San Juan County Historical Society Museum

The Mining Heritage Center and 1902 County Jail Museum are operated by the San Juan Historical Society. The museums are located at 1557 Greene Street next to the County Courthouse in Silverton. The museums are open from the end of May through mid-October. The mining museum covers every aspect of hard rock mining, and the jail museum offers a snapshot of crime, justice, and everyday life in the early 20th century.

San Juan County Historical Society Museum

San Juan County Historical Society Museum

Silverton Northern Caboose

1902 San Juan County Jail Museum

The 1902 jail was the fifth jail built in Silverton and the first county jail, the previous four being "City Jails". The cell blocks and security doors were constructed by the Pauly Jail Building Company in Indiana and shipped to Silverton as a "kit". The main cell block of four cells is located on the second floor, and there are two cells on the first floor to house women or "insane" prisoners. The jail also contained living quarters for the jailer and family.

1902 San Juan County Jail



Nineteenth Century Pistols

Insane Cell Block

Insane Prisoner's Cell
now a bedroom of the period



Saloon Display

Jailer's Office


Ball and Chain

Security Door Levers


Public Restroom

San Juan Historical Society Mining Heritage Center

The Mining Heritage Center is all about the mining industry, particularly in Colorado. The museum's displays and exhibits cover most every aspect of hard rock mining: exploration, mining techniques, equipment, refining, safety, and much more. Everything you ever wanted to know about mining can be found in this fascinating museum.

Metallurgy Assay Lab - Assaying of ores is divided into two general classes: fire assays for precious metals such as gold and silver, and wet, or chemical assays for other metals such as copper, lead, zinc, and iron. Most assayers in the early mining camps were usually assaying for only gold or silver. As mines started producing ores of copper, zinc, and lead, more complete metallurical assay labs were needed that could asssay for these metals, in addition to silver and gold.

Metallurgical Assay Lab

Glassware and Chemicals


Assay Furnace

Balance for weighing gold

Sample Cutter

Lots of minerals - The museum houses several donated mineral collections.

Minerals on Display

Minerals on Display

Minerals on Display

The photos in this section are a sampling of the dozens of exhibits in the museum.

A few words about tommyknockers - Most of the miners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were European immigrants, and the most sought after were the miners from Cornwall, England. It seems that many Cornish miners had cousins named Jack, and they eventually became known as "Cousin Jacks". They brought with them their superstitions of "tommyknockers". Tommyknockers were gnomes, similar to Irish leprechauns, who dressed in miners' outfits and dwelled underground. They were thought to be both good and bad. Hammering by tommyknockers was believed to be the source of the knocking sounds that often preceded cave-ins.


Scales and Balances

Mining and Assaying Artifacts

Plumbago Crucible

Safety and Surveying Equipment

Carbide Lamps

Diamond Core Drill - Core drills were used to probe known ore deposits or search for new ones. Cores from a few hundred to several thousand feet were drilled. The core samples were recovered and examined by geologists to determine whether to begin, continue, or abandon a mine. Prior to the availability of diamond core drills, most mineral prospecting consisted of finding surface outcrops or hand digging.

Diamond Core Drill

Diamond Core Drill

Core Samples

Diamond Drill Bits

Mining Drills - Holes for placing dynamite charges were drilled by hand in the early days of hard rock mining. A drill steel would be repetitively struck with a hammer, gradually driving it into the rock face creating a hole. The steel was rotated an eighth to quarter turn after each strike. One miner using both hammer and steel was "single jacking". "Double jacking" involved a pair of miners, one turning the steel and the other using the hammer.

The introduction of pneumatic drills dramatically improved hard rock drilling. Pneumatic drills served different purposes. Stoper drills were used for up-hole or overhead drilling. Sinker drills were used for down-hole or shaft sinking. Drifter drills were used in driving tunnels (drifts). Jacklegs are fairly lightweight pneumatic drills that are attached to telescoping legs, which push the drill for the operator. Jacklegs can drill in all directions and are often used in lieu of drifters and stopers.

Early pneumatic drills created large amounts of fine silica dust. Chronic inhalation of the dust caused the pathological condition of silicosis or Miner's Consumption (Miner's Con). Silicosis caused the deaths of thousands of miners in the early days of hard rock mining, and earned the drills the nickname, "widow makers". Water lines were eventually added to the drills to suppress the dust.

Hand Drills

Stoper Drills

Sinker Drills

Jackleg Drills

Jackleg Drills

Driving a Drift

Driving a Drift Exhibit

Holes were drilled in a specific pattern in the face of a drift or stope. Dynamite was inserted into the holes and fired to break up the rock and advance the drift. The blasted ore and waste rock was loaded into carts for removal to the surface. This process was called "mucking" and was done manually by human muckers or by mucking machines.

Eimco-21 Mucker

The mined ore was transported to mills and smelters in ore wagons, railroad cars, or by tramline, depending on the location of the mine.
Mines were supported by dozens of workers and tradesmen. Lumbermen and carpenters provided the timbers that supported the stopes and drifts. Blacksmiths sharpened drill steel and repaired tools and equipment. Machinists maintained the mucking machines and locomotives that pulled the ore carts. Mule skinners and railroad men transported ore, and cooks and maids staffed the boarding houses where the miners stayed.

Smelter Model

Rose/Walsh Smelter

Rose/Walsh Smelter Model

Blacksmith Shop

Blacksmith Shop

The "Machine Doctor's" Shop

Machine Shop

Steam Powered Hoist?

All kinds of other exhibits

Background sources: Wikipedia,,
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