Matchless Mine Hoist House, CO 2020

The story contained in the Matchless Mine’s history is so epic, it inspired a famous opera: “The Ballad of Baby Doe.” Horace and Baby Doe Tabor’s tragic tale of rags-to-riches and back-to-rags is so significant in Colorado and mining history that the delicate mining structure and outbuildings have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Leadville, CO is an incredible “Old West” city resting at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, surrounded by majestic mountains and parks.

PROJECT PARTNER: National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum

SESSION DATES:   Please plan to arrive at our campsite no earlier than 5pm and no later than 7pm on the first day of your session. 

PROJECT DIFFICULTY: 

**NOTE ABOUT WORKING AT HIGH ELEVATION: Matchless Mine and Leadville, CO are located at over 10,000 feet of elevation – this is the highest city in the US. If you have any contraindications or conditions that could make working at this elevation unsafe for you, please check with your doctor before registering. Volunteers coming from lower elevations should absolutely plan to spend a day or two in Denver (5,280′ of elevation) or a similarly medium-altitude location to acclimate somewhat before the project starts.

SITE INFORMATION:      Tent camping onlySite is RV/trailer accessible

LOCATION:  We will camp onsite near the Matchless Mine, less than 5 minutes outside of town. During this time of year, high temperatures in this area usually reach into the low 60s, and at night the temperature can dip into the high 30s.

ABOUT VOLUNTEERING: HistoriCorps projects are free for volunteers! HistoriCorps will provide all meals, tools, training, and equipment, and a campsite. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation to the campsite, sleeping equipment, work clothes and boots, and other personal gear. Most projects have one spot per session for a “Kitchen Helper” in addition to our project work volunteer spots.

HistoriCorps does not charge for its volunteering projects. The majority of project costs are covered by our project partners and grants, but as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, HistoriCorps relies on donations to continue engaging volunteers to save significant historical sites across America for generations to come. Your donation of any amount will make an incredible difference! Increase your impact – make a generous gift today.

Project Site Description & History

The Matchless Mine, located in Leadville, Colorado, is one of the most famous sites in the country linked to the history of the old West – but not because of its silver or gold. The Matchless Claim was first recorded by prospectors in May of 1878. It was eventually purchased by its most famous owner, Horace Tabor (then Lieutenant Governor of Colorado), in 1879-80 after silver was struck at a mine nearby. Born in 1830 into a poor family in Vermont, Tabor moved to the enigmatically named down of Buckskin Joe, CO with his then-wife Augusta Pierce in 1859. He operated a mining supplies and general store there until the couple moved to Leadville prior to his purchasing of the Matchless.

For a time, the value of the Matchless Mine was truly matchless. Horace Tabor quickly rose to become one of the wealthiest men not only in the state, but in the country. However, only six years after he purchased the mine, the Leadville Chronicle announced the Matchless was “played out.” In an 1884 article, the Chronicle reported “nine-tenths of the high grade ore in Fryer Hill had been mined.” Horace Tabor’s wealth fell as quickly as the mine’s, and he was forced to mortgage all of his Denver real estate assets, leaving him with minimal resources. Tabor passed away in 1899, virtually penniless.

Just as famous as Horace Tabor was his young and beautiful second wife, “Baby Doe” (née McCourt), whose was accused of stealing Tabor away from his first wife for want of his riches. Baby Doe was still married to Horace when his fortune fell, and though she outlived him by more than thirty years, her fate was even more tragic than his. Completely impoverished, Baby Doe resorted to living alone in a cabin annexed to the Matchless Mine until her death in 1935 – when her frozen body was discovered on the cabin floor.

The enthralling yet tragic story of Baby Doe Tabor inspired perhaps the most famous example of American opera from the first half of the 20th century: The Ballad of Baby Doe. It was composed by Douglas Moore and premiered in Central City, CO in 1956. Listen to some excerpts and learn more about the opera on the “DoeHEADS” website.

Horace Tabor

Baby Doe Tabor

Historic photo of the Matchless Mine

Current photo of the hoist house, the site of this year’s project work

Sunsets over the mountains surrounding Leadville paint the town with beautiful colors. The high elevation and thinner air of the town contribute to a deep sense of still and quiet.

In Leadville, Tabor is most famous for the remaining evidence of his once-wealthy lifestyle, including the luxurious Tabor Opera House. In fact, Horace’s rags-to-riches and back-to-rags life remains one of the most enduring tales in Colorado’s history. The site is so significant that it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, having been transferred to the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in 2006. Read a complete timeline of the Matchless Mine here. The preservation work at the Matchless Mine’s headframe will allow it to continue to tell the history of this famous area for future generations.

HistoriCorps is excited to return to this project site after our successful 2017 project work, where volunteers stabilized the delicate headframe of the mine. The new wood is starting to age in color to match the historic wood – see if you can see the difference when onsite!

Scope of Work

HistoriCorps is committed to educating and training volunteers in preservation skills, with an overarching mission of inspiring a preservation ethic in all those involved. Volunteers will work alongside expert field staff to learn the skills necessary to preserve the hoist house of the iconic Matchless Mine. Our scope of work will focus on the building’s siding and low-pitch roof. Together, we will:

  • Repair or replace wooden sills  –  15%
  • Repair or replace wall studs  –  15%
  • Repair or replace wall sheathing  –  20%
  • Carefully remove metal roofing  –  10%
  • Install Ice and Water Shield underlayment  – 10%
  • Replace deteriorated or missing metal roof panels  –  15%
  • Replace deteriorated ridge cap  –  15%

The hoist house will look amazing once our work on the siding and roof is completed!

Volunteering Safely During COVID-19

MASKS All volunteers are required to bring at least six reusable, washable face masks. Volunteers will wear two masks each day (one for camp, one for the jobsite). They will be washed once throughout the project. Masks are required for when working less than 6 feet apart, or in an enclosed environment.
GLOVES All volunteers are required to bring their own work gloves.
HEALTHY ARRIVAL Volunteers will only join projects if they are not experiencing any symptoms of illness, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle aches, or other symptoms of COVID-19 as identified by the CDC. Volunteers will not plan to travel to or through areas highly impacted by COVID-19, nor outside of the US, within 14 days before their project begins. Volunteers will affirm that they do not believe they have been exposed to a person with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, are not waiting to be cleared as noncontagious following a diagnosis, and have been following all recommended guidelines as much as possible by practicing social distancing and taking other precautions. Volunteers will travel to the jobsite alone, or with someone they live with (such as a family member) who has also shown no signs or symptoms of illness.
IN CASE OF INFECTION Any volunteer or staff member that developes COVID-19 symptoms must immediately self-isolate and leave the jobsite. If the individual is physically unable to do so, staff will follow Wilderness First Aid guidelines for medevac.
FOLLOWING HISTORICORPS PROTOCOLS All volunteers are required to abide by and practice the health and safety protocols that HistoriCorps staff are implementing.
CREW SIZE CAP All volunteer crews will be “capped” at a maximum of six volunteers.

Volunteer Logistics, Policies, and Advice

We’re so glad you’re interested in joining this project! If you’re new to our community, review the Volunteer FAQ first! Please note the following logistics and policies:

  • Volunteering with HistoriCorps is free! We will provide all meals, tools, training, equipment, and a campsite or shared indoor lodging. Dinner is not provided on the first night.
  • Volunteers are responsible for bringing their own gear, sturdy work clothes and boots, and appropriate sleeping equipment. Check the average temperatures before you start packing – the nights and mornings may be colder than you anticipate! Then, read this advice about how to stay warm when tent camping in colder places.
  • Campsite accessibility varies by project. Some projects can accommodate tents only; others can accommodate medium-large RVs. Please review the project site description above for more information, and if you’re still not sure, email volunteer@historicorps.org for help.
  • If this project does not offer showers, you might want to consider bringing a solar shower or research other methods to clean up after the work day
  • Volunteer crew sizes generally range from 4-8 volunteers, with two HistoriCorps staff that lead and train volunteers in the work.
  • Volunteers are asked to arrive after 5pm and before 7pm on the first day of their session. If you would like to request special permission to arrive early, please email volunteer@historicorps.org.
  • Safety is one of HistoriCorps’ top priorities, and volunteers can contribute to a safe working environment by ensuring their physical fitness is adequate for the work. See above for this project’s scope of work and difficulty level. Please, call us if you are not quite sure if a project is a good fit for your skills or fitness level. We may be able to suggest a project more suitable and enjoyable for you.
  • Dogs are generally allowed to accompany their humans to jobsites (actually, we love having dogs join us around the campfire!). However: HistoriCorps also follows the rules and regulations of our project partner. If the project partner does not permit dogs onsite, then HistoriCorps is no exception. Please ask HistoriCorps or the project partner directly if you have any questions about whether Fido is welcome.

Sign Up!

Dates for the Matchless Mine project will be set soon! This project will likely happen in September.