Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Heritage of Smelting

"Joint project expected to provide hundreds of jobs upon completion," the headline in the Metro Denver Economic Development newsletter gushes. The story describes plans to redevelop the former ASARCO site at 51st and Logan, all that remains of the important and powerful industry that once defined Globeville.
The story begins with the discovery of gold and silver in Colorado in 1858 and the "Rush to the Rockies" that followed, bringing hordes of fortune seekers to the territory. A crisis developed as business leaders realized that the mineral wealth was untouchable unless the metals could be separated from the complex ores that held them - settlers were leaving and eastern investors were withdrawing funds. What followed was a quest to find an economical, efficient and reliable method for recovering minerals - the region's survival was at stake. Entrepreneurs, businessmen, scientists and charlatans proposed remedies, but it was a professor of chemistry from Brown University, Nathaniel P. Hill, who found the solution and opened the Boston and Colorado Smelter near Black Hawk in 1867.
The smelter was wildly successful and soon outgrew its canyon location, moving in 1878 to a hill north of Denver and close to the Colorado Central and Denver Pacific Railroads. The new plant covered six acres between what is now West 44th and 47th Avenues, and Fox to Pecos Street. 350 men, mostly English, Welsh, Irish, Scotts and Swedes worked at the Smelter. The Boston and Colorado organized a classic company town, with three hotels for single men, houses for families and several company stores. The village was named Argo, after the mythical ship sailed by Jason in search of the golden fleece, and people soon referred to the smelter by the same name. 
The firm's success lead to the construction of more smelting operations in the area, the Omaha and Grant in 1882 and the Globe in 1886. Changes in technology, and the depletion of the state's mineral-rich ores made the Boston and Colorado Smelter obsolete by 1902. A fire in the smelter's refinery in 1906 spelled the end of the smelter and the town of Argo, but the legacy of mining and refining lives on in the neighborhood in the remains of ASARCO's Globe plant. Again, there is a promise of jobs in processing and reprocessing the earth's minerals.

The "mousetrap" occupies the smelter's location today
Photo of the Boston and Colorado Smelter, Colorado Historical Association

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