A first-time visitor to Sun Valley needn’t look far to see the signs of a thriving mining era from days past. From street names such as Bullion and Queen of the Hills Drive in Hailey to the Wagon Day parade in the fall, signs are pretty much everywhere you look.
The Valley contained hundreds of mines, some of which would result in the formation of communities and towns. Ketchum, Hailey, and Bellevue were established during this time and still remain. Folks who have lived here for decades may not realize the thriving communities once-bustling out Croy Canyon.
Visitors, as well as locals, are encouraged to visit the Community Library in Ketchum, and the Blaine County Historical Museum in Hailey to learn more about the key individuals, events, machinery, and other items which made the 1880s a transformational time in the Wood River Valley.
Ketchum and Warm Springs area
Town of Ketchum
- Initially, the settlement was called Leadville
- Ketchum had a newspaper called the Ketchum Keystone
- 13 saloons, four restaurants, and two hotels
- Several bordello’s—it goes without saying that these were at every site mentioned
- Two banks and a drug store, a bookstore, brewery, blacksmith, and a lumberyard
- Six liveries and seven stages operated daily
The Philadelphia Smelter was located at the mouth of Warm Springs canyon on a 160-acre bench where Warm Springs enters the Big Wood River.
- Remnants of the smelter can be seen along Exhibition Blvd
- It was the largest employer in the Valley
- The double bridge as you head out Warm Springs is the only structure remaining where the train would make its trip to the Philadelphia smelter. It parallels the wagon bridge which is the same route used by automobiles today
- After the smelter’s demise and demolition, sheep ranching moved in
With the close of the smelter in 1893, Idaho’s silver mining boom came to an end. Many towns were abandoned as well as larger populated areas which experienced a drastic drop in population.
North of Ketchum are two sites/towns worth mentioning as they were quite prominent in their day.
- The town of Galena was located a couple of miles from the mines
- There were more than 50 houses, a couple of stores and saloons, two blacksmith shops, and a livery stable
- There were around 800 residents in 1881 which were mostly men
- Galena survived as long as the mines did, about 10 years in the 1880s
- This old mining site is worth the hike or 4-wheel drive during the summer months
- It is one of the only ghost towns with some existing structures and machinery at the abandoned site
- The town had a store, post office, and a saloon
- A small Swedish bathhouse that served as a sauna, and a whiskey still, are reminders of how they survived the brutal winters
Warm Springs mining district
- The largest district in the Valley
- Three major mines- all mines of this District are located about five miles up the East Fork Road near the unincorporated community of Triumph. They included Triumph, Independence, and North Star
- Triumph- The largest producer at $20 million and remained active until 1957, long after the other mines had been abandoned
- North Star- Mining disaster, 1917- avalanche that left 15 men dead
Bullion Mining District
The Bullion Mine and town were located just seven miles out of what is known today as Croy Canyon. In the 1880s it was referred to as Croy’s Canyon.
- The population was estimated at 700
- Judging from old photographs, the houses appear to be perched on platforms dug into the sides of the very narrow canyon
- One of the more prominent buildings was a saloon sitting in the V made by the two branches of Bullion Creek. The site of this saloon can easily be found by the piles of broken bottles covering the ground
- The town had two stores, nine saloons, and a post office
- From the Bullion District also came the mines of Mayflower, Jay Gould, Red Elephant, May Queen, and others.
- It was because of this district that Hailey came to be
Town of Hailey
- Starting in the Spring of 1880, numerous towns were established during the rush to the Wood River Valley
- Hailey was not the first town established during the rush, but it would prove to be one of the largest and most enduring towns in the Valley
- When John Hailey, owner of a stage company serving the Wood River Valley, arrived in 1880, he established the town of Hailey at a location central to the rest of the mines and the towns in the Valley
- The Valley had Idaho’s earliest phone service and original electric light installations, making it the most progressive region in the territory
- At its peak in the 1880s, Hailey had three newspapers. The town had a large red-light district, and the brothels remained in business until 1942
- A miners’ hospital was built in the early 1880s near the Hailey Hot Springs, about two miles west of Hailey. Each man who worked at the mines was assessed $1 a month for room, board, medical, and surgical treatment
Another prominent mine in the Bullion District was the Croesus mine
- Croesus Mine is the deepest mine in its district with a depth of more than 800 feet
- Temperatures ranged from 57 degrees at 200 feet below the surface, to 92 degrees at the bottom. This was later discovered to be from geothermal water nearby
- The first 200 feet, it was a gold mine, and at 600 feet it contained silver and lead
- The remains of the Croesus Mine are located in Croesus Gulch, about four miles west of Hailey, south of the Croy Creek Road
- The huge wood timbers which held an early stamp mill remain, as well as the concrete foundation of a large mill built in the early 1900s
Camas Mining District- the Hailey gold belt
- The Camas District is located directly west of Hailey on Croy Creek Road in the area of Richardson Summit
- Little remains of the Camas Mine although it is active, and gated for safety reasons as it is located on private land
Town of Doniphan
- Situated in the flat below the Camas Mine, the town served the Camas District
- Located 11 miles southwest of Hailey, Doniphan flourished for 20 years beginning in the 1880s
- Not much remains of the town as a result of past fires but the ruins of the Big Camas Mill still stand a short distance away
- In its heyday, Doniphan had a post office, store, houses, saloons, and schools
- It served the mines – the Tip Top, the Big Camas, the Hidden Treasure, and the Black Cinder – of the Hailey Gold Belt
- The Big Camas and the Black Cinder were the first silver mines in what is now Blaine County
- Named in honor of Judge Doniphan, who was the principal operator
Mineral Hill Mining District
This area contained the most prominent mines located in the Hailey/Bellevue area
Minnie Moore Mine
- The discovery of the Minnie Moore has been credited to a badger bringing fragments of galena ore to the surface of its den. Within three years after the discovery of the ore fragments, full-scale mining was underway
- It produced silver and lead with the highest value in its mining district
- In 1889 the mine filled up with water and didn’t become operational until late 1890 when a new owner removed the water
- In the 1880s, the price of silver fell so much that the company running the mine could no longer afford to pay the miners
- The Minnie Moore is located three miles west of Bellevue off the Broadford Road
- The mine is located on private land and permission should be obtained if you wish to enter the area
- A few old wood buildings still cling to the hillside above the mill site and prospects can be seen on the hills
Queen of The Hills mine
- Located just north of the Minnie Moore Mine
- When the miners weren’t paid at Minnie Moore and The Queen of the Hills in 1884, they went on strike
- This strike lasted more than 100 days and led to a huge confrontation which included the National Guard from Boise with infantry, cavalry, and two Gatling guns
- One prominent guard member was nearly taken hostage and a hotel manager was fatally shot over a strike discussion
- The mine shut down after workers refused a pay cut in 1885 from $4 per day to $3.50
Towns of the Mineral Hill District: Bellevue and Broadford:
- These two towns were located only about a mile apart from each other
- The town of Bellevue was/is located on Highway 93 (where it is today) and about a mile to the west and across Wood River was the old town of Broadford
- It was first named Jacobs City in honor of Frank W. Jacobs and was renamed in 1880
- The town had a population of around 600 in 1884 and its function was to serve the needs of mines in the area, primarily the Minnie Moore and the Queen of the Hills mines, the two richest in the territory.
Little Wood River Mining District
Known as the “Gate City” of the Wood River Valley during its silver rush days, it was supported by two canyons. Galena Gulch, one mile west of Bellevue. It is where the discovery of galena ore in October 1879, began the silver rush bringing thousands of prospectors into the Wood River Valley.
- The Muldoon Mine is located on the west side of the Muldoon Creek canyon and the Idaho Muldoon Mine is on the east side
- Located less than three miles above the canyon’s mouth, it was here that the settlement of Muldoon was born
- Muldoon, in the Little Wood Valley 18 miles northeast of Bellevue, prospered during the silver boom beginning in 1881
- In April 1882, the the Philadelphia Smelter investors in Ketchum built a smelter in Muldoon including two, 40-ton smelters and an electric light system like its Ketchum sibling
- Muldoon was named after a champion wrestler of the day, according to Wayne Sparling, author of Ghost Towns of Idaho
Town of Muldoon
- At its peak, Muldoon had a population around 1,500, with a livery stable, stores, saloons, houses, post office, schoolhouse, and a hotel
- At Smelter Butte, the remnants of beehive kilns used to create charcoal for smelting the ore can still be seen
- Still preserved today are the schoolhouse and post office, with the post office having been moved to a ranch on Copper Creek five miles below its prior location
- In 1887 the smelter was sold at a Sheriff’s auction and shortly thereafter became a sheep ranch
Another small settlement named Tustin existed just three miles by road up the canyon.
It can be reached by traveling the Seaman Creek road out of Bellevue, over Muldoon Summit, and then following Muldoon Creek. Today, only a black slag pile and the remains of a kiln are evidence of its existence.
Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for most of the mine roads mentioned in this article.