The tall brick smokestack just west of Salida is the most visible reminder of the smelting industry. The smokestack juts out of the valley floor and was once the tallest west of the Mississippi River. The original Ohio and Colorado Smelting Company built the smokestack in 1917. Unfortunately a downturn in the economy closed the smelter only 30 months after completion. At the height of the mining boom in Chaffee County, many residents saw the need for a smelter to process the ore coming from nearby mines. Rail cars clattered in and up to 450 men shoveled tens of thousands of ore, coal and flux to feed the furnaces. Heavy smoke left a haze in the valley with the smell of burning metal.
During a time with little environmental regard, issues with the noxious gasses released by the smelter immediately began plaguing nearby residents. Cattle downwind of the smelter began dying and crops and trees on Tenderfoot Mountain withered.
The Ohio-Colorado Smelting Company addressed the environmental issues by removing the original 165 foot smokestack and raising a new smokestack to 365 feet.
The Salida Smokestack still stands against many odds as a symbol of Salida’s industrial might and continued to draw intrigue for generations.
In the 1950s many locals climbed on the rungs outside the smelter in search of a gold coin. In 1972 a plan to demolish the smokestack for safety reasons. Historians and citizens responded by forming the “Save Our Stack” to raise awareness and ensure the preservation of the landmark. In 1974 the Salida Museum Association took over the stack and since has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mitigation by the Environmental Protection Agency was completed in 2005. In the cleanup the EPA found lead, zinc, arsenic, cadmium, copper and manganese.