Tag Archives: Blackhawk

From Gold and Tungsten to Rock and Roll: Nederland, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler.

Throughout its early life, Nederland Colorado was closely associated with Caribou, a Dutch gold mining community that was platted near Boulder in 1870. In 1873, some Dutchmen purchased the Idaho Shaft at Caribou for $3 million and set their sites on a nearby settlement. Originally called Dayton, then Brownsville after settler N.W. Brown in 1869, then Middle Boulder with a post office in 1871, this smaller camp became Nederland after Dutch immigrants took over the local mills. One of them, Abel Breed, purchased the Caribou Mine.

Nederland is in fact Dutch for the Netherlands. The city fathers lost no time incorporating on February 10, 1874. The post office opened under the new name on March 2. Although gold was all the rage in Colorado, tungsten was also mined near both Nederland and Caribou. In its day, the mineral served as a useful material to harden other metals such as steel, and for filaments in electric lights.

It is no wonder the Dutch settlers preferred Nederland to Caribou. Located at nearly 10,000 feet, Caribou was cold, subject to 100 mile an hour winds and terrible snowstorms with 25 foot drifts. The camp also suffered at least one scarlet fever epidemic and a diptheria epidemic. Also, there was no railroad to Caribou. Despite such inconveniences and tragedies, however, there were roughly 60 businesses including the Potosi Mine Boarding House and the 1875 Sherman House. Twenty mines served a population of 3,000.

When Caribou burned in 1879, even more folks began migrating to Nederland. A new church was erected in 1881 at Caribou, but the population had shrunk to just 549 people. The town burned again in 1899, suffered an earthquake in 1903 and burned one last time in 1905. A final attempt by the Consolidated Caribou Silver Mining Company to blast the 3,500′ Idaho Tunnel in 1946 did nothing for the town.

Where Caribou failed, Nederland did not. In 1870 a mill was built to process ore from Caribou’s mines. In 1873, when it was announced that President Ulysses S. Grant was coming to visit nearby Central City, Abel Breed’s mill produced silver bricks that were later laid across the sidewalk where Grant would enter the Teller House in Central. Within four more years, the population of Nederland was 300. Despite its great aspirations, however, author Helen Hunt Jackson visited Nederland that same year and referred to it as “A dismal little mining town, with only a handful of small houses and smelting mills. Boulder Creek comes dashing through it, foaming white to the very edge of town.”

Nederland was obviously not Jackson’s cup of tea, but the town thrived throughout the 1870’s, 80’s and into the 1890’s. Boardinghouses included the Antlers, Cory, Hetzer, Sherman House and the Western, all of which rented beds in shifts when mining was at its height. Restaurants followed suit, allowing their customers only 20 minutes to consume their meals before ushering them out for the next set of hungry miners. During its boom time, Nederland produced 60 percent of the tungsten in the United States, and at one time realized one million dollars in the stuff annually.

Nederland proper served chiefly as a supply, smelting and shipping town for area mines. Those mines, in fact, experienced great success. The Primos Mill, located at the community of Lakewood some three miles away, was the largest tungsten-producing mill in the world. Around Nederland were several camps and towns, but Nederland appears to have only been rivaled by Tungsten Camp with its alleged population of 20,000.

Tungsten was also known as Steven’s Camp and Ferberite. Today, however, most of Tungsten lies underneath Barker Reservoir. A less popular town among Nederlands’ proper families was Cardinal City, a sin city founded expressly by saloon keepers and prostitutes from Caribou beginning in 1870. Cardinal City was originally located conveniently between Caribou and Nederland. For a time, the scarlet ladies and barkeeps of Cardinal City hoped to overtake both towns. A plan in 1872 to build a courthouse, possibly to keep the barkeeps and wanton women in check, never came to fruition.

In about 1878 Cardinal City picked up and moved to a site closer to Nederland because of the railroad, and re-christened itself New Cardinal. But by 1883 the new city had lost its appeal, and its 2000 or so citizens began migrating elsewhere. Some moved to the 1860 gold mining town of Eldora (known originally as Happy Valley and Eldorado). The hard drinking and hard gambling miners at Eldora were nobody to fool with; the first day the Bailey Chlorniation Mill failed to make payroll, miners shot the manager and burned down the mill.

Other towns close to Nederland included Bluebird and the 1892 silver town of Hessie, which was named after its first postmistress. In 1914, Hessie also briefly made the papers following a mysterious murder. Grand Island, Lost Lake, Mary City, Phoenixville, Sulphide Flats and Ward were other camps. Most of these camps were fading by 1916. With the beginning of World War I and the call for more tungsten, however, Nederland experienced a surge while towns around it were dying off. The exception was the old town of Tungsten up the road. Within no time, real estate prices at both towns soared.

Of course the price of tungsten also went up. Upwards of 17 mills were working between Tungsten and Nederland. In 1917, nearly $6 million in tungsten was mined. Eventually, imports of the stuff from South America and Japan killed off the boom. Quickly. By 1920 Nederland was hanging on as a mere resort town with a handful of pioneer families living there full time. When author Muriell Sybil Wolle stayed the night there, she recalled that at the time, the boys from Nederland were playing a heated baseball game against a team from nearby Blackhawk.

Although Nederland has held its own as a resort and summer escape since the 1930’s, its reputation also received a boost with the repurpose of the old Caribou Ranch in the 1970’s. Homesteaded on the road between Nederland and Caribou in the 1860’s by Caribou Mine owner Sam Conger, no less than four films were shot at the ranch before music producer James William Guercio purchased it in 1972. All told, Guercio bought a 4,000+ acre parcel and set up a private, unique recording studio for major recording artists. Joe Walsh and Bill Szymczyk were the first musicians to finish an album (Barnstorm) there. The second project to be recorded at the ranch included Rick Derringer’s hit single, Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo.

In 1974, Elton John further immortalized the place with his album, fittingly called Caribou. Dozens of other performers recorded there as well, including America, Badfinger, the Beach Boys, Chicago, Phil Collins, Dan Fogelberg, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, John Lennon, Stevie Nicks, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tom Petty and Frank Zappa. Legendary musicians might still be recording there today, but in March of 1985 the control room at the studio suffered a fire with an amazing $3 million dollar loss. The roof was replaced, but the original recording studio was never rebuilt.

Guercio began selling off parts of the Caribou Ranch in 1996. About half of it is owned today by the City of Boulder and Boulder County. An additional 1,489 acres were placed under a conservation easement. The remaining parcel is still owned by Guercio’s Caribou Companies, an exclusive gated community containing 20 unique mountain home sites encompassing over 700 acres. As for the old studio, there have been hints for several years now of a reprise of the ranch’s famous recording past. Guercio’s remaining 1600 acres, which continue to serve as a working ranch, are currently listed for sale with Mountain Marketing Associates of Breckenridge-for the modest price of $45,000,000. The right seller could indeed make Nederland and its surrounding communities experience a whole new boom of a different kind.

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Blackhawk Sports Early Colorado History

Copyright 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins. Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine in 2006.

     Blackhawk has been called the “Mill City of the Rockies”, earning its nickname from an early mill. The Black Hawk Quartz Mill was built in 1860 by a company in Illinois, and was allegedly named for an Indian leader from the Sauk and Fox tribes from that state, as well as Wisconsin. Colorado was just a territory, and from 1862 to 1871, Black Hawk was known to the post office as Black Hawk Point.

      By 1863, Black Hawk Point featured a fine Presbyterian church, a school and at least nine hotels, including one later owned by silver king H.A.W. Tabor. One of Colorado Territory’s first cemeteries was located on Dory Hill. Both Black Hawk and Central City were incorporated on March 11, 1864. In its early years, however, Black Hawk was fraught with struggles to survive, despite some 13 saloons and three breweries. The town received a reprieve in the form of Nathaniel P. Hill, who built the town’s first smelter. Completed in 1867, the Boston and Colorado Smelting Works utilized a new process from Wales that melted gold ore. By Hill’s actions, Black Hawk Point’s dwindling population sprang back to life. In appreciation, a town near Silver Plume, located along today’s Interstate 70, was named for Hill.

     Over 25 smelters and mills proved to be Black Hawk Point’s mainstay throughout its early life. Since a number of mines surrounded the city, it was logical enough for the town to become a refining center in the middle of what locals called “The Little Kingdom of Gilpin”, which included many mines and mining camps. In time, upwards of 60 refineries lined the two-mile stretch along Black Hawk Point’s narrow canyon. Their employees made their homes along Main Street, Gregory Street and Chase Gulch.

     In 1871 the post office dropped the “Point”, shortening the name to Black Hawk. Soon there were 2,000 people calling the place home. Amenities included a skating rink, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, two banks, two theatres, four clothing stores and a good number of saloons. It was a gritty little town whose laws closely followed the code of the West. An ordinance against shooting proclaimed that “Any person shooting…another, except in self defense, shall be fined $500 and receive as many stripes on his bare back as a jury of six may direct.” Weekends featured dances for local miners and included entertainment by area prostitutes.

     The Colorado Central Railroad reached Black Hawk in 1872, and a two-mile long switchback railroad was built over Bob Tail Hill to Central City. Central was only a mile away, but 540′ higher in altitude. Due to the rough terrain and steep climb, the railroad cost an amazing $65,000 by the time it was finished in 1878. Black Hawk also weathered a diptheria epidemic in 1879, but managed to prevail. J.E. Scobey’s Billiard Saloon, known as the Knight of Pythias Hall after 1885, was located where Bullwhacker’s Casino now is. In 1886, J.H. Phillip Rohling opened the “largest dry goods store in the county.” The National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco, also got its start in Black Hawk. W.L. Douglas, a local shoemaker, was later elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. There were also no less than three newspapers in Black Hawk, some of which were said to publish from the Gilpin Hotel. By 1887 Black Hawk had settled its transportation problems once and for all by constructing the Gilpin Tram, a miniature railroad that reached not only Central City, but also the farther out communities of Nevadaville and Russell Gulch. The Tram was in use until 1917.

      In 1895, postal authorities once more downsized the name of Black Hawk to just one word. For some time by then, Blackhawk had been victim to the occasional flood due to its close proximity to Clear Creek. The worst of the floods happened on July 30, 1895. In the aftermath, the town raised $32,000 to build a rock flume, or water ditch, to prevent further flooding. Five years later the population hung steady at 1,200. Miners were enjoying their libations at places like Tom Crook’s Palace, a rock-walled saloon that allegedly had been dismantled and brought by wagon from Missouri and once the alleged favored drinking spot of Jessie James.

     There were lots of towns surrounding Blackhawk, including the railroad stop of Cottonwood, Hughesville with its Hard Money Mine; Lake Gulch with its famous hermit who lived between there and Caribou before dying in 1944; the railroad stop of Smith Hill, and Yankee Bar above town. During prohibition, bootleggers ran amuck and at least one of their cabins remains standing today in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

      Time marched on, however, and in 1941 the last Colorado Central train left Blackhawk. The town melded into a fun and easily accessible tourist spot along State Highway 119. It was also home to the only gas station in Gilpin County for literally decades. The post office closed in 1950. Only 227 people lived there in 1990, but in 1991, the post office reopened when gambling was legalized at Blackhawk. Today, Blackhawk offers some of the best gaming money can buy, with modern casinos mixed among several historic buildings that include the 1863 Lace House.Image Photo courtesy of the City of Blackhawk website.