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Leadville grew out of Oro City, a tent camp from the 1860s gold rush. In five years, prospectors claimed over $4,000,000 of placer gold then moved on. In the mid-1870s, assayers took a closer look at the gloppy grey stuff that had gummed up mine workings. It was Silver. Leadville boomed for the second time.
Investors like James Dexter and merchants like Horace Tabor built Leadville. Banks, fancy Victorian homes, theaters, and respectable businesses sprang up between the saloons and bordellos. Leadville installed telephone service, street lights, a fire company, electricity, and lobbied to become the capitol of the new state of Colorado. Two railroads arrived in 1880. The town, population 15,000, prospered.
In 1893, the Federal Treasury stopped buying silver. The price plummeted, sending the entire nation into a financial depression. Many of the mines, mills and smelters went bankrupt immediately. Others closed right after World War I.
The Climax Molybdenum Mine stabilized the local economy. It opened in 1916, supported research into Moly’s many uses, like hardening steel, and became the world’s largest producer. In 1982, the global economy shifted, and Climax shut down.
Recently, the price of Molybdenum rose enough to reopen Climax Mine. Meanwhile, Leadville reinvented itself as a tourist town with everything from dogsled rides to jeep trails, train trips to mountain climbing, and easy exploration of Colorado’s mining heritage.