A Brief History of the
National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum
at Annual Meeting by Charles “Chuck” Morris.
What a pleasure it is to gather for the Annual Meeting in the Magnificent National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum! Isn’t this facility glorious?
It is hard to imagine that almost 16 years ago, we occupied this deserted Victorian school building (with a leaky roof)—and then to behold what we have today.
Perhaps a brief review of our history will provide some perspective, and an even greater appreciation of our successes. It’s a story that has led the news media to refer to us as the “Smithsonian of the Rockies” and the “Premier Showcase of American Mining.”
In April of 1987 we moved into this 71,000 square foot building, formerly the Leadville Junior High School, and before that, Leadville High School. It was built in 1899.
At that time, we were nearly broke. From our mother organization, we had inherited $300, an old desk and a chair, and an antique typewriter.
What a way to start!
Incorporated in Colorado in 1977, the National Mining Hall of Fame raised and spent money on various projects, including the design of a building. It was to be built on some land owned by the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, on which the organization had an option for $5 million. To qualify for this option, the Hall of Fame had to have $150,000 in cash. And the estimated construction cost for the building was $12 million!
It was a bold venture but did not fit the reality of the times. The mining industry’s economic downturn of the 1980s dried up potential contributors, and the Hall of Fame was facing hard times. Something had to be done.
Stan Dempsey persuaded Dick Moolick to join the Board of Directors when Dick retired from Phelps Dodge in 1985.
A group of Directors saw the need for the Mining Hall of fame to acquire an existing building in a mining community somewhere, a permanent site for a landmark location. Constructing a new building was out of the question.
Proposals were requested, and we did get a few (mostly requiring large amounts of cash). Lead, South Dakota, made a generous offer, and Leadville came up with an interesting proposal – this building at a price tag of $2 million.
The Chairman, Doug Watrous, asked Dick to go up to Leadville and “negotiate” for the recently-vacated school building. Well, negotiate he did. After four hours, the deal was made with the school district officials: 50 cents a year for a 110 year lease! The County Commissioners then pledged two years of utilities worth about $35,000 per year.
In April of 1987, Dick became Chairman. His first action was to move into this building.
But what about the bank account of $300, and so on, and…..?
On the advice of Joe Shoemaker, a sage fundraiser and former State Senator in Denver, the Mining Museum launched its first major effort to sustain the fledgling facility – The Founders.
Joe suggested we seek 100 individuals who would pledge $1,000 each. Shoemaker whipped out a check, followed by Moolick, Tom Ten Eyck, and Ray Heggland. It took a year but we raised $100,000. Charles Stott was the 100th donor. It is appropriate that the Founders will be recognized in all their glory at the Annual Induction Banquet on September 13, 2003 here in the Convention Center.
Then in 1988 we received our Federal Charter, by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Reagan. We are the only federally-chartered Mining Museum.
We had great support from our Congressional delegation, and from our many friends who urged their Congressmen to sign on as sponsors.
Dick was in the process of soliciting contributions when Harry Conger of Homestake responded. If we could find a company willing to pledge $10,000 a year for four years, Homestake would match it. So evolved the “Conger Challenge,”” which raised in excess of $500,000 over a four-year period using that formula. Things are looking up!
Exhibits were the next challenge. What to put in that huge building? A young Leadville sculptor created a bronze statue. Her work is “The Singlejack Miner.”
At the urging of Dick Moolick, a geologist named Franz Dykstra went down to the Smithsonian and secured some 36 beautiful crystals on loan, the foundation of the Crystal Room. They are still a vital part of our collection.
Member Len Harris was successful in getting a good share of the specimens from the defunct New York Mining Club. ASARCO offered a collection of bullion scales.
And so it went, 28 dioramas hand-carved and painted by Hank Gentsch, who developed his skills after being paralyzed in an automobile accident. They depicted the early development of gold mining along Clear Creek. For years they were on display in Central City.
The Proctor Collection of dazzling gems and minerals. The ARCO donation of the Anaconda Minerals Collection. They all began to contribute to a groundswell of displays and exhibits, that now occupy all or part of 13 rooms.
In 1988, we held our first Induction Banquet at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. It was a night to remember! It has been followed by 14 other successful events around the country. 173 of mining’s legendary leaders have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
We knew we were making progress when The Wall Street Journalpublished a front-page feature on the Mining Museum in its edition of October 11, 1993.
Later on, we were able to expand and renovate our core building at an expense of $800,000. This generous funding came from the Economic Development Administration, the Mineral Impact Assistance Program of the State of Colorado, the State Historical Fund, the Colorado Historical Society, and in-kind help from Lake County and the City of Leadville.
And now we enter the 21st Century with the creation of the Hennebach Corridor and the Development of the Hennebach Wing, thanks to our “angel” Ralph Hennebach’s gift of $100,100. Together with Dick Swayne’s contribution of $50,000 on behalf of Boart Longyear, and Chuck Barber—like Ralph, a former ASARCO Chairman and having strong ties to Leadville—who donated $50,000.
We also need to recognize Boart Longyear for an early-on contribution of $100,000 to the Endowment Fund, leading to the designation of this room as the E. J. Longyear Memorial Auditorium.
We have such an exciting history—and so far to go. We have had ups and downs, that’s for sure. But we have also enjoyed some great successes and with the determination of all of us, we will continue to build an ever-dynamic National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum!