Back in 1892, well before the widespread use of electricity, the need for power tools certainly existed at the Sheep Mountain Mine near Crystal, Colorado. After all, there was silver in that mine, and mining it was backbreaking work. Not having a power plant nearby, human ingenuity came once again to the forefront.
There just happened to be a small, yet powerful river nearby: the Crystal River. A power plant was built just above a small fall on the Crystal River–this power plant ingeniously turned the water’s motion into compressed air using a horizontal water wheel, which was then fed to the mine and tools that used it. And with that advent, mining in the Sheep Mountain Mine became just a tad more efficient. The mine eventually closed in 1917, and the residents of nearby Crystal drifted away… the mine, power plant and town all faded into the past, just as so many mining towns eventually do.
Yet, Crystal remains a very special place and today, the power plant (now colloquially called “Crystal Mill,” even though it was not and never was a “mill”) remain an iconic Colorado location. Although the buildings next to the mill have long since collapsed, Crystal Mill itself remains standing steadfast against the elements and time. Crystal Mill is also virtually unique in the United States, since very, very few such power plants were ever built in the first place: to have one still standing is a true rarity. Nestled against the river and in between a beautiful stand of aspens, Crystal Mill remains today as a symbol and a sign of Colorado mining at its finest.
Oddly, even today the town of Crystal does not have electricity, even though it does have a handful of seasonal residents. In talking to these sons and great granddaughters of the original miners, they don’t miss it and life there is wonderfully idyllic. Time marches on, but not everywhere.