By today’s standards, the building of a town on the top of cold, wind-swept, barren Yankee Hill seems as out of place as putting a cow on the front porch. There are frosts nearly every night on this high prominence which divides Clear Creek County from Gilpin County. Although the much used wagon and stagecoach road from Central City to Georgetown traversed Yankee Hill at a much earlier time, little serious thought was given to the mining potential of the area until rich gold float was found there, near the surface, in the 1890s. Beginning then, a tent city started to take form, housing some 200 persons who had come to conquer the peaks and to unlock any great treasure chest that might lie buried there. Within four to five months, the tent city had virtually disappeared as large numbers of log cabins were erected.
Both the hill and the town that later grew up on it were named by northern sympathizers during the Civil War. As a community, Yankee Hill was known as a peaceful, law abiding place. Although Central City was only 7 miles away, the men preferred to brawl in Denver once a month, on pay day. Only one saloon, a small one, ever flourished at Yankee Hill. While this would seem to present a sociological paradox, research has failed to turn up any alternative information beyond the fact that the beer glasses in the local saloon were small while the Denver booze jugglers served their product in 36 ounce glasses. The pay of a miner at this time was not great. With seeming pride in the character reputations they enjoyed at home, the men of Yankee Hill did their carousing in the gin mills, love stores and gambling halls of Denver. Yankee Hill itself was always a peaceful place.
For the pioneer who settled at Yankee Hill, there was a magnificent view of Saint Mary’s Glacier and the front range. Because of its altitude, the bill was nearly always a very cold place in winter. During one particularly bad period, a blizzard started on April 22, 1902, and the stagecoach, carrying both mail and passengers, was 5 hours late. When the coach finally pulled in at Yankee Hill, the driver was actually coated with ice.
After some initial slowness, an electric line was finally extended to Yankee Hill by way of Fall River Canyon. Its wires reached the town on July 28, 1902, financed for some reason by the Burlington Railroad Company. Almost exactly a year later the Colorado Telephone Company ran its wires up to the town from the other side. From Black Hawk, the lines were installed to Apex and then across the mountains for the last 7 miles to Yankee Hill. To facilitate shipment of ore to the refineries at Idaho Springs, work was done on the road through Alice and Fall River Canyon, beginning in 1905. Long before the arrival of these socially desirable improvements, the Denver Times for July 21, 1899, reported that all cabins at Yankee Hill were full. In addition to privately owned dwellings, some of the mining companies also put up quarters of one sort or another to shelter their unmarried workers. The North Star Mine had a fine, large boarding house. Captain H. I. Seeman of the Yankee Consolidated Company had several cabins “suitable for occupancy by married miners and their families. Single men who were employed by the same company were taken care of in one of the boarding houses, run by private parties.
Yankee Hill was located within the boundaries of the Northwest Lincoln Mining District. Financial backing for the many mines came principally from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California capitalists. Here as elsewhere, a mining association was organized at a rather early stage of the town’s life.
On May 14, 1900, the Denver Republican reported the formation of this group in order to fight claim jumpers and to advertise the camp. This latter goal was probably conceived in desperation, since very little paying ore was actually taken out in proportion to the vast amounts of money invested there.
It was thought for a time that a road to the smelters at Idaho Springs would result in prosperity through shorter and less costly hauling of unrefined ores to the mills. The previously mentioned Fall River road had been improved with this in mind. But a majority of the absentee owners and managers seem to have lived in Gilpin County rather than in Clear Creek County. As a result most of the refining was done at the more distant Black Hawk installations.
Despite these seemingly insurmountable odds, a rather amazing number of mining ventures tried to make a go of it at Yankee Hill. The Gold Anchor was turning out ores worth $600.00 to the ton at one time, but not for long. While boisterously counting their chickens before they were hatched, the Gold Anchor people built their own concentrator in 1905. The nearby Pioneer Mill, erected according to the same sort of speculation, was a 5 stamp operation. Great improvements were also planned by Captain H. I. Seeman, president and manager of the Yankee Consolidated Mining, Milling and Tunneling Company. He hoped to erect a new shaft house on the rich Lombard property which produced ores worth $400.00 to the ton. A horse-powered boiler, an air compressor, and new drills were purchased. This company employed between 50 and 100 men at the Lombard. It owned about 80 properties around Yankee Hill. A few of the Consolidated holdings were silver producers. Captain Seeman had his own company-owned assay office in the town.
According to the Daily News of March 16, 1899, a one fourth interest in the Stone Wall mine was sold to Denver parties for $2,000. A company was quickly formed with $10,000 in working capital. Although the camp had been inactive under adverse circumstances, the turn of the century brought a false boom that resulted in many old properties, idle for years, starting up with a lively work program. Among these were the Pay Dirt Mine, owned by a Dr. Shaw of Denver; the Seminole Group, made up of a group of 5 claims; the Eureka, owned by George Ebert of Denver; and the North Star, which was the property of Albert B. Sanford, also of Denver. A group of California men opened up the mines of Alice, just below Yankee Hill on the Fall River side. Between Alice and the top of the hill, the Ninety Four Tunnel was drilled and a small settlement grew up around it.
At the peak of the boom, three shifts were at work around the clock in the Manhattan Tunnel. Among mines in the district that became producers of a sort were the Portland No. 1, Klondyke Tunnel, Meadowlark, Isabella, Curfew, Chesapeake Tunnel, Cumberland, Faust, Pennsylvania, and the Surprise, owned by the Lincoln Mining Company.
With the passage of time, even the gargantuan optimism of the newspapers and of the professional promoters could not conceal the fact that mining futures at Yankee Hill left much to be desired. Within the span of the few years that the fever lasted, long hauls to the mills ate up too much of the profits from ores that were only moderately gold bearing anyway.
Reprint from Colorado Ghost Towns-Past and Present