Fight to preserve historic Utah mine strengthens after recent string of thefts

A photo of damage to a building at the old Chief Consolidated Mine in Eureka. The mine closed in 1957 but remains a Utah Historic Site. (Utah Department of Oil, Gas and Mining)

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

EUREKA, Juab County – Archaeologists in Utah are trying to find new ways to preserve an old mine as vandals continue to damage its historic buildings and machinery.

The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining was notified Monday of recent vandalism at the old Chief Consolidated mine in the East Tintic mining district. The agency wrote that someone ripped out the entire wall of the mine’s former main office.

Ian Wright, the state heritage management coordinator for the Utah State Historic Preservation Office, told KSL.com Thursday that the hole in the wall is not new. The problem is that people have returned to the location to take items that were in the building, including resources and paperwork. Vandals have also routinely broken into a lift house in the same mine yard.

A few weeks ago someone also broke into a machine shop and dismantled parts of the old machines, probably because of their copper.

“That mine’s just been kind of hammered lately,” he said.

The Conservation Service — and other government agencies — have taken notice because they consider the mine to be a “place of historical importance.” It first opened as the Little Chief Mine in the 1890s before being transferred to the Chief Consolidated Mining Company in 1909. It remained in operation until 1957 and reportedly once served as “the second largest silver producer in the world”. according to the online mining database Mindat.

His story goes beyond that. Wright adds that the mine at Eureka is “in the heart” of the important Tintic Mining District. The facility was owned by Walter Fitch Sr., the head of a prominent family in Eureka history. The Fitches even brought famed aviator Amelia Earhart to the facility at one point after she had a hard landing in the area, and she stayed at the family home in the small town.

Miners from the Chief Consolidated Mining Company pose for a photograph in 1921.
Miners from the Chief Consolidated Mining Company pose for a photograph in 1921. (Photo: Utah Division of State History)

Some of the equipment she saw back then is still on the site today, which also sets the mine apart from others in the state and region. Most of the plant’s old tools and machinery remained virtually intact when their owners ceased operations 66 years ago.

“It has some of the best intact displays of industrial mining equipment in the west – certainly in Utah,” adds Wright. “So we have so much to learn[from it]. … You can still see what a mine yard looked like.”

However, this image has begun to fade with recent vandalism and looting. Wright believes many people break into a facility because they think it’s abandoned or falling apart, so steps are now being taken to reverse that perception.

Emerald Hollow LLC, the owner of the property, has agreed to work with the State Preservation Office, which is offering to place site managers on all state, federal and private properties of historical significance. Crews recently boarded up the large hole in the office to prevent people from entering.

Crews patch up damage to a building at the old Chief Consolidated mine in Eureka.  The mine closed in 1957 but remains a Utah Historic Site.
Crews patch up damage to a building at the old Chief Consolidated mine in Eureka. The mine closed in 1957 but remains a Utah Historic Site. (Photo: Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining)

The company is also helping to fund opportunities to secure the site and is adding new educational signage telling the history of the mine as a potential deterrent. Similar signage has helped slow vandalism and looting at other historic sites in the state, Wright said.

City officials and even lawmakers have also expressed interest in the effort. For example, Sen. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, is proposing that Utah spend $150,000 on projects in the coming fiscal year to secure historic mining structures so they can be restored and preserved for historical and educational purposes in the future Funds Request Document.

“We should not allow any further loss of these historical structures by the elements and invaders/vandals,” the motion reads. “Once properly restored, the structures will provide an educational and recreational destination and support the local economy.”

State archaeologists hope the new effort will help stop the burglaries before a piece of Utah’s history is lost forever.

“When people start to understand … this place is still meaningful to the community or descendants there, having people care about its location reduces vandalism significantly,” Wright said. “This gives (the public) the opportunity to step in, help out and (to) help.”

Recent historical stories

Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter covering general news, nature, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant next to Rochester, New York.

Other stories that might interest you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

| |
Back to top button