The New York and San Juan Smelter


Photograph of the smelter around 1892 by Gonner & Leeka. Catalog Number:

  • William Jackson Palmer, president of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and one of his partners, Dr. William Bell recognized there were other financial opportunities for their railroad in Durango, specifically in ore reduction or smelting.
  • Smelting is the process of separating precious metals like gold, silver, and copper from the rock or ore taken out of a mine.
  • In 1880, they organized the New York Mining and Smelting Company and hired John Porter from the Silverton Smelting Works to build a smelter in Durango.
  • The building was ready for operation by 1881 when the first locomotives pulled into town. Durango had abundant coal and coke to run the smelter and a nearby source of limestone (near Rockwood) for flux.
  • When the D&RG reached Silverton in 1882, the cost of hauling a ton of crude ore dropped to $12 making it more cost effective to process medium-grade ores in the new smelter.
  • The smelter, like the railroad, was a major employer in Durango for many years.

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