In 1959, Gilman workers struck again over pay rates, arbitration, and management rights. The dispute was settled the next year which stabilized Gilman’s labor situation, but tensions would remain with the company. However, the U.S. military’s demand for zinc remained strong and in the 1960s the town supported a few hundred people and boasted an infirmary, grocery store, and bowling alley.
In 1965, the fate of Gilman was in limbo as the company faced not only stagnant zinc prices, but the need for capital improvements and expansion. That same year New Jersey Zinc sold out to Gulf and Western Industries, Inc., a growing auto parts corporation who wished to utilize the zinc in the use of chrome.
By 1970, total production at the mines was 10 million tons of ore which included not only zinc, but also gold, silver, copper, and lead in addition to zinc.
However, by the mid-1970s, most auto manufacturers had abandoned the use of chrome in their vehicles, and the mine’s reserves of zinc were nearly exhausted. A spike in gold and silver prices kept a much smaller operation going for a few years, but ultimately the Eagle Mine closed at the end of 1977. In December 1977, the operation laid off 154 miners after a two-week notice, with 16 remaining on the payroll. Afterward, some limited copper and silver production occurred, but that too, soon ceased and the pumps were deactivated and the mine was allowed to flood.
In 1983, the town and its mines were sold to a Canon City businessman named Glen Miller who planned to put the land to multiple uses including converting mine tailings into fertilizer, creating new residential development, and the possibility developing a ski resort. However, within a year, he sold the town to the Battle Mountain Corporation.
Gilman became an official ghost town in the spring of 1985 when the Battle Mountain Corporation evicted its remaining residents and the post office closed its doors forever.
After the closure of the mine and the abandonment of the town, a 235-acre area, which included eight million tons of mine waste, was designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Massive amounts of pollutants had been released into the ecosystem, which placed the site on the National Priorities List.
CBS Operations, Inc., who bought Viacom International, Inc., which owned the controlling shares of New Jersey Zinc Company, was deemed responsible for the cleanup of the site. Cleanup of the mine began in 1988 with the relocation of mine wastes and capping of the main tailings pile. According to the EPA, the network of mines included “an estimated 70 miles of underground mine tunnels”. Today, the cleanup has been declared a success.
In 2004, the property was purchased by Florida real-estate developer Edward R. Ginn for $32.75 million with plans to develop a gated community, a 10-lift private ski resort, golf course, a luxury hotel, and parcels for hundreds of private homes. The development proposal required an annexation into Minturn for the town’s services, which residents approved in 2008. However, Ginn filed for bankruptcy the next year. The property then became part of the Battle Mountain Development Company who planned a massively scaled-back version of the project. There are still plans today to subdivide the land for re-development, but nothing has been done as of this writing.
Gilman still sits silently on a shoulder of Battle Mountain overlooking the valley below. Its large shaft house and many buildings sit empty and deteriorating. From Highway 24, overlooking the old company town, visitors can see graffiti, crumbling walls, cracked chimneys, and broken windows in the town’s many buildings. The old unused railroad track that once hauled ore from the Eagle and Belden mines can be seen in the canyon below. Today, it is choked with weeds and littered with small boulders that have tumbled onto the rusting tracks. An old station wagon sits rusting along the steep mountainside.
The old pipeline/trestle system that once pushed the tailings to a location downstream still mostly stands rusting and broken in large sections. When the mine closed, the trestle system was used by the EPA to deliver contaminated water from the Eagle Mine to a water treatment plant.
“No Trespassing” signs hang on the closed gates and more signs are posted warning trespassers of “Hidden and Visible Dangers” and the “Risk of Injury or Death.” However, in years past, many have ventured onto the property, despite the warnings. This is evidenced by the amount of the graffiti on the buildings and photographs taken by trespassers. Inside the buildings, x-rays are strewn about the old hospital, mine records remain in the offices, furniture and appliances sit rusting and deteriorating in the houses, and a rusty swing set and a slide still sit in the old schoolyard. Mine buildings are filled with old equipment and abandoned vehicles.
Unfortunately, some of these trespassers were doing much more than taking photographs – they were vandalizing the properties of both Gilman and Belden in the canyon below. The Eagle County Sheriff’s Department stepped in and now cites trespassers with a ticket and a fine. To help with the enforcement of the no-trespassing laws, the local Crime Stoppers organization rewards tipsters with as much as a $1,000 reward.
Gilman is located southeast of Minturn and north of Tennessee Pass along U.S. Highway 24. The remnants of the townsite are visible in many places along the curves of the highway.
“There are no wastelands in our landscape quite like those we’ve created ourselves.” -Tim Winton
Gilman-Red Cliff Slideshow:
All images available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.