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The First Hotchkiss Coal Boom

June 1st, 2011 by Thomas Wills

Filed under Community, Hotchkiss

The lower North Fork Valley in the Hotchkiss area has never been considered a major coal producing area like the higher Paonia, Bowie and Somerset areas, but at one point in our history some people were trying hard to make Hotchkiss a coal mining center.

The closest Hotchkiss ever came to having a major mine was the Burdick Mine, which was first developed sometime in the 1890’s as a “wagon mine”. This mine provided household coal to the town, but was eventually closed a few years after the railroad came in 1902 and the owners lost interest. Another possible reason could have been transportation since the mine was located about five miles above the town and horses and wagons were the only transportation option at the time.

Several years later, interest in the Burdick suddenly revived. On March 24, 1911 The Hotchkiss Herald declared the Burdick to be “one of the best in this part of the country” which was quite a claim, given the richness of the upper valley mines. The Herald claimed that there were “an estimated 3 million tons of coal” in two veins at the mine. At the same time the Herald announced the reopening of the mine it also reported on a plan to upgrade the road from the rails in Hotchkiss to the mine on the slopes of Oak Mesa.

What had triggered the new interest was that in 1911 Colorado Secretary of State, James B. Pearce, and several partners had purchased the closed Burdick mine. The company incorporated that year as The North Fork Coal Company with Pearce as President, Thomas F. Dillon-Vice -president and G.N. Parentiss as Secretary Treasurer.

Pearce was quoted in the Denver Times as saying that the coal mine was “worth millions” and that “the coal vein in the mine is 22 feet wide. I had to see it before I could believe it”.

The first order of business for Pearce and company was to improve the old road so that it would handle a Case steam engine pulling several twenty-foot trailers from the mine to Town and back. The production at the mine was expected to be about 200 tons per day, a fairly modest amount by today’s standards. The Burdick mine property consisted of 89.59 acres of patented mining claims.

According to the March 24, 1911 Hotchkiss Herald, the company was planning to spend $25,000 on the road upgrade that summer and be finished in time to deliver an order of 150 cars of coal in August of 1911. The road upgrade was apparently completed and the road still exists today, known locally as the “Coal Road” or 3445 Drive on some maps.

Apparently that was as far as it proceeded. It turned out that the design of the road, particularly the grade and curves, was not up to handling the Case engine and a full compliment of trailers. The investors decided not to put more money into redoing the road a second time. It was reportedly just not financially feasible compared to the lesser costs of mining in the upper valley which was accessed more directly by the Denver and Rio Grande spur.

So the first big coal boom at Hotchkiss fizzled with the problem being getting the coal from the mine to the railroad.

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