There is now a book solely dedicated to the history of Masontown for the first time ever. Called “Masontown: Frisco’s Victoria Mine and Ghost Town,” it was written by Frisco Historic Park & Museum Coordinator Blair Miller, and the town is having a launch party Saturday, June 11, to celebrate.
Masontown is a ghost town of a mining company that was perched on Mount Royal and named after the same town in Pennsylvania where one of the founders was from. According to past reporting, at one point the area featured 10-12 buildings, including a boarding house, and had a population that ranged from 25-200. A crew of 120 worked the mine and mill until eventually the mining was not profitable and multiple avalanches came down the mountain.
The book has been in the works for roughly two years, and while he didn’t set out to write one, it started to form when the museum created an exhibit about Masontown. The more primary sources – firsthand accounts such as diaries – Miller went through, the more he discovered how Masontown was a hub of important mining figures in Summit County. He discovered there were more stories to tell beyond the exhibit.
“When it comes to Masontown, there’s a lot of local lore on it,” Miller said. “… There’s always talk about when did the avalanche actually hit Masontown. Looking into that, there have been several avalanches that actually landed on the property, but which was the one that really did it in? ”
That answer, and more, can be found in the book. With Masontown only mentioned in passing in other historical works, Miller had a bit of legwork to accomplish, like cross-referencing journals with newspapers to find concrete information on topics like the official beginning of the town. Yet even the original sources could be tricky to decipher as Miller sifted through an author’s bias or figured out if, for instance, a person was referring to the Victoria lode on Masontown or one of the other same-named sites in the region.
Originally from Michigan, Miller has been fascinated with history and hunting down the background and context of subjects for as long as he can remember.
“I love seeing how everything 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 such as the immersive Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and the Motown Museum that fostered his passion. Inspired by the rich past in the area, he got 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 led Miller down different rabbit holes to touch on other aspects of the town’s history.
For example, the book discusses the unsolved murder of James McWalters, bartender at the Morrow SS Saloon, that happened on Main Street in 1881. Blair said that patrons found him dead in the saloon with knives on the ground, but the culprit was never found .
Blair also talks about Pug Ryan’s infamous robbery of the Denver Hotel in Breckenridge, as well as people from Masontown who created a mining scheme in New Mexico. The miners knew nothing was there but a limestone cave but would trick people into investing in the operation and pocket the money.
“Some of them went to jail, some paid fines and the man who owned the company never had to pay because he died in a shootout in Boulder,” Miller said.
Yet one of Miller’s favorite anecdotes involves John Percy Hart, who served as mayor of Frisco in the early 1900s. He managed the camp through three different companies and started his own newspaper, too. He took a business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, to secure funding for a new mill improvement.
When asked about it on his return, Miller said he “would rather be the flagpole on Peak 1 than mayor Omaha.”
Miller’s research also gave him the opportunity to actually get his hands on Masontown’s original incorporation papers, and the book contains a handful of previously unpublished photographs, maps and journals. Most documents came from the museum’s archive, but two photos are from California.
Miller said he stumbled upon them when he was learning more about a person who worked at Masontown leaving and moving to San Francisco. Looking for more, Blair found a report on the man 10 years prior to him moving there, and then found the photos from a national mining publication that did an article on the Masontown mill and its technology.
“It will be the first time since 1905 that we have photographs of inside the Masontown mill,” Miller said.
Once the reader journeys through the origin and fall of Masontown, they’ll reach a hiking guide and glossary. The hiking guide, complete with flora and fauna descriptions, was important for Miller to include because he wants people to witness the history for themselves.
“Reading about it is one thing, but reading about it and stepping into where all of it happened just greatly increases the experience,” Miller said.
Those wanting more Masontown history should attend the book’s launch party Saturday. Miller will start will a Q&A and signing session, followed by live music with Randall McKinnon, lawn games, refreshments and door prizes to win signed copies and tours.
This summer, the museum is resuming its Masontown hiking tours led by Miller. The hiking tours will be every other Wednesday, while a bike tour exploring the mines of Mount Royal will be on opposite Wednesdays.
The bike tour starts at the Zack’s Stop trailhead and heads on the recpath to Uneva Lake while exploring 10 different mines within 5 miles, following along the old railroad grade for the Denver, South Park & Pacific.
“Masontown is really a big meeting point for a lot of important players in early Summit County history,” Miller said.
Jefferson Geiger is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News and managing editor for Explore Summit. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.