Before Park City’s days as a tourist destination with world-class skiing and resorts, it was widely known as one of the world’s most productive mining districts. There are some monuments to this earlier period of Park City, but the most dramatic ones are the steel head frames that stood over the mine shafts that lifted the miners and ore responsible for the community’s tremendous wealth.
One of these head frames stood over the Daly West Mine shaft in upper Empire Canyon for over 100 years. This mine was founded by John J. Daly who helped develop many of the mine properties around Park City, with particular emphasis in the Empire Canyon area. He was quite successful by the early 1890s. In addition to his mining investments, he was involved in hotels, the Alta Club, the University of Utah, and Utah politics. He was a giant in the Park City mining industry and the Daly West headframe is a worthy monument to him.
Starting in 1893 his Daly West mine extended over 2,100 feet deep, with multiple operating levels. In addition to the mine shaft buildings, old photographs of the property show extensive mill and support buildings along with offices, foremen houses, and bunkhouses for up to 400 miners. The underground workings of the mine were connected with miles of tunnels to all the nearby mines of significance including the Anchor (Judge), Daly, Quincy, Daly Judge, and Ontario Mine operations. These included 2.5 miles of tunnel from the Daly West shaft to lower Ontario Canyon and 4 miles of tunnel all the way to Keetley.
The mine was widely known to employ early state-of-the-art equipment like electric lighting and power, percussion air drills, and efficient mill processes. The operation produced high-grade ore and concentrates of lead, silver, copper, and gold. It was very profitable, paying out $5,500,000 in dividends between 1899 and 1906 ($176 million in current dollars) which made it one of the richest dividend-paying lead-silver mines in the entire world at that time.
Tragedy struck the mine during the night shift on July 15, 1902. The Daly West shaft house was rocked by something happening down in the mine. Miners on the 900-foot level called for the hoist operator to lift them out of the mine – they consequently reported an explosion below their level. Volunteers were lowered to the 1,200-foot level and found that a high concentration of poisonous explosives gas was present. There were bodies of miners present on that level who had died from the gas.
It was later concluded that a miner had entered the explosives storage room, or magazine, on the 1,200-foot level with a lighted candle, accidentally igniting tons of explosives stored there. His body was blown to bits but over the next days the bodies of 34 miners were removed from underground, mostly via the Daly West shaft. The list of the dead included some of the first rescue workers lowered into the Daly West shaft who were overcome by the toxic gas in the early hours of the horrible event.
This was the worst mine disaster in the history of Park City and profoundly affected the entire Park City community. It received front page coverage in newspapers across the United States. It also resulted in permanent changes to how the mining industry handled explosives to improve safety in the mines. The Daly West headframe is a worthy monument to the miners lost that day and to the bravery of the volunteers who risked their lives to rescue survivors and recover the bodies of victims.
The Daly West shaft remained open (even after the mine shut down) until it collapsed near the surface in May 2015 damaging the headframe in the process. The shaft was securely capped but the damaged headframe lay on its side until the Park City Museum’s Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History, the Empire Pass Master Owners Association, Park City Municipal Corporation, and Deer Valley Resort collaborated to repair the headframe and stand it back up on its feet. The repairs to the headframe were completed in 2021, along with preparation of a site just south of the capped shaft to raise the headframe. Weather prevented mobilization of the two huge cranes required to lift the headframe and move it to its new site in 2021. The raising is now planned for June 30.
After standing over the Daly West shaft for over 100 years and then lying damaged and on its side for 6 years, the Daly West headframe will again stand tall in upper Empire Canyon. May it remain there for many years to come as a monument to Park City’s mining history.