Blair Miller releases the first book on the history of Masontown
There is now a book solely devoted to the history of Masontown for the very first time. Titled “Masontown: The Victoria Mine and the Ghost Town of Frisco,” it was written by Frisco Historical Park and Museum Coordinator Blair Miller, and the town is hosting a launch party on Saturday, June 11 to celebrate.
Masontown is a mining company ghost town perched on Mount Royal and named after the same Pennsylvania town where one of the founders was from. According to earlier reports, at one time the area had 10-12 buildings, including a boarding house, and had a population of 25-200. A crew of 120 worked in the mine and mill until mining was no longer profitable and multiple avalanches hit the mountain.
The book has been in the works for about two years, and although he had no plans to write one, it began to form when the museum created an exhibit on Masontown. The more Miller sifted through primary sources—first-hand accounts such as diaries—the more he discovered how Masontown was a hub of important mining figures in Summit County. He found there were more stories to tell beyond the exhibit.
“When it comes to Masontown, there are a lot of local traditions,” Miller said. “…We always talk about when the avalanche actually hit Masontown. On closer inspection, there have been several avalanches that have actually landed on the property, but which one really did? »
That answer, and more, is in the book. With Masontown only mentioned in passing in other historical works, Miller had a bit of work to do, like cross-referencing journals with newspapers to find concrete information on topics like the town’s official beginning. Yet even the original sources can be difficult to decipher when Miller sifts through an author’s biases or determines whether, say, a person is referring to the Victoria Lode on Masontown or one of the other sites of the same name in the region.
Originally from Michigan, Miller has been fascinated by history and researching the background and context of subjects for as long as he can remember.
“I love seeing how it all plays into the next big thing to happen and how it gets us to where we are today,” Miller said.
Growing up in the Detroit area meant field trips to institutions like the immersive Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and the Motown Museum that fueled his passion. Inspired by the area’s rich past, he earned degrees in history and museum studies from Central Michigan University.
Then some of his other passions, namely rock climbing, hiking, kayaking and winter sports, brought him to Frisco three years ago. As a fan of deep dives, the book took Miller down various rabbit holes to tackle other aspects of the city’s history.
For example, the book deals with the unsolved murder of James McWalters, bartender at the Morrow SS Saloon, which occurred on Main Street in 1881. Blair said patrons found him dead in the saloon with knives in the ground, but the culprit was never found. .
Blair also talks about Pug Ryan’s infamous theft from the Denver Hotel in Breckenridge, as well as the Masontown residents who created a mining project in New Mexico. The miners knew there was nothing but a limestone cave, but are tricking people into investing in the mining and pocketing the money.
“Some of them went to jail, some paid fines and the man who owned the business never had to pay because he died in a shooting in Boulder,” Miller said.
Yet one of Miller’s favorite anecdotes concerns John Percy Hart, who served as Frisco’s mayor in the early 1900s. He ran the camp through three different companies and also started his own newspaper. He took a business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, to secure financing for a further improvement to the plant.
Asked about it on his return, Miller said he “”would rather be the mast of the Peak 1 than the mayor of Omaha”.
Miller’s research also gave him the opportunity to lay his hands on the original Masontown incorporation documents, and the book contains a handful of unpublished photographs, maps, and journals. Most of the documents are from the museum archives, but two photos are from California.
Miller said he came across them as he learned more about someone who worked in Masontown leaving and moving to San Francisco. Searching further, Blair found a report on the man 10 years before he moved there, then found the photos from a national mining publication that did an article on the Masontown plant and its technology. .
“It will be the first time since 1905 that we have photographs of the interior of the Masontown factory,” Miller said.
Once the reader has traveled through the rise and fall of Masontown, they will reach a hiking guide and glossary. The hiking guide, complete with descriptions of flora and fauna, was important to Miller because he wants people to witness history for themselves.
“Reading about it is one thing, but reading about it and getting into where it all happened greatly heightens the experience,” Miller said.
Those wanting more Masontown history should attend the book launch party on Saturday. Miller will begin with a Q&A and signing session, followed by live music with Randall McKinnon, lawn games, refreshments and door prizes to win autographed copies and tours.
This summer, the museum resumes its Masontown hikes led by Miller. The hikes will take place every other Wednesday, while a bike tour to discover the mines of Mount Royal will take place on the opposite Wednesdays.
The bike tour begins at the Zack’s Stop trailhead and heads out to Lake Uneva while exploring 10 different mines within a 5 mile radius, following the old railroad to Denver, South Park & Pacific.
“Masontown is really a great meeting point for many important players in Summit County’s early history,” Miller said.
Jefferson Geiger is arts and entertainment editor for Summit Daily News and managing editor for Explore Summit. Email him at [email protected]