c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article have appeared in Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County
As the gold boom at Colorado’s famous Cripple Creek District in Teller County during the 1890’s unfolded, scads of camps, big and small, were quickly established as hundreds of prospect holes appeared in the hills around the district. Although much of the activity centered in the vicinity of Mt. Pisgah, other outlying areas also were settled during the boom, at least for a short time. One of these was the ill-fated resort town of Beaver Park, which was platted but never really settled by 1893. In fact not much happened around Beaver Park at all, save for a couple of stamp mills – special mills constructed to crush gold ore instead of grinding it. One of them, Spinney Mill, was built by some men identified only as “Mssrs. Spinney.”
The Fairplay Flume newspaper at Fairplay, in its August 31, 1893 issue, would report that “the Spinney Stamp Mill at Cripple Creek has been started and is a complete success.” Accordingly, the Cripple Creek District’s first official directory in 1893 listed the mill as being located on Beaver Creek, some four and a half miles from Cripple Creek, just east of the budding railroad town of Gillett, and near the budding town of Grassy which would eventually be renamed Cameron. But while Spinney Mill was initially an important addition to the district’s gold boom, it appeared to fail to amount to much in the coming years, when other mills were constructed closer to the district’s mines. Even so, some mighty odd occurrences took place around Spinney Mill from time to time, just enough to merit mention of the place from time to time.
Although a few miners and millers lived at Spinney’s Mill, the first real news about the mill came during the district’s tumultuous labor war of 1894. Mine owners and managers wanted to extend the work day to nine hours at the same rate of pay, an idea which outraged miners. Their point was emphasized in January with the kidnapping of Isabella Mine manager D.E. or H.C. Locke, the first to implement the nine hour day. In January, the Buena Vista Herald reported that:
D.E. Locke, manager of the Isabella Mining Company, which property is located on Bull Hill, was met at or near the Taylor boarding house a few minutes after 10 o’clock Saturday morning, while on his way to the property, by about 100 miners, quickly taken from his cart, relieved of his side arms and walked down to the Spinney mill, where he was told to get down on his knees and solemnly declare that never, so long as he lived, would he again put foot on Bull Hill.
Locke started to protest, but upon being shown a rope he agreed to the demand. The manager was then escorted “down the canon [sic] several miles,” given his horse, and released with instructions to head for Colorado Springs without looking back. This he died, stirring up great excitement when he rode into town late that night.
In October of 1894, the Cripple Creek Morning Journal reported, Dr. S. F. Shannon and a Dr. Carrington had partnered to purchase Spinney Mill, which would be processing ore from Winfield Scott Stratton’s Independence Mine, as well as another property called the Plymouth Rock and Independence. Likely due to the wear and tear suffered by crushing rock, the Spinney Mill was “thoroughly retrofitted and improved” in 1895 as a small settlement sprang up around it. Referred to as “Spinney,” the camp was large enough to have a school, yet too small to have its own post office. It was simply too remote.
Being so far from the heart of the Cripple Creek District made Spinney Mill a target for crime over time. On a July evening in 1896, for instance, three masked men stopped the Kuykendall stage just a quarter of a mile from Spinney Mill. Fourteen men, four women and driver George Worden were aboard when a man accosted the coach with a Winchester, telling Worden to stop and warning him, “If you pull a line [reign], I will shoot you.” Two other men then appeared, brandishing revolvers. The passengers were made to exit the coach and line up, whereupon the men’s pockets were emptied.
The women might have been robbed as well, but Mrs. Joseph Gandolfo of Cripple Creek fainted. This alarmed the robbers a bit, who instead turned their attentions to the coach. Thankfully, they completely missed two pocketbooks that had been hidden under the seat by their owners. The thieves allowed their victims to “go ahead” before riding quickly in the other direction. The coach resumed its trip to Cripple Creek—although two of the men actually remained behind to look for money they had discreetly tossed out the window upon seeing the masked men. The thieves, who came away with about $500 and ten watches, were believed to be three escaped prisoners from the Victor jail.
Spinney Mill hung on for a few more years, receiving another facelift in 1896 before the school was finally abandoned in 1898. The mill was still being used as of 1900 when a third lawless, yet puzzling, incident occurred. Laborers Ed Ash and J. Kirk were working at a pumping station near the mill when seven mounted masked men suddenly appeared. The group ordered Ash and Kirk to quit working and marched them to Spinney Mill. Five of the men rode off towards Cripple Creek, but the remaining two escorted Ash and Kirk to “the half way house” somewhere nearby. There, the kidnappers called their victims a couple of “lying scamps” and ordered them to walk to Colorado Springs and never return. Ash and Kirk continued on to Colorado Springs to report the incident. They were “beaten up some,” according to the Aspen Tribune, but otherwise unharmed. The mystery of why they were kidnapped remained unknown.
Only a few miners and blacksmith James Wells were living at Spinney Mill during 1900. Further evidence that someone still lived there came in 1901, when a sudden ferocious cloudburst broke the reservoirs of the Victor water works. “The great wave of water rolled down the gulch, wiping out three dwelling houses near the Spinney Mill and breaking against the new steel concrete dam of the Pikes Peak Power Company two miles below,” stated the Colorado Transcript newspaper in its May 22 issue. That was the last mention of Spinney Mill. Whatever was left of it was torn down 1905. It’s demise marked the end of the last of the earliest mills that once marked the Cripple Creek District.
Some believe the far-off ruins in this image may be Spinney Mill, but others aren’t so sure.