Historic Structures

S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company, Denver Colorado

Date added: January 31, 2010 Categories: Colorado Industrial

The significance of the Shattuck site arises from its role in processing various metals since 1918. At various periods of time, molybdenum compounds, radium, uranium compounds, and rhenium were produced at the site. From about 1934 to the early 1940s, Shattuck was one of only two companies in the U.S. that produced radium salts; although, collectively both companies produced only a small percentage of the radium used in the U.S. during that period.

The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company plant on South Bannock Street in Denver stands as an example of the changing nature of Colorado's mineral processing industry during the twentieth century. Over more than six decades (1918-1984) that the plant processed minerals, the types and markets for the finished compounds produced in Colorado changed dramatically. For example, throughout most of its active life the Shattuck plant's operators produced a variety of highly specialized mineral products, often for comparatively narrow markets.' Beyond that, Shattuck's specialized operation tended to reflect two important trends in the twentieth century Colorado mineral processing industry. The first was diversification of the industry into a wider area than precious metal processing (primarily gold and silver) and steel making, mainstays of Colorado's industry during the late nineteenth century. Secondly, local processing activity spread from its traditional areas such as Globeville in the northeast part of the city to other parts of Denver. Part of that spread of industrial activity reflected the general growth of Denver during the 1890s and early 1900s.

During the 1880s and especially the 1890s Denver grew along the major rail routes to and from the city. Much of this growth focused on the rail corridor south of the downtown area. Industrial and residential growth followed the expansion of public transit lines that reached south of downtown along Broadway Avenue about four miles by 1892. The presence of public transportation coupled with the Denver and Rio Grande and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad lines south of the old downtown core led to the spread of an industrial and commercial zone from Broadway Avenue west to the railroad tracks by 1900. It was in this area and era that the first developments on the future Shattuck plant site took place.

The site consists of Blocks A (southern portion) and B (northern portion) of the Overland Park Subdivision. The 1893 Sanborn map of the site shows a small building and fenced area in the southwest part of Block B and attributed it to the Parkdale Kaolin Company. It also shows three developed areas in portions of Block A. These developed areas in Block A were reportedly occupied by the Woeber Bros. Carriage Company. The structures in these areas are identified as part of a "Car Shop" and included a wood shop, paint shop, blacksmith and machine shop, engine and boiler rooms, a mill and a storage shed for old street cars. There is a note on the Sanborn map that states the "Old Works Burned Feb., 1893".

A warranty deed transfer for Block B was recorded in March 1899. The deed grantor was The Denver Consolidated Tramway Company and the grantee was the Denver City Tramway Company. The Sanborn map for 1903 does not show any structures in Block B. In Block A, the three developed areas are still evident but they are identified differently. Specifically, the wood shop and paint shop are identified as the "Car Shop - Car Building and Painting, All Hand Work" and the facility is identified as the "Woeber Car Works - Manufactures Street Cars".'

In September 1913, a warranty deed for Block A was recorded with the grantor being The Plattner Implement Company and the grantee being Anna Kaub Sigel. The Plattner Implement Company may have moved to the site before they acquired title to it as they built a storage building on the property in 1911. This is the earliest building on the site that remains extant, although heavily modified. The modifications are attributable to The S. W. Shattuck Company. The Plattner Implement Company was a Colorado corporation incorporated on January 31, 1899 for the purposes of buying, selling, and dealing in all kinds of agricultural implements, wagons and other vehicles lubricating oils, saddlery and all other articles and things usually handled or sold in connection with agricultural implements. The use of the site as an implement warehouse continued for about seven years through a period of considerable change in the Denver business environment Block A was transferred in August 1916 to the A. K. Realty and Investment Company. The A. K Realty and Investment Company's Articles of Incorporation describe the purpose of the corporation as including buying or otherwise acquiring, holding or trading, leasing, dealing in, selling, conveying or otherwise disposing of real estate and personal property of every kind and description.

In March, 1918, The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company incorporated in Colorado.'" The purpose of the corporation as stated in its Articles of Incorporation included to purchase, manufacture and otherwise dispose of chemical products and to mine, purchase, analyze, treat, reduce concentrate sell and otherwise dispose of ores and their products. Following the June 1918 death of company founder Sidney W. Shattuck, the company moved from 3311 Walnut Street in Denver to the Bannock Street site. During 1918 The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company treated molybdenum ores in one end of a building on Bannock Street, while David Taylor processed camotite ores in the other. Reportedly, no business relationship existed between the two organizations.

On April 1, 1920, the A. K. Realty and Investment Company leased a portion of the site to York Ferro-Alloys Company, a Pennsylvania Corporation. York Ferro-Alloys Company was succeeded by York Metal & Alloys Company, also a Pennsylvania corporation, formed to produce, manufacture purchase and sell metals and alloys. York Metals & Alloys Company manufactured ferrovanadium and extracted related ores in the La Sal Mountains of Utah. The principal use of ferrovanadium was in steels, especially in tool steels and in situations where steel was subjected to repeated strains. Denver processor, David Taylor (also an officer of York Ferro-Alloys Company), continued treating carnotite ores at the site. In 1922, York Metals & Alloys Company subleased a portion of the site to the York Mining Company, a corporation whose president was David Taylor. The purpose of the corporation was to buy, sell, export, import, and generally deal at wholesale and retail in ores, metals, and minerals of all kinds and to mine, mill, smelt, and treat in anyway whatsoever ores metals, and minerals of all kinds and descriptions. It is unclear how long David Taylor operated at the site although in 1923, York Mining Company filed a Notice of Dissolution with the Secretary of State. After David Taylor closed his plant and left the area The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company may have initiated carnotite refining.

In 1924 and 1925, Shattuck made improvements to the site. The title to Block A was transferred again in August 1929 from The A. K. Realty and Investment Company (a successor to Anna Kaub Sigel) to The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company. At the Shattuck plant the building that housed the Woeber Car Shop is gone, but the early portions of Buildings No. 3 and 4 are shown along with several small outlying structures. No activity was evident in Block B on the 1929 Sanborn map.

In July 1944, Block B of the property was transferred by the Denver City Tramway Company to The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company. With this transfer. The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company owned the site in its entirety.

Little is known about the activities at the site during the late 1940s and into the 1950s except that increased molybdenum production may have been the impetus for expansion. The Sanborn map for 1950 shows that the site was occupied by The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company and that the company was a manufacturer of uranium salts, ammonium molybdic acid, and molybdate. Construction permit records for Building No. 6 show that in October 1955, a warehouse building in that location was demolished and shortly thereafter, a new structure was built with a large stack for the discharge of gases. These facilities were designed and operated to process byproduct molybdenum concentrate to produce technical grade molybdenum oxide, ammonium and sodium molybdates, and high-purity molybdic oxide.

On December 31, 1969 The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company sold the site and certain assets, including the corporate name, to the present owner. The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company, Inc. The former owner of the site changed its name to JPL Enterprises, Inc. (JPL Enterprises, Inc. ultimately dissolved in April, 1982).

As much as the industrial and residential growth along transportation corridors south of Denver affected the site's historical development, so did concurrent historical changes in the character of the mineral processing industry.

Locally, the changes in the processing industry reflected the near demise of silver mining and smelting in Colorado following the Panic of 1893 as well as the scientific discoveries being made as the nineteenth century slipped into the twentieth. The earlier Colorado mineral processors depended on gold, silver and in Pueblo, Colorado, steel production for their profits. Twentieth century processors, such as The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company, refined newly discovered or newly useful minerals to a much greater extent. No longer were huge mills, blast furnaces and other factory-like facilities the only types of processing plants. Smaller and more specialized plants such as Shattuck's were constructed. The materials processed at these plants were equally different and more specialized and included radium, molybdenum, vanadium, uranium, tungsten and rhenium, among others.

Radium, discovered in 1899 by Marie Curie through her work with uranium, became one of the miracle elements of the twentieth century. Radium and its radioactive properties sparked scientific, medical, commercial and military interest during the period 1900 to 1920. By the time of the Curie discovery, the presence of pitchblende, a source of radium and uranium, was already known in Colorado. Certain gold mines in the Central City area of Gilpin County encountered small veins of pitchblende. However, the local miners did not recognize the material and discarded it on the mine waste piles. During 1871 English mining engineer Richard Pearce visited some of the Central City mines for his employer, the Rochdale Mining Co., and found the pitchblende on the waste piles. He collected the material and shipped it to London where it was reduced to uranium oxide to tint glass and ceramics. Sporadically from the 1870s until World War I, Gilpin County mines produced commercial quantities of pitchblende.

Prospectors and miners along the Colorado-Utah border continued their searches for gold and silver, but found sources of radium instead. By 1900 what many of them found was a yellow, powdery mineral in many of the local sandstone formations. The yellow material came to be known as carnotite, an ore rich in uranium and vanadium. The ores found in the area had to be concentrated before shipment to make it economic for production. Mining engineers and scientists expended much energy during the early years of the twentieth century attempting to find economic ways to concentrate the carnotite ores, most with limited success. The difficulty of the refining and the even lower ratio of radium to uranium kept prices for radium high. Process development work to refine carnotite continued into the 1910s. One gram of radium represented the refining of up to 500 tons of carnotite ore. Despite such ratios, the price being paid by the medical profession went to $120,000 per gram. The results were many including a mining boom for carnotite in the Paradox Valley of western Colorado, the founding of companies to process and sell radium further experimentation with the refining process and the eventual establishment of the National Radium Institute in Denver during 1913 as a quasi-public agency charged with finding a more efficient means to refine the radium. As a result, Denver became the center of the United States radium activity and continued as a leader in the field even after the National Radium Institute closed in 1918.

The United States' role as a leading producer of radium continued until 1922 when large deposits of pitchblende in the Belgian Congo were commercially developed. Those mines gave the Belgians a near monopoly on the world's radium supply into the 1930s and the American radium industry all but disappeared. The failure of the United States' radium industry corresponded with David Taylor and the York Mining Company ceasing operations in Colorado, as mentioned earlier.

The commercial uses for radium in the early twentieth century included medical uses primarily for cancer treatment, use in patent medicines and use in luminous paints for dials and instrumentation from wrist watches to aircraft gauges. Few people fully understood the nature of radioactivity in those early years and workers, such as the dial painters, were constantly exposed to health risks. By the 1920s the problems were apparent and steps were taken to better understand these risks.

In 1934, The S. W. Shattuck Chemical Company built a frame and transite (corrugated cement and asbestos sheeting) radium plant. Minerals Yearbook. 1935 confirmed that a commercial radium plant was erected on the site in the fall of 1934 and that by the end of that year, the company was ready to start work. The company estimated that production of a gram of radium required the equivalent of 15 men working for a year. It was also stated that the company's past production included dilute radium salts, sodium uranate, uranium nitrate, uranium acetate, and vanadium compounds. Uses of radium salts remained therapeutic, uranium salts continued to be a popular coloring agent for glass and ceramics, and was also used as a steel toughening agent. Vanadium was also commonly used in steel processes. All these products were available in carnotite the raw material Shattuck used.