Little reminders of the mining industry that once dominated the landscape are everywhere in Park County, but few are as beloved by the community and as historically significant as the Paris Mill. Completed in 1895, the Paris Mill was constructed to service the gold ore produced by the Paris Mine in Buckskin Gulch west of Alma. The Paris Mine produced complex ore that was difficult to transport from its high altitude location on the cliffs of Mount Bross, so investors decided to build the mill and a 1,750 foot tramway to bring the ore down to the valley floor for processing. The mill saw a constant stream of investors throughout its first 40 years who strove to improve its profitability and retrofit the building with the latest milling technology. Unfortunately, the Paris Mine hindered these endeavors by providing ore that was increasingly difficult to process, which would shut down the entire operation for years at a time while new technology was installed at the mill.
Initially, the mill was powered by a steam engine and water turbine that operated a jaw crusher and two ten-stamp mill batteries. Ore was then further concentrated using mercury amalgamation. In 1908, the mill received its first major retrofit, which included the construction of its west and south wings to house equipment for the cyanidation process. A rod mill was added in 1925 and a ball mill 1932, eventually replacing the obsolete stamp batteries. The mill was electrified in 1918 and eventually received flotation technology to process its difficult ore. Each retrofit required substantial investment by a variety of owners and lessees that rarely benefited from their outlays. The 1934 Gold Reserve Act allowed the mill to operate for a year on waste rock alone and then on low-grade ore that was readily available in the mine. However, the focus on improving the mill proved fatal in 1937 when a lack of capital for the mine forced the closure of the entire operation. The mill and mine saw little activity for the next forty years as mining declined in the region but 40 years of milling equipment remained inside, largely untouched. In 1977, an attempt was made to revive the mine but it was short lived and the mill once again sat empty.
The Paris Mill survived decades of harsh winters at 11,000 feet before a portion of the 1908 west wing’s roof collapsed in the early 2000s. Shortly thereafter, Colorado Preservation, Inc. brought together interested parties with the mill’s owner to discuss options for securing and saving the building. The mill was named one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places in 2004 and preservation began in earnest, beginning with securing the building against further vandalism. In the following years, a wood assessment and heritage tourism site plan were produced and the site was designated as a Park County Historic Landmark and put under a conservation easement. The mill and 16 acres surrounding it were purchased by Park County in 2009 so that the County could pursue grants and other funding to preserve the building. A Brownfields grant was awarded for the cleanup of hazardous materials at the site, which took place from 2009 to 2011 and also included stabilization of the south wing. Meanwhile, the South Park National Heritage Area funded the preparation of a historic structure assessment and Colorado Preservation, Inc. provided an intern to intensively survey the property and determine its eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. It was found eligible and was listed on the National Register in 2013, funded through a CLG grant.
Despite many years of work on the mill, it was continuing to deteriorate and the security installed in 2004 was no longer deterring vandals. Large amounts of snow were accumulating in the west wing through the missing roof and parts of the tramway tower were regularly being blown off by the strong winds in Buckskin Gulch. After a trespasser attempted to start a fire in the building, the Park County Office of Historic Preservation determined that immediate action was needed and planned its first Community Work Day in the summer of 2012. Local residents eagerly donated their time to save the mill by completing minor repairs, improving drainage, and cleaning up the site. Local elementary schoolchildren painted the plywood used to secure the building in the hopes of deterring vandalism and hand painted signs were installed around the site to discourage trespassing. Meanwhile, Park County funded the installation of a temporary roof on the tramway tower to prevent further deterioration and a local contractor donated time and materials to patch holes in the east wing roof. Volunteers returned in 2013 to further secure the building, remove vegetation, and begin surveying the 16-acre site for possible trails and points of interest.
Park County has been awarded grants from the State Historical Fund and National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as funding from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety for the rehabilitation of the west wing, currently scheduled to take place in 2015. In the meantime, the South Park National Heritage Area is funding the preparation of a master plan to guide future construction and site planning. County staff and volunteers continue to regularly visit the mill to keep it secure and identify potential issues. The immediate goal is to establish an interpretive trail on the 16-acre-site and to allow public access. Park County hopes to eventually have the mill open for guided tours so that future generations can learn about mining and milling technology firsthand.
The latest information on the mill is available at www.parismill.com
Written by: Linda Balough, Park County Preservation Office