Idarado Houses

The historic Idarado Houses being transferred from Idarado-Newmont Mining to Ouray County.

The Idarado Mining Company, a subsidiary of Denver-based Newmont Corporation, has donated four historic structures near the top of Red Mountain Pass to Ouray County so that they can be stabilized, preserved and kept as a reminder of the colorful and crucial role mining played in the settlement of the Rocky Mountain West.

Devon Horntvedt, Newmont’s Director of Colorado Legacy Site Management, signed deeds and documents at the Ouray County Courthouse on Oct. 26, transferring ownership of the houses to the county. Horntvedt recently moved his office from Denver to Ridgway.

Ridgway-based Trust for Land Restoration (TLR) conceived of the project and negotiated the deal. Known as the Idarado Houses, the buildings were originally four of 40 houses built before 1920 for miners and their families in the now-abandoned ghost town of Eureka, Colorado, northeast of present day Silverton.

In 1948, 10 of those houses were hauled one at a time over a dirt-road Red Mountain Pass to the Treasury Tunnel complex of the Idarado Mining Company, where they were utilized for offices, an infirmary and miners housing until the Idarado shut down mining operations in 1978. Of those 10, only four remain today.

On behalf of Ouray County, and in partnership with the Ouray County Historical Society, TLR will now undertake a two-year program of stabilization, restoration and preservation activities designed to assure that the Houses will continue to be a focus of historic interest and a major part of the US 550/Million Dollar Highway/San Juan Skyway- Scenic and Historic Byway for generations to come.

TLR and OCHS are working together to raise the money to preserve the houses.

Ouray Silver Mines’ CEO Brian Briggs has taken a personal interest and is serving as structural engineer for the project.

Preservation activities will focus on stabilization of the foundations, rebuilding a collapsed roof, removing asbestos ceiling and floor tiles inside, repairing dilapidated roofing and siding, and scraping and repainting over lead paint, so that the houses will be protected and continue to stand, but still appear to the casual passerby pretty much as they do today.

Total cost of the restoration effort is expected to be in the $100,000 range, with about half of that total cost potentially being covered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for asbestos and lead paint remediation.

“Saving the Idarado Houses has become a labor of love for all of us connected with the Trust for Land Restoration and the Ouray County Historical Society” said TLR Executive Director Patrick Willits. “They are such an integral part of the historic fabric of the Red Mountain Mining District that to see them continue to decay, or worse yet, be torn down, as likely was going to happen, would have been a huge loss for locals, history buffs, and the traveling public.

“Their very existence harkens back to the spirit, hard work and incredible fortitude of the miners who forged out a living, risking limbs and sometimes lives, in the harsh San Juan Mountain environment of 11,000 feet above sea-level. It’s an honor to be part of the effort that will keep them standing.”

Willits said it’s taken more than three years to reach this point.

“It seems simple: ‘mining company gives unused buildings to county,’ but there was a whole host of issues and problems that had to be figured out, from land ownership, to risk and liability, to insurance, to actual stabilization needs, to who pays for what?” he said.

“A special shout-out to the Idarado crew still working the Treasury Tunnel, and to Devon Horntvedt and his team at Newmont who made time from their busy schedules to help work through the variety of nuances that had to be figured out to make this deal work.”

The Ouray County Historical Society has painstakingly documented the history of the houses and of the people who inhabited them.

“OCHS has been working to save these historic houses for almost 20 years,” said Don Paulson, curator of the Ouray County Museum.

“We had State Historic Fund Assessment Grants in 2003 to determine how best to stabilize the houses. In 2005 we put plywood in the windows of the two houses closest to the highway to keep snow and rain from damaging them. It is gratifying that they are finally in public ownership. The houses have been there for 72 years and they can now be stabilized for future generations to enjoy.”

One challenge for the project going forward is that two of the four houses sit on lands owned by the United States and administered by the US Forest Service.

TLR is representing Ouray County in the application to the Forest Service for a Special Use Permit to allow the houses to remain on Forest Service property, so that all four houses can be managed as one site. The application is expected to take one to three months to process.

More information is available on the Trust for Land Restoration’s website: www.restorationtrust.org.

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