Each of the towns listed below was historically founded as an isolated mining community. All have successfully reinvented themselves as art towns since the local mining industry waned. Some mining operations may still take place in the vicinity, but not to the extent they once did during the boom years of peak production.
In most of these communities, the visible relics and remnants of their mining heritage remain, producing an historic authenticity that you cannot find in “theme-oriented” towns or make-believe tourist traps. This genuineness, along with rich natural landscapes is what draws tourists, residents, retirees, and artists alike to these often remote communities. Deposit these varied elements together and you get a unique and eclectic mix of rich artistry from which to enjoy.
Here’s my list of mining towns that have successfully made the transition to art towns. The list is not meant to be comprehensive.
- Aspen, Colorado (silver)
- Bisbee, Arizona (copper)
- Black Diamond, Alberta, Canada (coal)
- Creede, Colorado (silver)
- Crested Butte, Colorado (coal)
- Durango, Colorado (gold)
- Ely, Minnesota (iron ore)
- Flin Flon, Manitoba, Canada (copper and zinc)
- Galena, Illinois (lead)
- Hancock, Michigan (copper)
- Helena, Montana (gold)
- Homer, Alaska (coal)
- Lenox, Massachusetts (iron ore)
- Marquette, Michigan (iron ore)
- Mineral Point, Wisconsin (lead)
- Nelson, British Columbia, Canada (silver)
- Nelsonville, Ohio (coal)
- Nevada City, California (gold)
- Red Lodge, Montana (coal)
- Silver City, New Mexico (silver)
- Telluride, Colorado (silver)
While a variety of communities may stake a claim to the term “art town,” few can produce a mother lode of exceptional aesthetics found in former mining towns. Examples include the stairs of Bisbee (over 1,000 steps!); the narrow and steep streets of Nevada City, Bisbee, or Telluride; the arctic winds and northern lights of Hancock, Homer, or Marquette; the Wild West heritage of Silver City; or the breathtaking scenic backdrops of Aspen, Red Lodge, or Telluride.
For urban planners, former mining towns present an exciting array of opportunities for historic preservation, adaptive reuse, tourism, and economic gardening. Often, the immense wealth once found in these mining towns helped leave a wonderful legacy of beautiful and inspirational architecture adorning the community. Many non-mining towns could only dream of such outstanding structural assets.
On the flip side, a host of uncommon planning challenges are often leftover from the mining era. These may include but not be limited to abandoned mines; a random patchwork of shafts and tunnels; toxic tailings; polluted soils; and areas of scarred terrain. Despite these difficulties, the charm associated with former mining towns is undeniable.
If you are looking for a bonanza of fine arts amid a rough-and-ready landscape shaped by nature and past extractive operations, then one must consider grab-sampling one of these rich nuggets for future exploration and discovery. Despite their industrial legacy, each town listed has many splendid attributes beyond the gems and minerals that once laid beneath the surface.