Arbourville, Colorado and its Community Parlor House
c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins
Every day, hundreds of cars whiz along Highway 50 along Monarch Pass between Salida and Gunnison. Between these two metropolises lie a number of forgotten towns, some no larger than a building or two. Some of the communities no longer stand at all, their existence marked only by a pile of lumber or sign along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad as it meanders along the Arkansas River and parallel to the highway. Though travelers in their fast cars have no real reason to stop now, a century ago these small hamlets played an important role in Colorado’s development. At the tiny town of Maysville, for instance, several toll roads offered mail and passenger service in a number of directions. As a crossroads leading to both the goldfields of the west and the southeastern plains of Colorado, Maysville became an important center for exchanging news and information.
These were the days of lawlessness in urban Colorado, but only because there weren’t many laws to break nor outlaws to break them—which would explain why Maysville was sometimes referred to as Crazy Town. When Arbourville was founded along Highway 50 just five miles west of Maysville, it too became a social center of the Monarch Mining District, mostly because the camp housed the only substantial brothel in the area.
Although Arbourville was never incorporated, a post office was established on September 12, 1879. The town was likely named for M. Arbour, a real estate agent who was living at A.B. Stemberger’s boardinghouse near Arbourville in 1880. It was said Arbour had migrated to the new camp from Silver Cliff. It is interesting to note that the first day lots went up for sale at Arbourville, over 100 were sold. Soon, the growing hamlet sported a hotel, boardinghouse and general store.
By 1880, the population was up to 159, a number that seems consistent with the town’s history. There were 102 men and 25 women, many with children. Residents included three local ranchers, as well as upwards of 46 miners who commuted further up Monarch Pass to the Madonna Mine and other surrounding prospect holes. Business folks in 1880 included a banker, two butchers, seven carpenters, three doctors (all of whom were also surgeons), a general merchandiser, a harness shop owner, three grocers, a hotel operator, two livery stables, miller H. Breckenridge, two house painters, two real estate agents, two restaurant operators, two saloon keepers, a shoemaker and two teamsters who likely carried freight and passengers between the mines and the railroad. Stage fare from Maysville to Arbourville cost fifty cents.
Arbourville’s brothel, which is said to have doubled as a stage coach stop, saloon and hotel, replaced a smaller log brothel that operated in the town years earlier. The new bordello is thought to have been constructed by James or Eli Wolfrom in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. In more recent years, the now empty building has become known as the “stone house”. Despite being a house of ill repute, this structure likely assisted Arbourville in rivaling the nearby towns of Garfield and Monarch, since people also gathered there for news and to socialize.
Renowned photographer William Henry Jackson was among those who recorded early-day photographs of Arbourville between 1880 and 1890. In 1881 the post office name was inexplicably changed to Conrow, but closed altogether in 1882. When travel-writer Ernest Ingersoll visited the area in 1885, he noted that Maysville and Monarch appeared to be the most important communities in the area.
Although the D. & R.G. crossed today’s Highway 50 on the town’s edge, there does not appear to have been a depot at Arbourville. Wagon roads led up to Cree’s Camp and other mines, and east or west along the “Rainbow Route” to Salida or Gunnison, respectively. The town cemetery was located under today’s Highway 50. Of the only two identified burials there, the earliest one dated to 1883.
The silver panic of 1893, combined with better transportation, left Arbourville in the dust to the point that the town wasn’t even covered in census records beginning in 1885. The buildings went into private ownership and the town settled into a quiet suburb. In 1938, when the state expanded the highway to its present size, workers declined to even bother moving the bodies from the graveyard.
Long after its short glory faded, Arbourville eventually became home to just one resident, Frank E. Gimlett, the former proprietor of the Salida Opera House. In 1900, Gimlett and his family, including a cousin, were living at Monarch. Gimlett initially worked as a mine superintendent. Later he worked as a grocer and lived with his family in Salida until about 1930. Sometime after that, he made the defunct town of Arbourville his home.
An eccentric and likeable hermit, Gimlett lived year-round at Arbourville until his death in circa the mid-1940’s. He utilized his winter months by writing a series of booklets called “Over Trails of Yesterday.” As a veteran of the mining era, Gimlett knew many of the people and places from the old days and spun many a colorful yarn about them. His stories were entwined with his own personal philosophies. One of his books, “The Futility of Loving Vagarious Women,” inspired playwright and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce to write him a protest letter in defense of the fairer sex. But notably, Gimlett did love one woman, his wife Gertrude, who supposedly also lived with him at Arbourville.
Gimlett also dubbed Arbourville “Arbor Villa” and assigned his own names to various mountains in the area. Among them was Mount Aetna, which Gimlett petitioned to rename Ginger Peak after his favorite film star, Ginger Rogers. Gimlett went so far as to send a petition to President Franklin Roosevelt himself to change the name, but the president himself shot the idea down. Supposedly Roosevelt explained that while Ginger Rogers was worthy of the honor, the name change might prove too much trouble for cartographers. Gimlett retaliated by sending a bill to the government for $50,000. The fee was for “guarding the mountains” during winter and assuring the snow and ice were safe from thieves. It was never paid.
Today, about five buildings are left standing in Arbourville, along with old fences along traces of the main drag, collapsed structures, several foundations and the magnificent stone house. The roof of the building gets weaker and weaker each year and is in danger of sinking in altogether. The ghost town is accessed via the Monarch Spur RV Park, which was owned by Elsie Gunkel Porter in 2012. Having grown up in the stone house, Elsie and her brother Jerry were the last residents of Arbourville. “That town was Jerry’s life and his love,” said Christina Anastasia of Salida in a 2005 interview. Anastasia, along with her husband Raymond, was a good friend of Gunkel’s.
According to Anastasia it was Jerry Gunkel’s dream to re-develop Arbourville, but he passed away in May of 2003. In his honor Anastasia, a doctoral candidate and professor at Colorado Technical University of Salida, nominated Arbourville to the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register, but to no avail. “They said there is no historic relevance to the property, although there are all kinds of fun stories,” she says, “because there is so little documentation about it. Arbourville was a mining camp so there is no legal record that really shows anything. They said until someone can come up with some historical significance, it doesn’t have any relevance.”
Monarch Spur RV Park at Arbourville continues to serve as a wonderful and remote vacation spot with tent and RV sites, cabins, shower and laundry facilities, a store, and even internet service. For information or reservations, or to visit Arbourville, call 888-814-3001 or 719-530-0341 or access the website at msrvpark.com.