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When entering Salida from the west, a giant 385-foot smokestack rises from the pastures. It’s a remnant from the heydays of mining in the Upper Arkansas Valley. The Smokestack belonged to the Ohio-Colorado Smelting and Refining Company.
Smelting is a process used to separate pure metal from the surrounding ore. First, the ore is “roasted” with catalysts to trigger chemical reactions, then it is “reduced” to pure form by cooking it at high-temperatures. The process creates noxious gasses and inert and toxic slag.
The small smelters in Chaffee and Lake counties were inadequate for the volume of ore produced. The OCMS Company built the smelter near Salida in 1901. The tallest smokestack was 150 feet. Toxic effluent leaving the stacks settled on the surrounding farms and killed crops and livestock. Local farmers sued OCMS and won damages and “protection.” In 1917, the company finished the 365-foot smokestack. The added height captured more of the toxins inside the stack and allowed the wind to blow the rest away. By 1919, the company was in liquidation and the smelter shut down.
The smokestack is now owned by the Salida Museum Association. It is a wayside on the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway, just south of Highway 291 on County Roads 151 / 150.