Remembering those lost in the disaster of the White Ash Mine

A moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the White Ash Mine disaster.

On September 9, 1889, ten miners drowned in the White Ash Mine disaster, one of the most serious accidents in Golden’s history. In commemoration of the lives lost in the tragedy, the unveiling of the new memorial site located on the Colorado School of Mines campus across from Marv Kay Stadium took place on October 29, 2016. The dedication ceremony was led by Marv Kay, a Mines alumnus and former football coach and athletic director. Stan Dempsey, a geologist, historian, lawyer, author and a recent inductee into the National Mining Hall of Fame, provided the historical account of the tragedy.

“The White Ash Mine contained a bed of coal that had been upturned along the hogback,” Dempsey explained, recounting the geologic background of the area. Development began in 1877 and “by 1888 the shaft had been sunk down to a depth of 730 feet, which made it the deepest coal mine in the state,” said Dempsey.

The Loveland Mine, the northern neighbor of the White Ash Mine, was abandoned in 1881 due to a coal fire, and “its ten and a half miles of workings was left to fill with water from the workings underneath Clear Creek,” said Dempsey. Additionally, the coal fire in the Loveland Mine had burned downward, damaging the 90-foot pillar separating the two mines until on September 9, 1889, the pillar broke and water burst through to the 280-foot level, flowing down to the 440-foot level and eventually down the shaft to the very lowest level of the White Ash Mine, drowning the ten miners working in the lower depths.

Foreman Evan Jones, superintendent of the White Ash Mine on the day of the accident, made several attempts to evacuate the mine. The last attempt was made the next day at 7:30 a.m. as “Jones and the state mine inspector went down in a heavy iron bucket to conduct an inspection,” said Dempsey. After the inspection, it was decided that for the safety of the rescue team, no further rescues could be attempted.

A memorial for those killed in the White Ash Mine disaster was first proposed in 1909. However, it wasn’t until 1936 that there was “a community effort led by the Junior Chamber of Commerce to create a small memorial with a plaque on a stone that stood on the end of 12th Street,” said Kay. The memorial was dedicated on September 9, 1936, by Mayor Albert Edward Jones, son of Evan Jones.

A commemorative bronze statue of a coal miner to honor those killed in the
White Ash Mnine tragedy.

73 years later in 2009, John Ackle and his mother, Dorothy Ackle, decided to create a new memorial for the miners by starting the White Ash Mine Memorial Committee. They solicited proposals from 62 artists to create a bronze sculpture of a coal miner to stand alongside the plaque. The committee selected a design by well-known sculptor Cloyd Barnes. “The earliest and largest donors to the bronze were the Odd Fellows,” said Kay. Many of the miners were members of the Odd Fellows, a fraternal order that participates in community and charity services. The Odd Fellows, alongside the Golden Civic Foundation and many Golden citizens aided in raising $60,000 to complete the statue. The bronze miner was completed in 2011 and kept in the Mines Geology Museum until its unveiling at the dedication ceremony on October 29.

“The Colorado School of Mines provided the land, design and funding for this beautiful final resting place for the miners,” said Kay. “As part of the Clear Creek Athletic project, [Mines] felt the need and desire to see if a permanent memorial could be established.” As a result, the Golden Civic Foundation agreed to relinquish control of the piece so that Mines could provide a permanent site for the “internal remembrance of the tragic disaster and a final resting place for those ten White Ash miners,” said Kay.

“We’re sitting here today just imagining what 12th Street was like those couple of days with the wagons, other miners and grieving widows,” said Kay. “History talks about how the city was full of all the people that were willing to help.”  

Leah Pinkus, Communications Assistant, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |

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