NOT GEMSTONES, GHOSTS - SPOOKY ABANDONED MINES
In the spirit of Halloween, let us take a dive into a few abandoned mines and towns. Save for a few bold residents and ghosts, nobody inhabits the towns on this list. Even less people are in the mines; a handful of bold adventurers may have explored them, but only specters continue to work there.
No, not the Bard; this is a town in New Mexico. It wasn’t always named after the famous playwright. Dubbed simply as “Mexican Springs”, the small town was inhabited by Confederate soldiers after the American Civil War. The Great Diamond Hoax pulled the already dying town into oblivion. We wrote about that particular hoax before. The gist of the plot is this: two swindlers, Philip Arnold and John Slack, salted a plot of land to get rich from investments. They fooled investors and even Tiffany that there were diamonds in the area. Although the hoax was uncovered, the damage was already done.
The town rebranded itself as “Shakespeare” to repair the ruin dealt to Mexican Springs’s name. A few mines remained in the area. Despite the attempt to fix Shakespeare, penury stuck to the town like a cold. A single road ran through town and the town had no soldiers. The local Apaches and the settlers engaged in armed conflict. About seventy volunteers organized to defend the town.
An example of the town’s success in apprehending criminals can be found in the early 1880s. Infamous bandit Sandy King rode into town. Vigilantes detained King, but while they dealt with him, Russian Bill (an affiliate of King) stole a horse. Two volunteers gave chase and captured Bill.
Russian Bill was notorious for a few reasons. Known to be a count from Russia, he joined a gang of thirty to forty men and stirred trouble in New Mexico. According to his contemporaries, Bill was educated and a kind man at heart. If any of that is true, it didn’t help him escape frontier justice.
By the mid-1880s, the town showed some progress. A few saloons, hotels, and stores popped up. A deputy sheriff took residence, bringing some official law to Shakespeare. Unfortunately for its residents, none of it lasted long. By the 1890s, the silver mines shut down and just a few buildings had owners. Although the town made a brief comeback after 1907 when some mines re-opened and again after 1914, it died at the start of the Great Depression.
The ghosts of the previous inhabitants now claim Shakespeare. Well, really, it belongs to a private owner and is a ranch, but the ghost answer is spookier. Of the abandoned mines in the world, this one is one of the most old western (it has nothing on Tombstone, though).
Thomas Walsh, an Irish immigrant and eager miner, arrived in Colorado in early adulthood. He did basic, yet honest, work in the state, such as building bridges and prospecting in the local mines. Walsh moved to Silverton and prospected in the area. He had Andy Richardson help him, and the two literally struck gold. The area became known as Camp Bird (named after the pesky local birds) and churned out more ore and money than Walsh could do with. He studied the area and bought more claims, building up one of the largest and most profitable mines in US history. Walsh’s daughter, Evalyn Walsh McLean, eventually owned the Hope Diamond.
Although Camp Bird succeeded under Walsh, it thrived under the control of a British company after Walsh sold it. It remained successful for decades after Walsh’s death. Unfortunately, its success and long history did not prevent it from entering limbo. Although it had more than enough commercial ore according to analysis in the late 1960’s by the federal government, the mine gradually died. Today, speculation exists about its profitability, but is little more than an EPA project.
The town attached to the Camp Bird Mine (known as Camp Bird) is virtually non-existent. Historical records talk more about the mine than the town, and today, the town has few residents.
Camp Bird (the town) may have been eclipsed by its mine, but it has its fair share of interesting facts. For starters, it was perilous to live in. Snow slides posed a major threat to residents in the area. From spring to early summer, the snow would melt and come from the hills and mountains above.
Despite the mine’s success (and the town’s complete dependency upon it), both experienced a couple of shutdowns. 1916 was the first time the town and mine languished under financial burdens. The second time, and the beginning of the end, started with the Great Depression. Now it joins the list of abandoned mines that are kind of forgotten.
This Maori word is the name of a tiny settlement in New Zealand. There is little value in Orepuki today except for a café that won the national “New Zealand Café of the Year” award. There is also a beach on Monkey Island.
Orepuki once housed gold, coal, and shale miners. Garnet gemstones and other (semi-)precious stones are found on Gemstone Beach. The town thrived in the 1860s because of gold fever. There was plenty of gold to be found in Orepuki. Almost 20 years later, the discovery of coal and shale in the area made the town boom again. So how did a place with so many precious resources die?
The answer is simple: profitability. Numerous reports conducted on Orepuki concluded that the investment in the town was not profitable. In 1910, The Mining Journal claimed that mining shale in New Zealand cost ten shillings per ton as opposed to Scotland’s 4 shilling and 3 pennies. In 1901 there were over 800 miners at Orepuki. In 1906, that number was slashed to just over 300. Despite the presence of gold and shale at Orepuki, the town could not turn a profit and it became deserted.
There are some individuals who think the town should not be a forlorn hope, however. Gold supposedly turns up on occasion and people still hunt for that glint. The town is a good place for rockhounds too because of places like Gemstone Beach. However, until the town becomes repopulated, it will remain the eerie little mining town of Southland, New Zealand. Although the abandoned mines here are not active, they may rise again.
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