Fascination with Clear Creek mining history leads to author's 2nd book

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By Sandy Barnes

Wearing a small metal hat, Ben Dugan used to venture into an abandoned mine by candlelight as a young boy growing up in Empire.

“Everybody who grew up there played in the old mines,” Dugan said. “It was the epitome of fun.”

Dugan is now an accountant with a 6-year-old son named Sam who sat listening to his father talk about his new book titled “Mines of Clear Creek County.”

While most of the mines dating from the mid-1800s are now caved in and inaccessible, Dugan’s unflagging interest in them has inspired his second book.

Presented in the same format as his first work, “Berthoud Pass,” Dugan’s book on mines is filled with historic photos and information about them.

“I took the photo angle,” he said.

Underneath each photo of Clear Creek County towns, miners and their surroundings is information that Dugan uncovered while working on his book.

“I went into detailed research to find all this stuff,” he said. “I loaded it up with interesting facts.”

Finding the photos for the book was also a large project for Dugan. Some he found in antique shops, and others were collected by his father, Michael Dugan, who purchased the Gold Bug Mine in the 1960s. Dugan said his father also bought the Empire City Mine to run as a museum, for which he collected vintage mining equipment. 

Dugan’s childhood knowledge of mines in Clear Creek County played a key role in developing the book.

“We traveled up north Empire and played at all of the mines located there — mostly all over the tailings at the old Minnesota mines,” he said. “Those tailings looked like craters of the moon.”

A photo in Dugan’s book shows the tailings and offers a description of their chemical components, which included cyanide.

Dugan also portrays mining life in Clear Creek County towns including Idaho Springs, Silver Plume and Georgetown, where his father worked as a jailer at the old police station.

In Chapter 3, a photo of Georgetown dating from 1867 shows its appearance as an emerging center of mining activity. Another image of the town, which was taken in 1888, reveals its remarkable development in the intervening years.

An image in the Empire chapter of Dugan’s book brings attention to the Peck House, a renowned establishment where he used to work as a youth. When the tall candles in the dining room would burn down, Dugan said, they would be given to him. 

“I would put the candles 3 to 4 feet apart and walk into the mine 100 feet,” he said. “To go back that far was fascinating.”

Dugan said that while exploring mines, he also came across a cave-in created by an upward stope, a timber-lined opening.

“You could climb over the cave-in and squeeze through a very small space and go back even further and see the vein,” he said. “There was a piece of dynamite still in the rock at the very end of the tunnel. … Every time I did that, I was scared.”

After growing up in Clear Creek County, Dugan attended the Colorado School of Mines and later became an accountant. 

Writing books on the history of the county where he spent his childhood is an interesting hobby, he said.

“It’s kind of like putting the pieces of a puzzle together so they exactly fit,” Dugan remarked.

“Mines of Clear Creek County” can be found at the Georgetown and Idaho Springs visitor centers, Clear Creek businesses, and at area Barnes & Noble book stores.


Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.