Historic Structures

Sound Democrat Mill, Silverton Colorado

Date added: January 30, 2010 Categories: Colorado Industrial Mill

The Sound Democrat Mill is a seven stamp, five concentration table, ore-processing mill built in 1905- 1906, and remodeled in 1909. It is a typical amalgamation and concentration stamp mill built to treat gold and silver-lead ores. Located in an isolated valley at 12,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains, it is the last standing stamp mill in the productive Eureka district, and one of the most complete stamp mills remaining in Colorado.

On July 28, 1905, the Silverton Miner announced a sale of "great importance to this county." William G. White had sold the Sound Democrat to J. B. Ezell of Pine Bluff, Arkansas and J. W. Walker. The new owners had sent a crew to open the mine and had ordered machinery for a mill to work the ores. The machinery was "expected on the ground in 90 days." The article continued: "This property has been worked for a number of years and has made an excellent showing, but has not been worked in a manner to show what it is actually worth." It concluded, "The MINER makes a guess that the public will hear great things from this property when the new owners get their operation in thorough shape."

The Silverton newspaper's weekly mining column followed the development of the Sound Democrat. On October 20, 1905, the newspaper noted that mine manager J. W. Walker had work started and would keep a good force busy all winter on the Sound Democrat. The designer of the Sound Democrat mill is unknown. Mining man Walker most likely designed the plant on a standard model and ordered the machinery from mine supply catalogs. The Silverton newspaper noted his management of operations. In the fall, the mine crew built a tramway from the mine to the mill site; the newspaper also noted that the mill machinery was delayed and possibly shipped to the wrong locale. Although the mill site had been excavated and timber delivered to the site for framing, the close of the season in December found the Arkansas Mining & Tunnel Company still without its mill machinery.

In June 1906, the Silverton Miner noted the arrival of J. B. Ezell to begin active work on constructing the company's twenty ton capacity mill. Unfortunately, the newspaper does not give the details of the mill's construction, unlike the other, contemporary mills being constructed in the Eureka District at that time. The Gold Prince 100-stamp mill, the Hercules, the Sunnyside and others are described in detail; but these were major operations and the details of the Sound Democrat may have been overlooked because it was too small.

The newspaper does refer to the Sound Democrat mill as to be a ten-stamp mill. No evidence at the site today indicates that the mill had ten stamps. Instead, the mill contains two batteries of two Nissen stamps each. The Chicago Mining World of October 17, 1905, described the Nissen stamp battery as an advance in ore crushing. A two-stamp battery was equal to a regular five-stamp battery. The Sound Democrat mill's four Nissen stamps were thus equal to ten regular stamps. In September 1906, the mill was reportedly test run.

The Silverton Miner's special sixty-five page, illustrated edition on the San Juan Mountains mining industry, dated September 27, 1907, does not list the Sound Democrat mill in the list of mills of the county. This suggests that the mill was not in operation. The slow delivery of machinery, the slow construction of the Animas Power company's line to the district, and the winter shut down combined to strain the finances of the company. The winter also threatened operations. Snow slides had destroyed the buildings at the nearby Sunlight camp and the new Green Mountain mill as well as damaged the railroad. Finally, national economic conditions would cause the end to the Arkansas Mining and Tunnel Company.

In 1907, the mining industry in the West was crippled by the national Panic. The high metal markets for copper and lead had collapsed causing Western smelters to stop purchasing ores and to curtail operations. This in turn caused mine operators to close or go bankrupt. Though the Sound Democrat was reportedly "going ahead" in the summer of 1907 and the owners were, the Silverton Miner reported, to "get the stamp mill to drop," the mill was not operated and was not listed as one of the shippers in the county. During the Panic of 1907, the nearby Gold Prince and Gold King companies went into bankruptcy. On July 22, 1907, J. W. Walker's interest in the Sound Democrat was sold to the Arkansas Mining and Tunnel Company. The Eureka District entered a two year slump; the Sound Democrat was idle in 1908.

In the summer of 1909, the American Smelting & Refining Company, operator of the Durango smelter, announced that it would again buy lead ores and concentrates. The revival of the mining industry hinged on being able to sell mill concentrates to the smelter. With the general mining revival, the Sound Democrat was again in the news. Joe Terry, manager of the Sunnyside mine and leaser of the Sound Democrat in the 1890s, had again leased the mine and mill. The Terrys also consolidated their operation with D. B. Smith and the adjacent Silver Queen mine. During the summer of 1909 Joe Terry completed a surface tram from the Silver Queen to the Sound Democrat aerial tram terminal and began shipping ore. Also, the mine became known as the Queen-Democrat.

Joe Terry remodeled the mill. The plant was increased in size and new machinery was put in place. For the first time, the mill produced concentrates. The Silverton newspaper noted that "a trial run was made at the mill which proved quite successful, after which the mill was given a thorough overhauling and much new machinery was added." Unfortunately, no details are given as to what machinery was added. Terry may have added to the mill the three-stamp battery to the four Nissen stamps. The battery is a typical prospect battery.

Joe Terry added new concentration tables. The tables in the mill today are standard sixteen-foot Wilfley tables. A newer concentration level was probably added to the lower end of the mill in 1909. This lowest level of the mill is collapsed today; it is a complete ruin indicating that it was a separate addition to the still standing upper levels. Most likely, the mill was totally overhauled with a new jaw crusher, a new electric motor, a new water line and power lines. Unfortunately contemporary sources are silent. The U. S. Bureau of Mines, which published a list of all mills in the United States in 1911, lists the Sound Democrat, but does not detail its machinery. Other mills in the Eureka District have complete lists of machinery. The Sound Democrat is only listed as an amalgamation and concentration mill of 30 tons capacity.

During 1910, Terry managed the operation of the Queen-Democrat mine and mill. Terry, manager of the Sound Democrat in 1898-1899 and 1909-1910, is responsible for the present appearance of the Sound Democrat mill. Joseph T. Terry was born in 1874 in Canyon City. His father, John H. Terry, arrived in Colorado from Ohio in 1859, during the Pikes Peak gold rush. John Terry helped open the Gregory lode at Central City and was manager of its mine and mill in the 1860s. He was one of Colorado's foremost mining men when he turned his interest to cattle ranching near Canyon City and became a county judge. In 1886 Judge Terry acquired an interest in the Sunnyside mine and with his sons, William and Joe, opened it into one of the biggest gold producers in the San Juan Mountains. Joe Terry learned the mining business through his work at his father's mine and mill, which he joined at age twenty. He operated various mines on lease, including the Sound Democrat, until 1901, when he became superintendent at the Sunnyside. He managed that property until 1909, when he again became interested in developing the Sound Democrat. After his father's death on July 16, 1910, he returned to the management of the Sunnyside mine. He operated the mine and mill until 1917, when the Sunnyside was sold to the United States Mining, Smelting and Refining Company. He continued his interest in the area's mines. On February 1, 1924, he died at age 50.'

Joe Terry was a rule-of-thumb mining man. Although he lacked a mining engineer's degree, he learned the practical skills of a miner and mill man through work at his father's properties. The jerry-built seven-stamp, Sound Democrat mill reflects a pragmatic, crude design rather than a standard, engineer- designed stamp mill. Under Terry, however, the Sound Democrat mill did produce. During 1909-10, the Silverton Miner kept statistics of monthly concentrate and ore shipments for the mining district. During June and July 1910, Terry shipped 150 tons of mill concentrate. In August, only crude ore was shipped, some 25 tons. This indicated either that rich ore was found which was more cost effective to ship than mill or that problems with the mill had developed. The latter is more likely.

Also, Joe Terry had other concerns. His father Judge Terry had died in July, and the management of the Sunnyside mine again came under his direction. The Queen-Democrat mine was closed both because the operation was marginal at best and because the Sunnyside would take Joe Terry's full energy. The Sound Democrat mill, always the property of J. B Ezell and the Arkansas Mining & Tunnel Company (AMTC), was not worked by that company. In 1914, the AMTC property was removed from the county tax rolls, indicative of its low value. In 1921, Ezell filed a location notice for the Pine Bluff mill site and all its improvements, which was the site known as the Sound Democrat mill. This ensured his preemptory title but also may indicate that machinery was beginning to be removed from the derelict Sound Democrat mill. An attempt to revive the operation in the 1920s failed.