Matterhorn  Millt

The exterior of the Matterhorn Mill, which this year, turned 100 years old. (Courtesy photo)

The Matterhorn Mill, located south of Telluride on Highway 145 near San Bernardo, has been shuttered since 1968, but is still remarkably intact. This year marks its centennial birthday, making the structure’s survival all the more amazing.

To commemorate the occasion, the structure will undergo a restoration project that, according to a news release, will stabilize the remaining architecture, improve the structural integrity and clean up the mining waste and tailings piles. Following the completion of the mill repairs and cleanup, a historic preservation easement will facilitate the conveyance of the mill from the U.S. Forest Service to San Miguel County to sustain the Matterhorn Mill for public enjoyment and education.

This is incredibly exciting news for members of the county historic commission and county parks & open space director Janet Kask. They will be overseeing the preservation efforts.

“The preservation and protection of the Matterhorn Mill has always been a priority,” Kask said. “We’ve been working on it for a long time and now there’s a light at the end of tunnel.”

Historic commission chair J.J. Ossola agreed. He has served on the commission since its inception in 2000.

“Our first action item was to figure out what we have and what needs to be saved,” Ossola said. “The Matterhorn Mill was always at the top of the list.”

In a county rich in history, the list was long, and obviously, the age of the various sites presented challenges in terms of degree of decay, ownership issues and other variables.

“Nothing happens quickly in historic preservation,” he said. “But now we’re finally getting somewhere.”

Also known as Valley View Leasing and Mining Company Mill, Kask said the ultimate goal for the structure and the mill will be to make it a must-see stop for the heritage tourist. When constructed, the Matterhorn Mill was a state-of-the-art flotation mill that utilized new technology to produce a higher grade concentrate than could be accomplished by the old-style stamp mill with concentration (shaker) tables, according to the History Colorado website. It was in operation from 1920 through 1968.

“It’s such an iconic, well-preserved structure that contains all of the mining equipment,” she said.

Ossola agreed, saying that eventually, they’d like to be able to take visitors inside, where the area’s mining history can be told while in the presence of the equipment. The Matterhorn site, he said, is ideal for its convergence of local history.

“It’s an incredible setting,” he said. “The water pipeline to the Ames Hydroelectric Plant runs through there and the Rio Grande Southern Railroad line does, too. All these amazing assets … tell the story of those times.”

Even before the process of conveyance is completed — something Kask said will take at least a couple years — the county will apply for grant funding through the State Historical Fund to stabilize the building and seal it where the elements are showing their effects.

“The weather is having its way with it,” she remarked.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as designation as a San Miguel County Landmark, the mill is, Kask said, “iconic.” 

“(Sites like the Matterhorn) encourage people to travel here and experience the history of the area,” she said. “It tells the stories about the people and how things came to be. It’s nice to acknowledge the history that exists here.”

Designed by Walter Reed, and constructed by Otto Beselack, the mill is located south of Ophir, along a tributary of the San Miguel River within the historic townsite of Matterhorn (previously San Bernardo). Matterhorn Mill has withstood decades of heavy snow and natural erosion. Many changes have occurred to the mill, including stabilization procedures in the early 1960s to reinforce the foundation and structure.

After turning 100 years old it qualifies for protection under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Protection under ARPA deems the site an archaeological resource and will secure the site as an irreplaceable part of Western Slope heritage.

“This project is a good example of how we can work with our county, state and federal partners to preserve these historic resources while mitigating their adverse impacts,” said Curtis Cross, forest engineer.

Kask, too, praised the collaboration.

“The county is thankful to work with the USFS in pursuing conveyance of the structure to the county and we look forward to the acquisition,” she said. “It’s all for the greater good.”

Once open for visitors, Ossola said it’s an ideal site.

“Everything at the site sets up so well,” he said. “Easy access from 145, parking, and a view of Sheep Mountain. It’s going to be so cool. We’re so excited to finally get some traction.”