Power Up! The Columbus Power Plant in Little Cottonwood Canyon

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 CCMC Power Plant, 1915, Shipler Photograph Collection (#16376), Utah Historical Society.

Since at least the 1860s, entrepreneurs used the ample water supply found at the confluence of Little Cottonwood and Maybird and Hogum Creeks for industrial purposes, whether timber mills or the generation of hydroelectric energy.  The area in and around the current boundary of 42SL102 contains the remains of the 1904 hydroelectric power plant, constructed by the Columbus Consolidated Mining Company (CCMC) for their hard rock mining operations near Alta several miles upstream to the east. In 1903, CCMC petitioned the State Engineer’s office for rights to a supply of water from Little Cottonwood Creek into a one-mile long pipeline to a proposed hydroelectric plant fitted with two Pelton wheels. According to the Salt Lake Herald (May 29, 1903, pg. 6), the electricity will be used, “to operate electric lighting and power machinery for the [CCMC] mine, mill, tramway, etc.,”.  Construction engineer R.E. Strickland oversaw all aspects of the construction of the plant and its pipe line, which was completed in 1904 (Deseret Evening News, January 30, 1904, pg. 6). 

CCMC Electrical Transmission Poles (30′ tall), covered in nearly 16′ of snow in a massive 1905 snowstorm. “T” shaped tower is the electric aerial tramway. (Salt Lake Herald, March 5th, pg. 17)

The CCMC was incorporated by Tony Jacobson in 1902, after a period of exploring the mineral leads in and around the Little Cottonwood Mining District. For several years Jacobson worked as a miner, but struck out on his own in 1899, and by 1915 owned four different mining companies in Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Canyons (Progressive Men of the West, 1915:532).  With a successful strike in 1902 of copper ore, with significant amounts silver, galena, and gold, Jacobson and the CCMC began exploiting the veins,  and by fall of 1903 was shipping over $15,000 worth of ore to smelters (Salt Lake Herald, December 27, 1903, pt. 8). Construction of an on-site mill and the power plant would increase profits and allow for even greater exploitation of the copper ore.  By the time of the 1915 merger of CCMC and the Rexall Mine Company, the mine boasted at least two miles of underground workings across 14 patented claims (Weed 1920:1390). Central to the success and profitability of the CCMC was the construction of the power plant near Maybird Gulch, on a site near the older Girard’s Sawmill as depicted on the 1871 General Land Office map of the township. 

Columbus Consolidated Mining Company operations near Alta, Utah, ca.  1902-1915. Utah State Historical Society

By January of 1904, much of the work on the CCMC concrete and masonry power plant was completed, with an expected cost of $40,000, or translates to over $2.4 million dollars today. Besides the two five-foot diameter Pelton wheels, the power plant also included 4,500’ of 22” and 20” double-rived steel water pipe, transmission lines, generator and switch board, and generated approximately 500 horse power of electrical energy (Deseret Evening News, January 30, 1904, pg. 6; Goodwin’s Weekly December 17, 1904, pg. 32). A new dam constructed upstream could impound 3,000,000 gallons of water to moderate the seasonal snowmelt flows of Little Cottonwood and Maybird Creeks (Deseret Evening News, January 30, 1904, pg. 6). Even though the initial plan was to have the hydroelectric plant operational by February or March of 1904, CCMC did not complete construction and electrify the transmission line until July of that year.  At that time several other mining companies signed contracts with Manager Tony Jacobson of CCMC to supply the South Columbus and Alta-Quincy mines with electricity for what was deemed at half the cost if the mines built their own plants. It appears that in 1905, CCMC upgraded the 500-horsepower electrical generator plant with new equipment (probably another generator), increasing its capacity to 1000-horsepower (Goodwin’s Weekly, December 16, 1905, pg. 28).  

Ruins of the CCMC today can still be seen in the Canyon.

CCMC’s 150 ton capacity concentrating mill used the newly supplied electricity by September of 1904, further modernizing the company’s operation and improving profitability and efficiency (Salt Lake Herald, July 3, 1904, pg. 16). At the mill, the 500-horsepower electrical generator plant supplied energy for five motors (a 40, 30, 20, 7 ½ and a 5-horsepower motor) that in turn supplied the motive power for a gates crush, two sets of rollers, six jigs, two hydraulic classifies, four revolving screens, two Huntington ball mills, six Wilfley tables, and one Allis slime table with enough leftover energy to sell to neighboring claims (Goodwin’s Weekly, December 17, 1904, pg. 32).  Even when the CCMC struck significant water at the 1500’ level of their workings in spring 1908, it did not stop the operation for long, as employment of electrically powered pumps dewatered the mines by summer of that same year (Salt Lake Herald, May 15, 1908, pg. 8; July 4, 1908, pg. 6)According to Goodwin’s Weekly (1904:32), the Jacobson and the Columbus Consolidated Mining Company was key to the resurgence of the Little Cottonwood Mining District, and “has been the means of bringing thousands of dollars into the camp” and “a new era of development has dawned which promises to surpass that of the early days when Alta was pre-eminently the silver camp of the State”.  Modern electrical mining processes allowed by the CCMC’s power plant brought the mining district back from the bust period of the 1880s and 1890s. It is currently unclear when the CCMC Power Plant was abandoned, but it is likely during the 1920s decline of mining in the Little Cottonwood Mining District. According to Sillitoe (1996:150), silver prices peaked in 1917 and steadily declined leading to closures of most mines in Alta. By 1930, Alta had only six registered voters and was considered largely a ghost town.

Bibliography

Progressive Men of the West
1915 Being the Portraits and Biographies of the Progressive Men of the West, Volume II. International News Service, New York. 

Sillitoe, Linda
1996 A History of Salt Lake County. Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake.

Weed, Walter Harvey
1920 International Edition, The Mines Handbook. Volume XIV. W.H. Weed Publishing, New York City.