Prospecting for art in former mining towns

Nelson, BC - Source:

Nelson, BC – Source:

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.


Silver City, NM – Source:

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.

Quincy Mine in Hancock, MI - Source:

Quincy Mine in Hancock, MI – Source:

Here’s my list of mining towns that have successfully made the transition to art towns. The list is not meant to be comprehensive.

Historic Fire Station in Nevada City, CA

Historic Fire Station in Nevada City, CA

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.

Restored interior of the Mineral Point Opera House - Source:

Restored interior of the Mineral Point Opera House – Source:

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.

Galena, IL - Source:

Galena, IL – Source:

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.


This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, architecture, art, branding, Canada, cities, civics, commerce, culture, downtown, economic development, economic gardening, entrepreneurship, environment, geography, Geology, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, marketing, Mining, North America, placemaking, planning, revitalization, Small business, spatial design, sustainability, third places, tourism, Trade, Travel, urban planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Prospecting for art in former mining towns

  1. Richard Schmoyer says:

    Jom Thorpe Pa (Mauch Chunk) should have been on this list. While coal mining occured a couple of miles North of Mauch Chunk at Summit Hill, Nesquehoning and numerous other “coal patches”. ,mined coal was transported by an incline plane system to Mauch Chunk where it was loaded first on canal boats and then onto railroad cars to be shipped to Philadephia and New York. Millionaires built mansions, inns and churches at this tranfer point. Tourists arrived in Mauch Chunk after the first trains arrived, when the town and surrounding steep mountians was deemed the “Switzerland of America”.The name of the town was changed to Jim Thorpe after the native American Olympic athlete’s body was relocated to Mauch Chunk to atrtract more tourists. The fight over ultimate dispositon of the body continues on today.


  2. problogic says:

    Thank you, Richard!


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