Back in the eighteen-nineties, when gold mining was the principal industry in Colorado, a group of pioneer giants in industry purchased land in Denver then described as "Lots 1, 2, 3 & 4, East Denver" for $160,000. In 1890 and 1891 on this property, located at 15th and Arapahoe Streets, they erected the seven-story Mining Exchange Building, for many years the financial center of the Rocky Mountain West. Appropriately, on top of the building they placed a statue of "The Old Prospector" with mining pick in his right hand and a huge chunk of gold ore in his left. Alphonse Pelzer was commissioned to sculpt the old miner. Pelzer used "Colonel" John W. Straughn as his model for the huge 12-foot, nearly 500-pound, copper statue.
Subscribers to the fund for the cost of The Mining Exchange building were such men as John Evans, first governor of Colorado; C.B. Kountze, prominent banker and founder of the present Colorado National Bank; Henry C. Brown, who built the Brown Palace Hotel; and W.N. Byers, owner and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News. Other prominent and successful citizens of those early days who participated in the activities were David H. Moffat, banker and builder of the Moffat Railroad; J.W. Nessmith, president of the Colorado Iron Works; Walter S. Cheesman, capitalist; Dennis Sheedy, president of the Denver Dry Goods Co.; H.A.W. Tabor, mining tycoon; John Harvey of Leadville, and D.R.C. Brown of Aspen. With the cooperation of this group, the Mining Exchange Building was financed, erected, and opened with much publicity at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, November 18, 1891.
When completed, the Central Savings Bank, later renamed the Central Bank and Trust Co., occupied the corner ground floor, while the Colorado Mining Stock Exchange used the entire second floor. Beautiful paneled walls framed a scene of feverish activity as the exchange handled sales for clients and speculators, both locally and throughout the United States. Many important individuals and corporations and other enterprises had offices in the building, which also was the home of the Mining Record, one of the oldest mining weeklies in the United States.
The Old Prospector surveyed the surrounding area from his lofty perch until 1962-63, when the building was razed. The statue was preserved, however, and can still be seen on the south side of 15th Street between Araphoe and Curtis Streets. Even from street level, the old man still salutes the thousands of gold seekers who, beginning in 1859, rushed to the Rockies to seek their fortunes in the pursuit of that beautiful but elusive metal, gold.
The slate plaque at the base of the statue reads:
THE OLD PROSPECTOR
In 1891, this 12' high, 490 lb. hand-made copper statue was erected on the top of the seven-story Colorado gold Mining Stock Exchange building, on this site until 1962. The sculptor, Alphonse Pelzer, modeled this statue after flamboyant and colorful "Colonel" John William Straughn, a civil war veteran, prospector and wheelwright who lived from 1842-1902.
The statue symbolizes industry, patience and enterprise.
The Old Prospector, by Dick Oakes
The Mining Exchange Building, from a post card of the period