A Brief History
National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum
From a speech given February, 1, 2003
at Annual Meeting by Charles "Chuck" Morris.
What a pleasure it is to gather for the Annual Meeting in
the Magnificent National Mining Hall of Fame and
Museum! Isn’t this facility glorious?
It is hard to imagine that almost 16 years ago, we occupied
this deserted Victorian school building (with a leaky roof)—and
then to behold what we have today.
Perhaps a brief review of our history will provide some
perspective, and an even greater appreciation of our successes.
It’s a story that has led the news media to refer to
us as the "Smithsonian of the Rockies" and the "Premier
Showcase of American Mining."
In April of 1987 we moved into this 71,000 square foot building,
formerly the Leadville Junior High School, and before that,
Leadville High School. It was built in 1899.
At that time, we were nearly broke. From our mother organization,
we had inherited $300, an old desk and a chair, and an antique
What a way to start!
Incorporated in Colorado in 1977, the National Mining Hall
of Fame raised and spent money on various projects, including
the design of a building. It was to be built on some land
owned by the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, on which
the organization had an option for $5 million. To qualify
for this option, the Hall of Fame had to have $150,000 in
cash. And the estimated construction cost for the building
was $12 million!
It was a bold venture but did not fit the reality of the
times. The mining industry’s economic downturn of the
1980s dried up potential contributors, and the Hall of Fame
was facing hard times. Something had to be done.
Stan Dempsey persuaded Dick Moolick to join the Board of
Directors when Dick retired from Phelps Dodge in 1985.
A group of Directors saw the need for the Mining Hall of
fame to acquire an existing building in a mining community
somewhere, a permanent site for a landmark location. Constructing
a new building was out of the question.
Proposals were requested, and we did get a few (mostly requiring
large amounts of cash). Lead, South Dakota, made a generous
offer, and Leadville came up with an interesting proposal – this
building at a price tag of $2 million.
The Chairman, Doug Watrous, asked Dick to go up to Leadville
and "negotiate" for the recently-vacated school
building. Well, negotiate he did. After four hours, the deal
was made with the school district officials: 50 cents a year
for a 110 year lease! The County Commissioners then pledged
two years of utilities worth about $35,000 per year.
In April of 1987, Dick became Chairman. His first action
was to move into this building.
But what about the bank account of $300, and so on, and…..?
On the advice of Joe Shoemaker, a sage fundraiser and former
State Senator in Denver, the Mining Museum launched its first
major effort to sustain the fledgling facility – The
Joe suggested we seek 100 individuals who would pledge $1,000
each. Shoemaker whipped out a check, followed by Moolick,
Tom Ten Eyck, and Ray Heggland. It took a year but we raised
$100,000. Charles Stott was the 100th donor. It is appropriate
that the Founders will be recognized in all their glory at
the Annual Induction Banquet on September 13, 2003 here in
the Convention Center.
Then in 1988 we received our Federal Charter, by an act
of Congress and signed into law by President Reagan. We are
the only federally-chartered Mining Museum.
We had great support from our Congressional delegation,
and from our many friends who urged their Congressmen to
sign on as sponsors.
Dick was in the process of soliciting contributions when
Harry Conger of Homestake responded. If we could find a company
willing to pledge $10,000 a year for four years, Homestake
would match it. So evolved the "Conger Challenge,"” which
raised in excess of $500,000 over a four-year period using
that formula. Things are looking up!
Exhibits were the next challenge. What to put in that huge
building? A young Leadville sculptor created a bronze statue.
Her work is "The Singlejack Miner."
At the urging of Dick Moolick, a geologist named Franz Dykstra
went down to the Smithsonian and secured some 36 beautiful
crystals on loan, the foundation of the Crystal Room. They
are still a vital part of our collection.
Member Len Harris was successful in getting a good share
of the specimens from the defunct New York Mining Club. ASARCO
offered a collection of bullion scales.
And so it went, 28 dioramas hand-carved and painted by Hank
Gentsch, who developed his skills after being paralyzed in
an automobile accident. They depicted the early development
of gold mining along Clear Creek. For years they were on
display in Central City.
The Proctor Collection of dazzling gems and minerals. The
ARCO donation of the Anaconda Minerals Collection. They all
began to contribute to a groundswell of displays and exhibits,
that now occupy all or part of 13 rooms.
In 1988, we held our first Induction Banquet at the Brown
Palace Hotel in Denver. It was a night to remember! It has
been followed by 14 other successful events around the country.
173 of mining’s legendary leaders have been enshrined
in the Hall of Fame.
We knew we were making progress when The Wall Street
Journal published a front-page feature on the Mining
Museum in its edition of October 11, 1993.
Later on, we were able to expand and renovate our core building
at an expense of $800,000. This generous funding came from
the Economic Development Administration, the Mineral Impact
Assistance Program of the State of Colorado, the State Historical
Fund, the Colorado Historical Society, and in-kind help from
Lake County and the City of Leadville.
And now we enter the 21st Century with the creation of the
Hennebach Corridor and the Development of the Hennebach Wing,
thanks to our "angel" Ralph Hennebach’s gift
of $100,100. Together with Dick Swayne’s contribution
of $50,000 on behalf of Boart Longyear, and Chuck Barber—like
Ralph, a former ASARCO Chairman and having strong ties to
Leadville—who donated $50,000.
We also need to recognize Boart Longyear for an early-on
contribution of $100,000 to the Endowment Fund, leading to
the designation of this room as the E. J. Longyear Memorial
We have such an exciting history—and so far to go.
We have had ups and downs, that’s for sure. But we
have also enjoyed some great successes and with the determination
of all of us, we will continue to build an ever-dynamic National
Mining Hall of Fame and Museum!