c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.
In a high meadow between Victor and Cripple Creek, mining operations have obscured the ghost of a playground past.
During the 1890’s, when the Cripple Creek District emerged as the final winner in a series of gold booms throughout Colorado and the West, residents of the District’s 25 towns and mining camps worked hard for their money. Luxuries were few, with little time to relax and really enjoy life. So when the town of Cameron was born in a beautiful high meadow near Victor, the amusement center of Pinnacle Park was built to relieve the stress of everyday living. If only for a short time, Pinnacle Park served as an entertainment nucleus in Teller County.
It could be said that Cameron was technically one of the first cities in the District when it was formed in about February of 1892. Back then, however, the dream of Cameron and what it could become was just that: a dream conjured up by competing real estate investors. In the mad scramble to bring civilization to the former high country cow pasture, two towns—Hayden Placer and Fremont—were quickly established along the actual Cripple Creek itself. Soon, each fledgling community was battling for the strongest foothold, beginning with post office nominations. In the case of Hayden Placer, a post office established under the name Moreland was marketed to emphasize the community’s expansive property to prospective buyers.
In answer, Fremont founders and Denver real estate investors Horace Bennett and Julius Myers took the competition one step further. They filed a plat on the northeastern most section of the former Broken Box Ranch—actually the future site of Cameron—and called it Cripple Creek. The flat, expansive meadow would provide for the makings of a large metropolis, they reasoned, and those wishing to buy real estate would surely choose that over the steep hillside where Fremont and Hayden Placer were located some three miles away.
Alas, the endeavor was for naught. Within a short time Hayden Placer/Moreland and Fremont combined into one city anyway, and the name Cripple Creek was applied to them both. The original Cripple Creek faded so quickly that its funny little sidebar to the District’s history was forgotten almost immediately. It is interesting to speculate what could have happened had the original Cripple Creek remained in place. At the very least, the higher town would have been more easily accessible to the railroads who later served the area.
But in fact the “first” Cripple Creek remained empty until the Woods Investment Company from Victor purchased the land in 1899. By then the area was alternately known as Gassy, as well as Gassey and Grassy. The latter name fit best, since native grasses grew high along the meadows and rolling knolls of the area. With the Woods’ purchase of the land, folks began moving up to Grassy. A small, rural population merited mention in the 1900 Cripple Creek District Directory. By then, both the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway (CS & CCDR) and the Midland Terminal Railroad (MTRR) skirted through the area, with offshoots to several other district towns.
Even as the Cripple Creek District was peaking in 1900, Grassy was first known only as a whistle stop on the railroads. But the Woods Investment Company was a veteran in the district. Headed by brothers Frank and Harry Woods, the company had already platted the city of Victor some years before and already owned the Gold Coin Mine, plus several other mines, in the district. Taking advantage of the gold boom, the Woods Brothers next founded the town of Cameron on the Grassy site. The origin of Cameron’s name is unknown, but it was a sure winner with two railroads chugging through it. A former stage stop was converted into the Midland Terminal Depot, and a new terminal was constructed for the CS & CCDR.
The latter railroad, alternately known as the Short Line, became known for its pragmatic efficiency. While the MTRR offered both freight and passenger service to Colorado Springs, the CS & CCDR offered riders a more scenic route that included ten tunnels and high mountain vistas. When Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took a ride on the Short Line in 1901, he expressed his satisfaction with the view by exclaiming, “This is the ride that bankrupts the English language!” No expense was spared on the railroad cars, which sported ornate club cars and jaunty yellow boxcars. Because Cameron had connecting trains to Cripple Creek and Victor, the place soon became a popular stopover for tourists wishing to rest or for miners going to and from their jobs.
Cameron’s status quickly grew to be that of a semi resort town. Learning from the devastating fires that destroyed the downtown sections of Cripple Creek in 1896 and Victor in 1899, Cameron built its small business district of brick. The well-known architect M. Lockwood McBird, whose designs the Woods used for many of the businesses in Victor, was also employed at Cameron. Most business houses were located along Cameron Avenue, including three saloons to appease thirsty miners. A newspaper, the Golden Crescent, was published for a short time at Cameron.
Not far from town, the Woods Brothers next built a giant amusement area, Pinnacle Park, for the families of the Cripple Creek District. The park spanned thirty acres and cost $32,000 to create. The amenities of any great amusement park of the day were there: a large wooden dance pavilion with a bandstand, a picnic area, restaurants, and arcade area for throwing balls at “rag babies”, and an athletic field with seating for up to a thousand spectators. Football and baseball games were the main attraction. Nearby, a zoo exhibited animals native to the area, including bears. There was also a children’s playground with swings and other attractions. Visitors could access Pinnacle Park by rail, horseback, carriage and on foot. Even the occasional automobile made an appearance at the elaborate log-framed entrance.
Labor Day of 1900 appears to have been the record breaker for attendance at Pinnacle Park, when an astounding nine thousand people attended for a day of festivities. Admission was ten cents per head, yielding $900 for the day. For a few glorious years, thousands of visitors came to Pinnacle Park every weekend and holiday during the summer. But despite Pinnacle Park’s popularity, Cameron’s resident population never exceeded over 700 people including the nearby suburb of Spinney Mills. Aside from Pinnacle Park, the town was just too far away from the District’s mines and other communities. Unable to make a profit, Pinnacle Park eventually closed. Soon after, the mines around Cameron began playing out and the rumor spread that the Woods boys were in financial trouble. Lot sales at Cameron dwindled considerably, a sure sign of death in the gold boom era.
By 1903, the population of Cameron was visibly shrinking as the Cripple Creek District was launched into the second of two notorious labor wars. Cameron was located dangerously close to the violent strikes taking place at nearby Altman and Bull Hill above Victor. Even after the strike was settled in 1904, Cameron continued suffering a slow death as residents drifted off to other communities. As of 1910, the population had diminished considerably and few people made their way to what was left of Pinnacle Park. The remnants of Cameron receded quietly into the tall grass and scattered pines.
The fancy log fence around Pinnacle Park, along with the pavilion, and accompanying amusements, was finally dismantled. For years a pile of the former natural log pillars were still visible below the undergrowth and the pine and aspen which grew to surround much of the site. Over the next century the meadow sat empty again, with only a few mining buildings scattered throughout the area. The city streets were no more, the business district and homes long gone. In the trees, several rounded brick and rock enclosures, once used to contain bears and wildcats at the zoo, could be found if one knew where to look. These were dismantled and moved by the City of Cripple Creek in 2010 with the plan to reconstruct them, as modern mining endeavors did away with the high grassy meadow. Today, no other clues exist of Cameron and its once popular Pinnacle Park.
The legendary bear caves at Pinnacle Park before they were moved in 2009.