Deer Valley acquires fallen mining-era relic, hoping to return it to glory
The head frame of the Daly West Mine collapsed in 2015, leaving the hulking steel structure on the ground in plain sight of Deer Valley Resort skiers, hikers and guests at the nearby Montage Deer Valley.
The fall of the derrick-like head frame, for some, was another reminder, and one that was especially dramatic, of the frailty of Park City’s silver-mining heritage. It is believed the 85-foot-tall head frame was built sometime in 1914 or shortly after that year at the top of the Daly West Mine shaft, replacing a wooden one destroyed in a fire. It remained as one of the community’s most prominent mining-era structures as the ski industry rose to prominence in recent decades.
But the saturation of the soil, the instability of the ground at the location and what was a mild winter of 2014-2015 that did not result in a deep frost left the 45-ton head frame especially vulnerable. In May of 2015, with no known witnesses, the head frame toppled as the ground beneath it gave way and two of the legs structurally failed.
There has been a desire in the influential preservation community in the five-plus years since the collapse to protect the head frame in some fashion. The head frame is too important to the history of Park City to lose, some argue. There appeared to be limited possibilities amid funding questions. The Jordanelle Special Service District, a Wasatch County water provider, owned the Daly West location at the time of the collapse, and it seemed certain the district would not earmark monies for some sort of restoration. It had only acquired the land and the head frame in the early 2000s from United Park City Mines, the modern-day successor to the historic silver-mining industry.
In a move that will almost certainly be widely hailed in Park City, Deer Valley recently closed on the acquisition of the Daly West Mine land, months after reaching an agreement with the Jordanelle Special Service District. Deer Valley acquired less than one-fifth of an acre with the intention of protecting the history of the location. The sale was finalized in late May. The price was $35,000, according to paperwork presented to the governing board of the Jordanelle Special Service District at the time the sale was approved.
“I think everybody wants to see it stand up again,” said Steve Issowits, the director of real estate and resort planning for Deer Valley and one of the figures who negotiated the transaction between Deer Valley and the Jordanelle Special Service District. “Personally, it’s a beautiful structure.”
He said Deer Valley approached the Jordanelle Special Service District shortly after the collapse about the possibility of returning the head frame to an upright position. The people of Park City saw the historic value of the head frame, he said. The Jordanelle Special Service District, as a water provider, did not progress toward a restoration and instead attempted to sell the land.
It was considered to be surplus property and was listed in 2016 with an asking price of $150,000. The Jordanelle Special Service District the next year indicated there was interest, but the negotiations stalled prior to a deal being reached. An official with the water provider said at the time potential buyers opted against an acquisition as they learned more about the restrictions on development at the location.
Deer Valley ultimately began negotiations for the land. The ground is just off the slopes and visible to crowds of skiers as they head to and from the Empire Express terrain and the Empire Canyon Lodge. The head frame had been protected by a fence even before the collapse out of concern for such a disaster, but, at 85 feet in height, it was visible to the crowds. The collapse left the head frame on its side but still visible.
It is unclear how Deer Valley will proceed as it considers options to preserve the head frame and return it to an upright position. Issowits said two of the legs are badly damaged, making a project even more complicated. He said soils and engineering reports are needed before the precise location is chosen. If it cannot be raised in the same location, it would be put nearby. The head frame could be raised again by as early as late fall but more likely sometime in 2021, he said. A cost estimate for the work has not been drafted. A funding source is unclear, but it appears a public-private partnership will be involved. It also appears Deer Valley could eventually transfer the head frame to another entity, perhaps City Hall or the Park City Museum.
Generations of Park City leaders and tourism officials have seen the silver-mining heritage as setting the community apart from many competing mountain resorts, and the heritage has been used in marketing for years. There are numerous mining-era relics in the mountains surrounding Old Town as well as on the slopes of Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort, drawing interest from hikers and mountain bikers in the summer and skiers in the winter. There is long-running concern, though, that more of the relics will be lost to collapses, fires or other sorts of catastrophes, as has occurred over the decades since the silver-mining industry ceased.
“My goal was just to buy it, secure it,” Issowits said, noting the structure’s craftsmanship and explaining that another buyer could have removed the head frame. “So it didn’t disappear.”
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