c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article are excerpted from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County
Cameron was first known as Grassy, although it was sometimes misspelled on various maps as “Gassy” and “Gassey.” Less-than-astute historians have joked that the community was named after the digestive conditions suffered by a nearby rancher. On a more factual note, Grassy was so-named because it was located in a wide, grass-filled meadow at the edge of a forest. Mines of the Cripple Creek District were nearby and, unlike the hilly and steep streets of the most area towns, Grassy’s flat ground made it very easy to lay out.
Grassy was almost named Cripple Creek when it was first founded. This was back when Cripple Creek as it is known today was divided by two separate towns, Fremont and Hayden Placer. The towns were ensconced in a heated battle over who would be first to secure a post office. Fremont wanted its name, but Hayden Placer took a competitive edge by choosing the name “Moreland,” a brilliant marketing move that implied that one could acquire “more land” by buying lots there. When the post office accepted Moreland’s name, Fremont founders Horace Bennett and Julius Myers took the competition one step further. In March of 1892, they filed a plat on the northeastern most section of the former Broken Box Ranch and called it Cripple Creek. Promotors Hayden Placer and Fremont had the last laugh, however, when the post office decided to simply combine them into one city and designated the post office name as Cripple Creek.
In light of the post-designated Cripple Creek, Bennett and Myers changed the name of their platted Cripple Creek to Grassy when it was officially founded in February of 1892. The men had realized that Grassy could become an important mining and railroad hub. The town was officially platted on October 29, 1894 and was intended to be a large city. The main avenues were Prospect, Wolcott, Teller, Blaine, Cleveland, Townsend, Routt, Pitkin and Sherman, intersected by streets numbered one through five. The Midland Terminal Railroad intersected the east half of the town, with a tidy depot located on the southeast corner of Teller and 3rd. Stage services were offered for a time, wherein passengers were brought to the depot to ride the train to Divide and beyond. Meanwhile, the Midland Terminal railroad continued laying tracks headed to the rest of the Cripple Creek District.
It was soon apparent that Grassy would not be developing very fast, for it was a tad too far from other, more important towns, in the district. A small portion of Grassy was vacated in August of 1895, and by 1899 the town in its entirety was up for sale. Enter the Woods Investment Company, comprised of budding millionaire Warren Woods and his sons Harry and Frank. The Woods boys were already making a big splash in nearby Victor, where they had built much of the town (and rebuilt it after a devastating fire in August of 1899). The Woods purchased the Grassy town site at a cost of $123,000 for 183 acres. The investment was solid enough, for surrounding mines had produced $250,000 in gold ore just that year. Miners, laborers, railroad workers, ranchers, and others were soon moving to Grassy.
The Woods renamed their newly-acquired town. In July of 1899, the Cripple Creek Morning Times reported that the “Cameron Company that now owns the Grassy townsite, has changed the name of the place to Cameron. Several new houses are now in course of construction there. “Beginning on August 3, Cameron began appearing on the timetables as a stop along the Midland Terminal Railroad. Nice brick structures now lined Cameron Avenue. There were three saloons and even a newspaper, the Golden Crescent. Yet Cameron continued struggling to draw residents and visitors.
Then, on August 10, readers of the Cripple Creek Morning Times saw a most interesting article. “Sunday an excursion will be run from this city to Cameron, formerly Grassy,” reported the Times. “Pinnacle Park, at Cameron, promises to be a very attractive pleasure resort.” What was Pinnacle Park, readers wondered. It turned out that the Woods had come up with a fabulous idea to draw folks to Cameron. They built a giant amusement park, Pinnacle Park, for the people of the Cripple Creek District to enjoy.
Spanning thirty acres, Pinnacle Park was built at a cost of $32,500. Matthew Lockwood McBird, son of noted Denver architect Matthew John McBird, and who designed numerous buildings in Victor, was hired to draw plans for the buildings at the new park. McBird was perfect for the job, and was described as “a bit of a visionary, a dreamer and creator.” The fact that he never officially held an architect license in Colorado hardly seemed to slow him down. The man had learned well from his father, and assigned himself to building Pinnacle Park with vigor.
McBird’s designs gave the buildings at Pinnacle Park hip roofs and angled logs to give the park a rustic look. The place afforded the amenities of any great amusement park: a large wooden dance pavilion with a bandstand, a picnic area, restaurants, carnival games, and an athletic field with seating for up to a thousand spectators. Football and baseball games were the main attraction. Nearby, a zoo exhibited native animals. There was also a playground with assorted popular rides of the day. Entrance to the park was gained via Acacia Avenue, and the Midland Terminal Railroad tracks cut directly through the middle of the park. Visitors came by rail, horseback and carriage, gaining entrance through elaborate wooden arches.
The first Labor Day celebrated at Pinnacle Park was amazing indeed. Although plans were already in the works for a great festival with a “grand picnic,” the event was turned into a “benefit of the families of Coeur d’Alene miners” who were suffering through violent labor strikes in Idaho. The final plans for Labor Day would feature a baseball game among the Cripple Creek District’s teams. There were a number of other events as well, including greased pole climbing, a “slow burro” race, a sack race, a fifty yard “Fat Man’s” race, a horse race and a dance. Modest entrance fees were charged for everything in the effort to raise money for those in Coeur d’Alene.
Neither the promoters nor the guests at Pinnacle Park were disappointed. The Labor Day celebration was deemed a great success, from a parade spanning twenty-two blocks which made its way from Cripple Creek, to the games, craft booths, lemonade and cigar stands and entertainment at the park. “The outgoing trains from Cripple Creek to Pinnacle Park were so crowded,” reported the Cripple Creek Morning Times, “that people hung on the sides and scrambled all over the tops of the coaches to get a place to sit.” Furthermore, a “solid stream” of wagons stretched from Tenderfoot Hill above Cripple Creek all the way to Cameron. What a site that must have been!
In all, over six thousand dollars was raised for the mining families of Coeur d’Alene. Residents of the District came away from Pinnacle Park happy to have had such a day to relax with each other, with no incidents reported amongst the party goers. “It is doubtful if the people of the district ever appreciated before yesterday’s parade what a host of organized working men there are here,” concluded the Times, “or how many different trades and crafts are in the camp.”
Cameron continued experiencing success. On September 30, an announcement was made that a new “broad gauge” railroad was planned from Colorado Springs to Cameron. The project was led by Irving Howbert and E.W. Gidding of the Cripple Creek District Electric railway, who had hired contractors Clough and Anderson to complete the work. By October, the school at Cameron had fifty two pupils. On December 8 a new post office was established. The name of the office was Touraine, however, “there being a Cameron in another portion of the state,” according to post office officials. The Woods Investment Company closed the year by announcing plans for the Gillett Light & Power Company, which would supply light to both the nearby city of Gillett, and Cameron.
Interesting is that both the former town of Grassy and the new town of Cameron were listed in the Cripple Creek District directory in 1900. The reason was because the Woods had not yet filed a new plat map for Cameron. The growing population is exhibited by the fact that the Cameron School operated in town proper but a second town, identified as Lower Grassy School appears in the directory as well. Apparently, a portion of old Grassy now functioned as a suburb of Cameron. In Cameron proper, the downtown area offered an exciting array of business houses. The Arcade Saloon and the Cameron Club Saloon and Barber Shop attracted miners, while the more domestic could choose from a number of stores that included Butter’s Store, Home Bakery, Cameron Mercantile Co., G.G. Sweet & Company’s meats and groceries, Williams Dairy, and of course Pinnacle Park.
As promised, citizens would also benefit from what the Woods called the Golden Crescent Water and Power Company. Within a year, running water would also be furnished to both Cameron and Gillett from Woods Lake. Yet it wasn’t until April 14, 1900 that the new and much improved Cameron was officially platted. C.L. Arzeno and Frank Woods were listed as principle officers on the plat map as Vice President and Secretary, respectively. Unlike nearby Beaver Park, whose naming of “streets” designated it as a blue collar town, Cameron’s roads were called “avenues” and named after local landmarks, including some important mines. The new names included Gillette, Hoosier, Isabella, Touraine, Damon, Pinnacle and Acacia. Just in case rich ore was found beneath the surface of the town, the Woods and Arzeno also wisely retained the mineral rights of all property within the town.
Labor Day of 1900 appears to have been the record breaker of 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 at the park – nearly $32,000 in today’s money. For a few glorious years, thousands of visitors came to Pinnacle Park every weekend and holiday during the summer. An April, 1900 issue of the Aspen Daily Times also announced that the “continued discovery of gold in the vicinity of Gillett and Cameron confirm the theory so long urged that the Cripple Creek veins extend to an unknown distance to the north.” Mines around Cameron included the Elsmere, Lansing and Wild Horse.
The Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railroad, a.k.a. “The Short Line”, reached Cameron in March of 1901. A month later, the old post office name of Touraine was finally changed to Cameron. And once again, Pinnacle Park saw record attendance at Labor Day. For a time, it seemed as though Cameron would champion as a leading town in the Cripple Creek District – but that all changed in about 1903, when Cameron’s popularity began fading. The mines around Cameron began playing out and rumors abounded that the Woods boys were in financial trouble. Sales of residential lots at Cameron came to a stop.
By the time the 1902-03 Cripple Creek District Directory was published, Cameron’s population had shrunk to around 300. The directory now described the town as “small” and located “on the site of the old Grassy settlement”. There was still an Episcopal church, a city hall, Kings Hall and three other clubs, but the business district had dwindled considerably to only a boardinghouse, a grocery, one doctor and the Cameron Crescent.
The notorious, tumultuous labor wars of 1903-1904 in the Cripple Creek District in took a further toll on Cameron, which was located dangerously close to the center of the mining strikes. The Cameron Crescent went out of business, and in March, several blocks in town were officially vacated. A few months later, just five days into the labor strikes, “Big Bill” Haywood gave a rousing speech to a group of union men at a Pinnacle Park picnic. Haywood urged the miners “to stand with” the Western Federation of Miners until the strike against mine owners was victorious. But owing to the lack of news articles about Cameron during the labor strikes, it would appear that citizens wanted as little to do with the fracas as possible.
Cameron still had about 300 residents in 1905, but notably, neither of the two churches had a pastor and both congregations met at Town Hall. There was still a boardinghouse, general merchandise, grocery, hotel and shoe store, but Cameron was most certainly suffering a slow death. Even though there were a few more businesses in 1907, the population was only 200. The Colorado State Business Directory for 1908 reported the number of residents at one hundred. It would also be the last time Pinnacle Park, now under the management of one Thomas Morris, was listed in any directory. The park closed shortly afterwards. Cameron’s post office closed in August of 1909. A year later, only 50 residents remained in the city proper. By 1912, Cameron appeared as a suburb of Cripple Creek in city directories. Finally, in 1917, Cameron was vacated altogether. Children in the area were able to continued attending the Cameron School until it officially closed in 1921. By that time, only six pupils and their teacher, Miss Mannering, were left.
The fancy log fence around Pinnacle Park, along with its quaint buildings, was eventually torn down. For years, the logs lay in a heap in the woods just off the former railbed of the Midland Terminal. Brick enclosures built to house bears and wildcats at the Pinnacle Park Zoo were the only remnants left until 2010, when they were dismantled in the wake of mining operations. The materials were stored by the City of Cripple Creek until 2014, when they were reconstructed at the Cripple Creek District Museum. By 2015, what was left of Cameron was quickly being buried under modern mining tailings, and the town is officially no more.