashed in 1929, dropping the Silver King’s stock from $12.87 a share to $6.50. Mineral prices continued to drop, and in 1949 most of the mines shut down and 1,200 men were out of work. Stores closed. Residents left. The population dropped to 1,150 souls from a peak of 10,000. Within a couple of years, Park City was a ghost town.
In an effort to diversify, United Park City Mines Company opened a ski resort in 1963. An old mining drain tunnel was converted into an underground ski lift. This electric mine train, which you will see in the museum, carried skiers three miles into the mountain where a hoist then lifted them 1,800 feet to the surface. Since it took an hour to transport skiers, the tunnel wasn’t all that popular, but word spread about the great snow, and people started moving to the area. Over the next few decades, world-class ski resorts and high-speed chairlifts were built, and annual art and film festivals were established. In 2002, Park City hosted many of the XIX Winter Olympic Games.Park City is a good example of a boom and bust mining town that’s booming again—revitalized in grand style as a year-round mountain resort and international tourist destination. In 2008, Forbes Traveler magazine named Park City as one of “America’s 20 Prettiest Towns.” More than 60 of Park City’s buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Besides historic buildings the town’s Main Street has restaurants and plenty of shops and boutiques. Several of the ski resorts have gained accolades, too. 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:
The Park City Museum is at 528 Main Street in Park City. It is usually open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Hours vary off-season in April, May, November and early December.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors 65 and older and military personnel, and $5 for children from 7-17. Children 6 and under are free.
The museum offers walking tours of Historic Main Street at 2 p.m. Monday through Friday during the summer. Cost is $5 per person.
For museum information, call (435) 649-7457 or visit parkcityhistory.org.
Denise Seith is a freelance travel writer and treasure hunter in Salem, Oregon. She and her husband, Larry, own GoldRushTradingPost.com, an online prospecting equipment and supply store.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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