Nederland is arguably one of the richest mining camps in Colorado. Two of the three local mining districts became world-class deposits. In their time, the Caribou Silver mine and Nederland Tungsten mines were the largest producing mines of their kind in the world. The Eldora Gold-Telluride mining district was more of a bust than a boom.
The town of Nederland was undoubtedly visited by some of the first prospectors to venture into the headwaters of the rivers and creeks of what was known as the “Snowy Range” during the winter of 1859. In what could be the first reference to mining in Nederland, John H. Buell reported on February 20, 1859, that “gold was found for 25 miles up Boulder Creek.” There is a pretty good chance he was referring to the placer gold workings that was then called the “Jefferson Diggings” along Middle Boulder Creek near present day Nederland. Not much is known about the Jefferson Diggings except three men were killed by a forest fire there sometime in 1860.
In 1859, the first prospectors named western Boulder County the Grand Island mining district and the first gold mining claims were filed in 1861. These early prospectors were on the lookout for gold, not silver, or tungsten.
In 1861, a small group of cabins appeared in a meadow along-side Middle Boulder Creek, and it became known as Dayton. The glaciated valley offered level pasture land with abundant water and rich soil where vegetables could be grown and livestock raised to feed the hungry miners in the quickly growing mining camps of Central City, Ward and Gold Hill. There was no trail up Boulder Canyon, so supplies for the mining camps near Dayton had to come from Central City and Black Hawk. The first wagon road up Boulder Canyon in 1865 bypassed Dayton. This road, known as the Enterprise Road, followed the old Ute trail up Magnolia Road and then along South Beaver Creek to Black Hawk.
In 1870, Nathan W. Brown filed a 40-acre agricultural homestead and built a two-story boarding house in Dayton that he called “Brown’s Mountain House.” He was given the nickname of “Bolly Brown” probably because he was bald and rather round in stature. Old Bolly must have been a likable character because Dayton soon became known as Brownsville or Brown’s Station. Unfortunately, three of his four children died of diphtheria in a single week and his wife of 20 years, Catherine, filed for a divorce soon afterwards. After trouble with bill collectors, and repeated brushes with the law for disturbing the peace, Nathan W. Brown eventually lost his property and moved to Boulder vowing never to return.
It was not until 1871, when the Boulder Canyon Wagon Road was built as a one-way toll road with 33 bridges, that Brownsville was connected to Boulder. In 1871 a post office was established and Brownsville was renamed Middle Boulder after the creek that ran through town. Middle Boulder had a population of 200.
Sometime in 1864, Samuel Conger (who many years later discovered the Nederland Tungsten District) was hunting for deer near Arapahoe Peak when he wandered across some interesting looking rocks (legend has it he was shown the rocks by the ghost of a beautiful Arapaho Indian Princess). He did not recognize that the rocks were rich silver ore until the summer of 1869, when he, William Martin, and George Lytle, returned to the site and discovered the Great Caribou Silver Lode. Regular shipments from the Caribou Silver Mine to the smelter in Black Hawk began during the fall of 1870 and the wagon road to Black Hawk passed through Brownsville.
Traditionally, the processing mill was built adjacent to the mine site, but Abel Breed chose to locate his silver mill in Brownsville, close to ample timber, water, and away from the weather of Caribou. This decision helped the Caribou mine become the first productive silver mine in the Rocky Mountains and the richest silver mine in the world in the early 1870’s. The Caribou, Poorman, No- Name, and Seven Thirty veins produced approximately $6,000,000 in silver. The Caribou Mill in Nederland produced the 30 bricks of silver that paved the front of the Teller House in Central City for the visit of Ulysses S. Grant in 1873.
Due to the international publicity generated by the bricks of silver from Caribou, the Mining Company Nederland, from Holland, purchased the Caribou mine and mill for $3,000,000 in 1873. After the sale of the mine, but before the property was turned over, Breed stripped the mine of much of the richest ore. The company from Holland produced a fair amount of silver in 1874, but conflict, mismanagement, and debt caused the mine to close in 1875. The Dutch owners of the Caribou mine had always referred to Middle Boulder as Nederland, which means “lower-lands” in Dutch, so when Middle Boulder was incorporated in 1875 it was renamed Nederland as a tribute to the Dutch mining company.
In 1889, only seven families lived in Nederland. Nathan Brown died in Boulder, and was buried with his wife Virginia and three-year-old son Roy in the Nederland Cemetery in 1889. In 1895, Nederland’s original cemetery’s 29 residents were removed to a new location northwest of town to make room for an expansion of St. Rita’s church.
In 1891, John Kemp founded Happy Valley Camp (later Eldora), and in 1892 many gold-silver telluride veins were discovered in the nearby hills. In 1892, Nederland’s population was 100, and Happy Valley camp had two log cabins and a population of 10.
In February 1897, Happy Valley Camp was renamed Eldorado, and the post office was established. After the postmistress found out that mail was being routed to Eldorado, California, the town’s name was shortened to Eldora. The new town boasted five saloons, a bank, newspaper, and a red-light district across the stream from town that was referred to as “Monte Carlo.” It is said that five or six houses were started every day during the summer of 1897. Nederland’s population was 200 and Eldora’s population was 1300.
Things started to disintegrate in 1899, when the Enterprise mill could not successfully treat the gold-telluride ore. When the mill manager, Neil Bailey, missed a payday, the employees set his house on fire and fatally shot him in the arm. No amount of promotion could cover up the fact that the mines near Eldora had not produced significant amounts of gold, silver or copper.
Many of the Eldora mines burned in 1901, but the main part of town was spared. Only one saloon was left in Eldora by 1904. By the time the railroad finally reached Eldora in 1905 many of the mines were closed. In 1900, Nederland’s population was 200, and Caribou’s population was 44.
Gold and silver prospecting began in the Nederland area around 1859, but the heavy black mineral (called barren silver, heavy iron, and black iron by the miners) was not recognized as tungsten ore, or ferberite (FeWO3), until 1900 by H.H. Wanamaker and Samual Conger. Nederland became, by far, the leading producer of Tungsten in the United States from 1900-1918. The Nederland Tungsten District produced $23,000,0000 worth of tungsten from 1900-1945. Tungsten was needed for the high-speed steel cutting tools used to manufacture weapons during World War I. In 1909-10, the Primos Mining and Milling Co. in Nederland, was the largest tungsten mining company in the world and ran the world’s largest tungsten mill in Lakewood (a company town northwest of Nederland), and the Conger Mine was the world’s deepest tungsten mine at 991 feet deep. In 1912, an overhead electric tramway was completed from the Conger mine to the mill in Lakewood.
In 1913, the Nederland Fish and Game Club purchased 50,000 fish to stock Lake Nederland (Barker Res.) to promote tourism. In 1914, Nederland’s population was over 3,000, including several hundred people living in Lakewood, Ferberite, Stevens Camp (later Tungsten Post Office) and many scattered tent settlements surrounding Nederland proper. During the winter of 1915 much of Nederland’s downtown was rebuilt after a series of fires, and many of the buildings that were erected during this period still stand today.
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