Historic Montezuma silver mine opened for tour | VailDaily.com

Historic Montezuma silver mine opened for tour

Robert Allen
Summit County correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

Robert Martin, a mining engineer who now works at Climax, gives a brief talk on the history of the Burke-Martin Mine near Montezuma Saturday. Friends and family gathered outside of the mine during an 80th birthday celebration for Robert's father, Jim, who started working at the silver mine in 1947.

MONTEZUMA, Colorado – The Snake River valley’s last operational mine was opened on Saturday for events honoring its owner.

Jim Martin mined silver, and some lead and zinc, from the Burke-Martin Mine in the 1950s and ’60s. He nearly re-opened it in the 1980s, but a series of setbacks including lower prices kept the mine from returning to full capacity.

Some minor mining occurred into the mid-1990s, but it is no longer operational.

“There’s still a lot of ore up here,” said Robert Martin, Jim’s son, adding that “thousands of tons of silver” have been extracted.

The silver veins run from 24 inches wide to thin enough to be invisible.

Robert Martin works in engineering at the Climax Molybdenum at the border of Summit and Lake counties.

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Dave Harmin of Montezuma worked in the Burke-Martin Mine for about nine years in the ’80s and ’90s.

“It was a nice place to work,” he said, adding that it was safer than other mines.

He said most of the mining was done in the winter, but the cool temperatures in the shafts are consistent year-round.

“(There were) beautiful specimens of raw silver and wire silver,” he said.

Harmin now works in mine safety and reclamation.

Much of the mining equipment is still scattered at the site south of Montezuma. The doors of an airport hangar were used to build the entrance to the mine, and they continue to stand after several decades.

The doors were opened Saturday and the roughly 40 onlookers had a chance to take a peek at the mine shaft’s 8 foot by 8 foot entrance. The tunnel goes back about 1,700 feet.

The mine was discovered in 1866.

Jim Martin came to Montezuma from Indiana at age 17 in 1947 because his family had inherited it from the founders, who didn’t have any children.

Dave Spencer with Summit Historical Society said the mine is the most documented of any of the area’s historic mines.

“It’s going to be some Ph.D.’s thesis some day,” he said.

Tracy Martin, Jim’s daughter, said the family has kept extensive documentation dating back to the 1840s. Most other mines’ documents were repurposed.

“Old documents were used as insulation in walls,” she said.

The Martins this year donated the documents to the Summit Historical Society.

Friends and family came to the mine Saturday for the tour and Jim Martin’s 80th birthday celebration.

A memorial plaque on a rock in Montezuma was unveiled that afternoon in honor of Delbert Tolen (1930-2004), who worked at the mine with Jim Martin, his best friend, in the 1940s.

SDN reporter Robert Allen can

be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.