Cerro Gordo Mines
The Cerro Gordo Mines are a collection of abandoned mines located in the Inyo Mountains, near Lone Pine, California in Inyo County, California. Mining operations were undertaken from 1866 until 1957, producing high grade silver, lead, and zinc ore. Some ore was smelted on site, but larger capacity smelters were eventually constructed along the shore of nearby Owens Lake.
These smelting operations were the beginnings of the towns of Swansea and Keeler. Most of the metal ingots produced here were transported to Los Angeles, but transportation difficulties hindered the success of the mines. Mining of silver and lead peaked in the early 1880s, with a second mining boom producing zinc in the 1910s.
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Discovery of the silver ore is credited to Pablo Flores, who began mining and smelting operations near the summit of Buena Vista Peak in 1865. Due to hostile Indian activity early mining efforts were rather limited. When hostile Indian activity subsided following the establishment of Fort Independence, mining efforts increased.
These early miners employed relatively primitive techniques of open pits and trenches, and used adobe ovens to smelt the ore. Businessman Victor Beaudry of nearby Independence, California, became impressed by the quality of silver being taken out of Cerro Gordo and opened a store near the mine. He soon acquired several mining claims to settle unpaid debts and proceeded to have two modern smelters built. Beaudry continued acquiring mining rights from debtors until he soon owned a majority of the richest and most productive mines in the area, including partial interest in the Union Mine.
In 1868 Mortimer Belshaw arrived in Cerro Gordo (Rich Hill), attracted by the rich deposits of galena ore. After establishing a partnership with another stakeholder in the Union Mine, he brought the first wagon load of silver from Cerro Gordo to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles he was able to secure financing to build his own smelter that was superior to all other smelters at Cerro Gordo, as well as to build the first wagon road up the mountain. This road became known as the Yellow Road from the color of the rock that it had been cut through. By operating the Yellow Road as a toll road, Belshaw was able to earn income and control the shipments of silver from the mountain.
Cerro Gordo is privately owned and currently a ghost town and tourist attraction. It still has several buildings including the general store and the American Hotel. Permission to visit must be obtained. The town was put up for sale in June 2018, and sold the following month to Los Angeles entrepreneurs who planned to keep it open to the public. The buyers, entrepreneur Brent Underwood and partner Jon Bier, purchased the property with additional investment from a collection of Los Angeles-based creatives. The sellers agreed to terms with Underwood and Bier despite at least one higher bid being offered because their vision for the future of the town, including its preservation, aligned with the sellers' wishes.
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