Tokens have rich history at Hayden Heritage Center
September 26, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At first glance the round pieces of metal and plastic on display behind glass at the Hayden Heritage Center do not look like much, but these tokens are actually rich with Routt County mining history.
The tokens are from the old Mt. Harris mining town east of Hayden and were given to miners along with actual currency.
The tokens were used to buy goods exclusively at the company store.
"It was a pretty common occurrence in coal mining towns," museum curator Laurel Watson said.
The tokens are so unique that the museum nominated them as one of Colorado's most significant artifacts.
The competition is run by collectioncare.auraria.edu, and public voting has begun to choose the most significant pieces.
The tokens are competing against other unique items that include teacher registration and grade books on display at Lyons Historical Society.
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The Museum of Boulder has a denim "hippie" skirt, and the Longmont Museum nominated a burlap flower sack from World War I.
At the Mt. Harris company store, miners used the tokens to buy everything from groceries, clothing, furniture and toys.
"They had quite the selection," Watson said. "A lot of times the coal mine stores had a lot more varied merchandise."
The museum recently found a photo of the old store.
Watson said there are stories of people buying maple syrup at the store because that was the only place where you could get true maple syrup.
The mine and town are storied.
Mt. Harris was founded in 1914 by the Colorado Utah Coal Company, and the mine was developed by brothers George and Byron Harris, who were from Iowa.
According to Watson, the town became the "model coal camp" with its wide streets, planned residential areas and parks.
The mine operated until 1958.
The nearby Wadge Mine, which was also eventually run by the Colorado Utah Coal Company, had a massive explosion in 1942 that killed 34 miners.
It was the third worst mining disaster in Colorado history.