How did the Sallie Barber Mine get its name? Or Ada Placer? Or the Wellington Mill? What’s in a name when it comes to the mines around Breckenridge, Colorado? People often ask Breckenridge History how our famous local mines got their names. In this article, we explore naming conventions and the historic background behind several popular mine sites in the Breckenridge area.
Prospectors flocked to the mountains around Breckenridge in search of wealth. Few if any expected to stay to make a life here, to build community, or create a home. Nostalgia for the places they left behind dominated the thoughts of most miners, and the names they gave to the mines and gulches around Breckenridge reflect their dreams and aspirations. Historian and author Sandra Mather compiled an extensive list of mine names in the Breckenridge area, and they reveal significant trends toward places, presidents, and people. Of all the categories of mine nomenclature, women’s names comprise the longest list by far.
Tender feelings for a sweetheart, sister or mother left back East inspired many mine names. In the Breckenridge area, the Sallie Barber Mine is one of the best known. Each year, thousands of people visit the Sallie Barber, located at the intersection of popular recreation trails.
The Sallie Barber Mine itself is a relative late-comer to the mining scene around Breckenridge. While most of the other prospectors’ eyes focused on the glitter of gold, G.T. Metzger saw value in the streak of lead, zinc and silver. He filed his claim to the vein in 1882, but because he lacked the capital to develop the mine, he brought in ten other investors. None had the last name of Barber.
Sallie Barber Mine operated in fits and starts for 65 years, making it one of Breckenridge’s longest running mining operations. Its greatest wealth was in industrial minerals that gained value after the turn of the 20th century as war loomed in Europe and technology demanded more durable metals for machinery and equipment.
Photograph: John A. Topolnicki Sr. Photographic Collection [JTS.01.009]_ Dr. Sandra F. Mather Archives, Breckenridge History.
Today, the mine is falling into disrepair. Larissa O’Neil, executive director of Breckenridge History, explains the upcoming stabilization project: “The Sallie Barber Mine wasn't the most prolific of mining operations, but it is important to preserve as a landmark that represents our underground mining history -- and because it is such an easy-to-reach, publicly-accessible destination. So many of our mining ruins are difficult to find and not nearly as intact. There's a story to tell at the Sallie Barber that is shared by so many other mines in the area.”
The Breckenridge History will embark on an effort to stabilize the Sallie Barber Mine in 2021. The ore bin, in poor condition, risks further deterioration. Breckenridge History efforts will focus on reinforcing the structure by adding limited siding and roofing materials to protect the popular historic landmark.
But how did the mine get its name? Who was Sallie Barber? We don’t know. Perhaps a deep dive into census records would reveal Metzger’s hometown where a Sarah or Sallie Barber might be found. If a local tells you the mine was named for the miner’s sweetheart, she is probably correct.
Photograph: John A. Topolnicki Sr. Photographic Collection [JTS.01.146]_ Dr. Sandra F. Mather Archives, Breckenridge History.
We do know how Ada Placer got its name. The Ada Placer was located at the mouth of French Gulch in a rich gold field claimed by John Sisler. Today it is part of Lincoln Park at the Wellington Neighborhood.
Photograph, 1898_ Summit Historical Society Collection_ SHS-P.2014.315. Image created by Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.
John Sisler came to Breckenridge in 1864 in the early wave of prospecting pioneers. The following year, he returned with his new wife, Catherine, and together they created a mining dynasty of great influence that lasted multiple generations in Breckenridge. In 1869, their second daughter, Ada, was born. In March 1881, John Sisler filed the plat for the Ada Placer, one of the few mines in the Breckenridge area we can confidently attribute to a particular non-famous person.
Photograph: Mary M. Marks Photograph Collection [P0597_04-01]_ USU Special Collections, Merrill-Cazier Library. Courtesy Breckenridge History.
MS1437 Ada Placer Mineral Plat, use permission from Bill Fountain
Photo Credit: US Geological Survey.
Mine names often honored famous people, such as presidents of the United States: Washington, Lincoln, and Grant. Other well-known persons of the time who graced local mine names included poet Longfellow and humorist Mark Twain. The states where the miners originated are also recorded. Not only does the Breckenridge area boast an Indiana Gulch, but we also have Hoosier Pass. Georgian’s named Georgia Pass, one of the earliest avenues into the Blue River area. The Iowa Mill on Bald Mountain and Iowa Hill across the valley were likely founded by men from, well, you guessed it.
The Wellington Mine and Mill in French Gulch was Breckenridge’s most successful and prolific mine. Over its 96-year life, it produced well over $20 million in minerals. That amount equates to over $250 million in today’s terms, and much more considering the price of gold in 2020. The Wellington Mine also lent its name to a mine, a road, and a neighborhood.
Photograph, 1900s_ Summit Historical Society Collection_ SHS-P.2014.334-1. Image created by Breckenridge History.
The initial lode claim in the area that would become part of the Wellington complex was filed in 1877. The name “Wellington” first appears in 1892 on a nearby claim. By 1906, a new owner united several adjacent claims under the Wellington Mine name. Long-time locals still remember the Wellington Mine in operation; it closed for the final time in 1973.
And how did the Wellington Mine get its name? We don’t know. Its most likely association is with the Duke of Wellington who famously vanquished Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and who went on to serve two times as Prime Minister of Britain. The Duke of Wellington died in 1852, a mere generation before the Breckenridge mine was given its eponymous name.
Every mine name tells a story of the people who came to Breckenridge to tame the wilderness for golden wealth. Learn more about Breckenridge history on a museum visit, docent-led tour, or blog article with Breckenridge History.
Written by: Leigh Girvin