Frisco-Bagley Mill and Tunnel

$ 319,000
Last Updated:
Contact Agent
MLS #755218
Contact nameKaren Srebacic-Sites
Contact phone970-903-1961
Year built1999
Home area200 sqft
Lot Area30.9 acres


Located on the Alpine Loop Scenic and Historic Byway in southwest Colorado, connecting Ouray, Lake City, and Silverton. The Frisco Mill building dominates the landscape and is the last remaining large post and beam mill in the Animas Forks area. Mills were common during this period but most were small, and few are left standing. The Frisco Mill is the only known example of a large post and beam mill in this high country. The Frisco Mill is distinguished by its unique history and extraordinary setting, a one of a kind. It is listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. Listing in the State Register provides recognition and assists in preserving our state’s heritage.

This off-the-grid cabin is located on three mining claims in Animas Forks, 30.991 acres. Built in 1999, it features propane appliances, a queen-size Murphy bed, sleeping and storage lofts, and solar power for lights and small appliances. The second structure provides storage, propane heated shower, and a composting toilet.

The Frisco-Bagley Mill and Tunnel are located 12 miles out of Silverton and one-half mile up the West Fork of the Animas River in California Gulch at 11,400 feet elevation. The Mill, Tunnel and mine dump are part of the Gorilla Mining Claim, which is located on the southwest slope of Houghton Mountain. California Mountain and Treasure Mountain are to the south and west. All these mountains range in elevation from 12,000 to 13,000 feet. The site is a popular stopping point for tourists and recreational users of the Alpine Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, a four-wheel drive loop connecting Ouray, Lake City and Silverton over Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass. As a result, heavy tourist traffic frequents the site. The site includes a partially collapsed 150-ton reduction mill, a mine portal, cement foundations that once anchored compressors on approximately 2-acre mine dump and a recently constructed cabin with its accompanying comfort station.

The mill is in a state of disrepair. Over the years, unknown parties have scavenged from the building in order to sell the weathered timbers and lumber. This occurred primarily between the 1976 site inventory record and the 1991 sale to the current owner. Due to this activity the top floor (third floor), and the roof of the south portion is missing. The metal fixtures and equipment were removed including the galvanized roofing material. The remaining framing, which is substantial, is still in good condition despite substantial exposure to the elements.

The mill building dominates the landscape. The reduction mill is comprised of three gabled roof sections; each lower than the other as it progresses downslope. The top portion of the south section (third floor), the largest portion of the building, has been removed. The Frisco Mill was designed and built to be completely modern in 1912 with the latest processing and totally electric. Coal was only used in a small heating stove to keep the men warm in the mill office. This large building is of milled post and beam construction with timber joints through bolted and dapped. All major framing timbers were pre-cut, pre-fit, and number/letter coded using painted ink that is clearly visible today. It is rectangular in shape 150 feet long X 50 feet wide and 65 feet at the peak. Of the eighty, 6 over 6, double hung windows, 33 window frames, and three door frames remain, one on the north side, one on the west side, and one on the east side. The foundation is poured concrete pillars, footings, and footing walls, all of which are in excellent shape with no deterioration. Most of the heavy post and beam framing is in good shape. Inside the building, there is still some evidence of the ore reduction process. Cement foundations for the primary crusher, the secondary cone crushers, and lift belts are still present, as are the collapsed wooden components of Wilfley tables and classifiers. Unfortunately, salvage efforts (dates unknown), and subsequent scavengers have removed all the metal components from the building.

The Tunnel adit is approximately 200 feet from the mill. The tunnel proceeds in a northwesterly direction for 1 ½ miles and is straight without a bend or deviation through solid rock. The bore measures 7 x 7 ½ feet and required no timber framing. Work on the tunnel began in 1877 and reached its completed length by 1911. Inside the working as the miners cut through the various mineral veins, they drove drifts on these veins and then brought the ore out for processing. Safety was paramount with this company and care for the workmen showed for there is approx. 9000 feet of drift in this working and two 300 foot raises and it was accomplished without injury or loss of life.

The mine dump consists of waste rock (country rock extracted during tunnel excavation) this material having no mineral content since the Bagley Tunnel was not driven on vein. It produced an area of approx. 2 acres on which the balance of the mining camp was built. The mine dump consists of two distinct areas. One held the camp and the second separated from the first by the county road which was originally the railroad grade excavated after the Silverton Northern Railroad reached Animas Forks mining town in 1905. The mine track went across a bridge, when it was standing, from the top of one mine dump section to the other, 20 feet in the air, making it a rare occurrence that attracts most of the travelers on the Alpine Loop jeep road. This feature plus the remains of the standing mill produce a spectacular tourist photo spot.

The mining complex of the Frisco Mines & Tunnel Co. Inc. originally included many buildings in addition to the very large reduction mill. A camp existed at the site before the 1912 construction of the mill. Photographs taken in the teens and 1920s show the complex also included a large boarding house, a compressor building, a large tool shed, a blacksmith shed, a mine manager’s house, an unidentified log cabin, an unidentified second house, plus several other outbuildings and privies. It is not known when most of these buildings were removed from the property. A 1976 site inventory record specifically noted a prefabricated mill structure and a boarding house and included a photograph of the boardinghouse (Baker 1976). By 1997, the survey notes only the mill and the ruins of a small wood frame “office building” (Medville 1997), that is just outside the nomination boundaries.

Turn of the century mills were adequate but still operated around 85% recovery. The Frisco Mill was in this group with “modern” equipment in 1912. Ore cars approached the mill from a mine spur track and stopped on a scale to be weighed. They were then pushed across a bridge on to the porch at the back of the mill. On the other side of a large hole in the wall was a small ore bin that fed the primary crusher below. The cars were dumped, and a mill man fed the crusher. This was a rod type which looked like a long drum with one end higher than the other; as it turned, heavy alloy rods rolled inside to crush the ore. At the low-end gravel sized pieces and powder fell into a hollow in the floor where the first lift belt raised the material 40 feet and dropped it into big ore bins. The bins gravity feed ore into secondary crushers. There were two of these very large and heavy cone crushers on massive concrete foundations. Gravel is reduced to powder in these machines and is dropped down into a hollow in the floor where the second lift belt raised the material 40 feet for its trip down through processing. Water was mixed with the crushed ore; this mixture is called slime.

At this point, processing equipment becomes more portable and lighter. There were many variations and forms of this intermediate process. Unfortunately, no clues were left telling us what was used in this mill. The end of the process is still evident, however. Large settling tanks were installed at the 3rd floor level. These were funnel shaped the smaller being 8 feet across and the larger 12 feet. There were 12 of these (5 remain). These would separate heavy dense material from lighter sands. On the 2nd floor below these tanks many Wilfley tables worked the ore. These machines had a very stout base of iron and a mechanism for shaking the table top. Its motion was similar to an orbital sander. The top was adjustable with one end higher and one side higher. As the ore was then fed on to the table the vibrating motion would begin to separate larger bits from small, and denser (heavier) from lighter as the ore moved along its length. The heavier and smaller pieces would “walk” to the high side, the heaviest being highest with the lightest at the bottom. This would separate into bands with the help of riffles in the top. Water was added here as a wash and to help with motion. The bands of mineral would be identified by the operator and caught, dried, bagged and then sent to the smelter.

The Frisco camp kept up to 32 miners employed plus 8 to 10 mill men. Production records from 1913 and 1914 show 7,166 tons of ore produced from the various veins serviced by the tunnel. Keep in mind the ore cart of the day held one ton! From this production, the ore yielded the following; 92 ounces of gold; 13,363 ounces of silver, 11,177 pounds of copper; 326,404 pounds of lead; and 119,451 pounds zinc. Mine production continued until the 1920s.