Tag Archives: Colorado ghost towns

Alpine, Colorado: the Town That Wouldn’t Die

Portions of this article first appeared in Colorado Central magazine.

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

There is much to say about Colorado ghost towns that have found new life in more recent years. While some places have simply vanished, others have been regenerated in one form or another. One such place is Alpine, located about twelve miles from Nathrop on Highway 162.

One hundred and forty years ago, Alpine began as a supply stop on the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway. Although the first house was supposedly built in 1877 by B.L. Riggins, Alpine’s post office actually opened in October of 1874. A Colonel Chapman, whose first name appears lost to history, was the first mayor.

Alpine chugged along nicely as a whistlestop on the railroad until May of 1880, when the town incorporated. The area was growing as minerals were discovered. In time the Black Crook, the Britenstein, the Livingston, the Mary Murphy and the Tilden would be amongst the many mines around Alpine. Chapman would soon build the Tilden Smelting & Sampling Works, employing roughly 40 men to process up to 30 tons of ore daily. Alpine’s cemetery had already been established with the death of James W. Couch in January.

Most references to Alpine claim there were over 500 people there during 1880. Locals interviewed during the 1940’s put the number at two thousand or more. Their estimates, however, may have included those who lived outside the city limits, for the actual 1880 census shows only 335 people in Alpine proper.

Most of the men in town were employed in mining. Over a dozen stores, including general merchandise and drugstores, were in business. Bakeries and restaurants fed the people. Several hotels were open, including the Arcade and the Badger. There were at least two barbers, four or more blacksmiths, and several attorneys. A lumberyard sold timber. There was even a real estate office and three banks. A stage company took travelers to nearby St. Elmo and beyond.

Some of Alpine’s residents commuted to work elsewhere, for in 1880 construction began on the Alpine Tunnel a few miles away. The purpose of the tunnel, which was largely financed by Colorado Governor John Evans, was to extend the rails of the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad to Gunnison. At over 11,500′ in elevation, Alpine Tunnel was no place for the weak. The railroad ended up offering free transportation to any man who came to work on the tunnel. Over 10,000 men took the job over time, but many subsequently quit due to the altitude.

Workers at the tunnel were housed in six cabins on the west end, and there was also a settlement called Atlantic on the east end. There is little doubt, however, that at least some of the laborers chose the cozier quarters at Alpine, and history has sometimes confused the town with the tunnel, as well as Alpine Station not far from town. But only Alpine had any real entertainment. There were between two and 23 saloons depending on the source. A two story dance hall also provided a place for the only two musicians in town to play.  

The rough environment at Alpine was proven, at least in part, by the shooting of G.W. McIlhany in August. The census does, however, record Police Judge C.R. Fitch and at least three police officers, including a city marshal. Even so, life at Alpine could be quite gritty; in July, Patrick Dempsey had been dead nearly three months when his body was found in nearby Grizzly Gulch, his head crushed by a boulder.

Alpine’s rough reputation was furthered by the lack of many churches in town, although the site of at least one house of worship remains. There was also a Sunday school run by one of the ladies in town. Perhaps a lack of any other proper culture was what inspired the owner of Alpine’s newspaper, the True Fissure, to pick up his printing press and move to St. Elmo.

In 1881 a school was at last provided by George Knox, although the town was yet so wild that it was said Knox declined to bring his own wife and seven children to Alpine. But there were families, as illustrated by the 1880 census, as well as the death of three-year-old Mattie Pitts in 1882. By then, however, St. Elmo was growing so fast that it quickly usurped Alpine as a place of importance.

Folks remained at Alpine longer than most believe. Burials continued at Alpine’s little cemetery, and it was not until 1904 that the post office closed. The Alpine Tunnel collapsed in 1910, killing some men who were overcome by coal smoke. The tunnel was never rebuilt since several area mines, including the Mary Murphy, were shutting down for good. Alpine’s fate as a ghost town was sealed. Or was it?

Over time, some buildings blew over while others were moved. But at least a few homes remained occupied by itinerants well into the 1920’s. Two of them, notably, were Pearline “Princess” Zabriskie and her friend, Napoleon Jones. Zabriskie in particular was interesting because she claimed to be a Polish princess and wrote a paper on the value of molybdenum and uranium in the region.

In reality, according to the 1920 census when both Zabriskie and Jones lived in St. Elmo, “Lady Zabriskie” was born in Nebraska. She also moved around a lot, taking up in empty homes not just at Alpine, but also St. Elmo and other area towns including Romley and Hancock. In 1924 she was found frozen to death and buried in Salida. Likewise for Jones, who lived mostly at St. Elmo from 1900 until he too died in 1928. His obituary claimed he was the last official resident of Alpine.

When historian Muriel Sibell Wolle visited Alpine in 1949, there were still a few buildings standing, and the area was becoming a popular recreation area. People began building summer homes and fixed up some of the remaining buildings. Today it is difficult to discern the old from the new, but some of the original Alpine remains to an extent. The Alpine Cemetery also remains as a testament to the original town, even if the graveyard is located next to a newer home. Of the 39 graves, only a few markers remained as late as 1986 and the grounds may be on private property. Even so, a visit to the area is still worth the trip.

Early Town of Cache Creek, Colorado Still a Prospector’s Pick

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central Magazine.

Hike along Cache Creek outside of Granite today, and you are certain to run into folks all along the water. These aren’t your average outdoor enthusiasts; rather, the folks scrambling along the riverbanks are on a mission. They are looking for gold, which can still be found over 150 years after being discovered.

Cache Creek’s name is derived from the French word, “cacher”, meaning “to hide”. One story goes that around 1854, French trappers hid their pelts there, while another claims that explorers Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell hid their supplies in the vicinity as they fled some Native Americans. Because of its odd spelling, Cache Creek was sometimes referred to as “Cash Creek”.

Around 1860, placer gold was discovered along Cache Creek in what was then Lake County. They said that nuggets “big as eggs” were being found west of the creek around Lost Canyon. By late 1860, miners could be found panning for gold all through the area. Within seven years, some 49,000 troy ounces, or $200,000 of gold, would be found.

A series of small mining camps sprang up, but it was the community of Cache Creek which served as a supply town and the place to glean information about mining opportunities. In spite of being labeled “poor man’s diggings” by the Salida Mail, Cache Creek blossomed. Notably, it was the first real town in today’s Chaffee County, with a population of about 300. Prospectors could make up to $20.00 per day.

Even future silver millionaire H.A.W. Tabor tried his luck at Cache Creek. With him were his first wife, Augusta, as well as family friend Nathaniel Maxcy, miner Sam Kellogg and the Tabor’s son, also named Nathaniel Maxcy. The men made their own sluice boxes, but had trouble extracting the gold from the black sand deposits. Augusta was assigned the tedious job of using a magnet to procure the gold from the sand. Contrary to some accounts, Augusta did not run a boarding house or store at Cache Creek; within a month the party moved on to California Gulch some twenty miles away before making their fortune.

Meanwhile, Cache Creek’s supply stores served such smaller camps as Bertschey’s Gulch, Gibson, Gold Run, Ritchie’s Patch, and others. Supplies were hauled to town by horseback and mule from a trail skirting the Arkansas River over two miles away. The homes of Cache Creek consisted mostly of log cabins. A cemetery was established in 1860 after the death of a young man from pneumonia. A year later, when the town of Granite sprang up two and a half miles away on the Arkansas, its residents also began using the cemetery. In spite of the convenience of Granite, however, many miners and their families preferred living near the diggings around Cache Creek.

On August 2, 1862, the post office was established as “Cash Creek”. Cache Creek also incorporated, on January 10, 1866. Alas, the place was simply too far away from the Arkansas River trail. In October of 1866 the nearby town of Dayton established its own post office. A new mill was built near Cache Creek, but the Dayton post office was  moved to the new county seat of Granite in November of 1868. Cache Creek’s population began to falter, and the post office closed on February 27, 1871.

By 1872, much of the area around Cache Creek was owned by the Cache Creek Mining Company. In Cache Creek proper, only ten cabins remained occupied. Most of the residents probably worked for the company, which employed sixteen men on both day and night shifts, who could mine upwards of a pound of gold per day, per man.

When Chaffee County was formed in 1879, the new boundary ran between Lake Creek and Cache Creek and directly through Cache Creek Park. In 1881 the Gaff Mining Company, in business since 1865, built a new two mile long bedrock flume. The outlook was good, there being gold “disseminated through all the ground which is free from bowlders [sic] or large rocks, and is easily washed.” Thus far, upwards of $800,000 in gold had been mined.

Next, in 1884, the Twin Lakes Hydraulic Gold Mining Syndicate, which had purchased the Cache Creek Mining Company, installed a tunnel between Cache Creek and Clear Creek. The tunnel cost over $40,000, but gold production nearly tripled. Over fifty men were now employed by the Syndicate, and gold production from May to November that year totaled almost $100,000.

By 1902, Cache Creek was quickly fading as new methods of mining downplayed the value of placer mining. Still, the Salida Record noted Cache Creek as “a neglected resource” of placer deposits. More people might have panned the creek but for a complaint, issued in 1903 by Canon City some 100 miles away along the Arkansas River. Canon City charged that the water was “polluted with quicksilver from the Cache Creek placers.”

Articles about the issue appeared in local newspapers for years. The Cache Creek Placer closed in 1909, but the pollution problems continued well into 1911. This ugly turn of events was Cache Creek’s final undoing, and by 1929 nobody was mining the creek anymore. In more recent times, however, gold panning has once become a popular hobby in the area, and with good results.

Cache Creek’s empty buildings are long gone, but the historic cemetery remains. The graves consist of many residents from Cache Creek, but also Granite and other places. They include pioneer families, but also victims from some of the more violent crimes in Granite. Judge Elias Dyer, who was murdered in 1975, was initially buried there before being moved elsewhere. Other victims, such as  David “Scotty” Hornell whose neck was broken in 1887 during a fight with saloonkeeper and mine owner Enos Shaul, and railroad employee Pat Casey, whose throat was slit in 1888 by Niccolo Feminello, remain. Feminello, in fact, made history as the first man hanged in Chaffee County.

Other burials include that of miner Joseph Scheller who was killed in a mine cave—in in 1895, leaving behind a widow with five children. Deaths in 1898 included eighty-year-old Elizabeth Ball of Balltown and Nancy Bruner, wife of a Lake County constable. The deaths of these early pioneers shows the variety of people making up the area’s population. Some of those interred at Cache Creek have ancestors who still visit their graves today.

The townsite lies below the cemetery, where scant ruins identify buildings which appear in older images of Cache Creek. Walk behind the gate with the sign explaining about Cache Creek, and follow an old road down to access the town. From the townsite, you can also see the remains of a major flume up on the hill across the creek. This is all that remains of Cache Creek.

The Time Capsule of Crystola

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She was a classy lady, I thought to myself.

Standing there in the middle of this small, little old cabin, I saw some semblance of a comfortable home. It was there alright, nestled quietly under the dust and mess that comes when a place is abandoned. In the dim light, I strained to identify the lumps and objects laying about. Gradually, by leaning towards the light coming through the once sunny windows, the shapeless objects on either side of them became curtains. Square shapes in the shadows formed into tables and chairs. The odd piles on the floor became rugs, now covered with dirt and curled up at the edges. An assortment of papers, books, bric-a-brac and other interesting items lay scattered about.

There in the living room was a desk. The drawers still held stationary and an assortment of greeting cards for every occasion. Papers and file folders lay on top, looking as though someone had recently looked through them. But the amount of dust on them indicated otherwise. There were books too, and many were first editions. There was a lamp, also a comfortable reading chair.  A vase stood in one window, waiting for a bouquet of fresh spring flowers that never came.

Except for the dust and dirt, the tiny kitchen had been left neat as a pin. Some silverware was scattered about, but enough pots and pans remained in the cupboards for me to know that at one time, everything here had its place. A woman’s presence had kept everything orderly, from the hot pads hanging from a wall hook to the flowered little dishes above the sink.

The bedroom was, of course, most telling of all. In the closet were dresses, as well as a garment bag containing a fur coat. Clothes lay on the bed, apparently placed there as she packed to leave. I knew she was going, because a packet of old letters said so. They were lovingly tied in a bundle with a faded pink ribbon, and most of them were from a man. His return address bore an “APO, New York” address, telling me his mail came through a central Army post office because he was overseas. The letters were interesting, telling of this man’s adventures but also saying how much he missed her. He couldn’t wait for the day they would be together, he said. As that day grew closer, the letters became even more emphatic.

The last letter lay loose, placed purposely on the bedside table. Either it had not been tied into the bundle with the others, or it fell out. I turned it over, and saw the envelope had never been opened.

I held onto the letter as I wandered back to the living room. My imagination fairly ran wild thinking about what it might say. Why didn’t she open it? Should I open it? Who was this lady, anyway? My fingers ran over the papers on the desk. Some bore the classic archaic letters of an old typewriter. There were forms in the folders, also hand-outs and a resume which told me her name. The resume also revealed that at one time, she was Dean of the Women’s College at Colorado College.

“Aha,” I said aloud, and nodded. This explained a lot. The funky little cabin had originally been built by pioneers long ago. Later, this place and several others were offered as a retreat for college professors. Had she come to the retreat and left for an emergency? Was she on sabbatical, or perhaps retired? All of her things were here; why had she left them behind? And what became of the mystery man who promised to love her forever?

I looked again at the unopened letter in my hand. The answers to my questions may be inside. With a sigh, I carefully tore the envelope open. A single sheet was enclosed, folded with the ink on the other side. As I turned it over and began reading, my heart fairly sang for this woman, now long dead and who never knew me. “My dear,” read the letter. “If you don’t get this letter, it is because you are on your way to meet me in New York. I cannot wait for the day I can hold you in my arms, my sweet, and we will begin our lives together at last.”

After some minutes, I put the letter back in the envelope and laid it carefully on her papers. Looking around one last time, I smiled at her fortune and the fact that yes, dreams really can come true. Closing the door behind me was like closing a good book, one that you want to go back to again and again. But I knew the story would never be told the way it was that day.

Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms: Introduction

The following excerpt is from the book Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and arcadiapublishing.com.

~2003 Cripple Creek District Last of Colorado's Gold Booms best

Who would have thought that a cow pasture could yield millions of dollars in gold and spawn a city so large it rivaled Denver for the state capitol? Bob Womack did, and it is his determination we have to thank for the historic Cripple Creek District we see today.

Upon arriving during the 1870’s, Robert M. Womack’s family established a cattle ranch near what is today Cripple Creek. Wandering the hills daily, Bob’s prior prospecting experience led to his discovery of gold. Womack’s dream of a booming gold camp was finally realized in 1891.

By 1893, the city of Cripple Creek was in a constant state of progress with new construction, new stage roads and a growing population. Telephones, telegraph lines and even electricity had been installed, making Cripple Creek one of the first cities in the nation to have such modern amenities.
Within three years, Cripple Creek’s population had grown to 10,000 residents. Several more camps, towns and cities were springing up in the District. Passengers on the newly constructed Midland Terminal Railroad rolled into a typical frontier town at both Cripple Creek and Victor. Both towns were filled with wooden false-front buildings containing banks, mercantiles, saloons, churches, opera houses, schools, boarding houses, restaurants, mining and real estate offices, hardware and furniture stores, laundries, news stands, drugstores, bakeries, brothels and assay offices. Every imaginable business prospered in the District, and the wise investor stood little chance of losing money.

Fire, an ever imposing threat on boom towns across the country, was inevitable in the Cripple Creek District. Of Cripple Creek’s three early fires, two stand out as crucial turning points in the city’s development. During a four day period in April of 1896, two separate conflagrations nearly destroyed the town. In the aftermath of the first fire, over 3,600 people lost their homes and businesses as 15 acres went up in smoke. During the second blaze, all but two buildings on Bennett Avenue burned, as well as a good portion of the residential District. Thousands more were homeless and seeking shelter in makeshift tents and neighboring towns.

What could have been the demise of any other town was a mixed blessing for Cripple Creek. Within four years a bigger, better city rose from the ashes. The town rebuilt in solid brick and the city lost its rough and shabby frontier town look. A random stroll down any avenue revealed a city bustling with business. Here, one could purchase fine china at the May Co. or the best meal in the state at the National Hotel. A number of saloons, gambling halls, dance halls and parlor houses fairly seethed with life.

The District’s second largest city, Victor, also suffered a fire in August of 1899. In its wake, residents of Cripple Creek and other nearby towns came to the rescue. This time, Frank and Harry Woods hired a variety of builders, including Denver architect Matthew Lockwood McBird. Within just a few months, Victor also rebuilt into a fine working class city. By 1900, investors from around the world were flocking to the Cripple Creek District as mines produced more millions than anyone had imagined.

By the turn of the last century, the Cripple Creek District had become a household word not only across America, but all over the world. Everyone knew where Cripple Creek was, and many yearned to seek their fortunes there. Among those celebrities hailing from the District were boxer Jack Dempsey, travel writer and radio personality Lowell Thomas, Colorado Governor Ralph Carr, and nightclub queen Texas Guinan. Famous visitors to the District included Theodore Roosevelt, Groucho Marx, Lily Langtree, and a number of musicians and movie stars.

Two labor wars occurred in the Cripple Creek District. The first, in 1893, settled in favor of the miners. The second labor war was much more violent. Riots and gunfights broke out as striking miners were deported by train to the state borders. There were deaths, injuries and inhumane acts. At one point, a Gatling gun was temporarily installed in the middle of Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek as a deterrent to violence. By the time the strikes were settled statewide in about 1907, the mines were thought to be playing out and people began leaving the District in search of greener pastures.

Thankfully, some of the pioneer families who called the District home for decades chose to stay, living in what was left of the District even as it decayed under their feet. Through both World War I and II, the cities and towns continued to shrink as buildings were dismantled for use in reconstruction or firewood. Others simply sank into the ground under the weight of winter snows and age. As a result, only three towns exist today: Cripple Creek, Victor and the District’s third largest city, Goldfield. Each are roughly about 1/5 of their original size. Roughly four ghost towns remain visible to the naked eye, with several others either completely gone or buried forever under mine tailings.

Beginning in the late 1940’s and continuing into the 1980’s, the District evolved into a quaint tourist destination. Then in about 1989, Cripple Creek and other towns like it began considering legalized gambling to save their historic integrity. A century after its birth, Cripple Creek’s rebirth came in the form of limited stakes gaming. Alongside the gaming came the Cripple Creek & Victor Mine, which is currently the largest open pit mine in the state.

Today, fifteen casinos line Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek, and the city is ten years into its second boom in 100 years. The city of Victor is surviving as a non-gaming tourist attraction with a healthy residential population, while Goldfield has melded into a quiet bedroom community with no commercial businesses. Live music, street festivals and a series of other events take place regularly within the District. Many of them, such as Donkey Derby Days and Gold Rush Days, are traditions dating back as long as 70 years; others are new events spawned out of the need for tourism. True to its heritage, the Cripple Creek District continues to be a wonderful year-round destination for residents and visitors of all ages.

Hagerman Pass, Colorado Makes An Easy and Beautiful Trek

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in the Colorado Gambler Magazine and Colorado Central Magazine.

Just one of the great things about living in Colorado are the striking views. Indeed, the state offers amazing mountain vistas quite unlike anywhere else on earth. And, where best to take in awe inspiring views than from a pleasing array of historic mountain passes? The pioneers of yesterday blazed their trails over rough and unforgiving terrain in search of gold, prosperity and new lives. Their efforts have resulted in numerous passes today that range from smooth and easy to challenging and dangerous. Hagerman Pass falls into the category of the former, offering a delightful mountain journey steeped in history.

Hagerman Pass is named for John J. Hagerman, builder of the Colorado Midland Railroad. The pass traverses the Continental Divide along the Sawatch Mountain Range west of Leadville. Here, the headwaters of the Arkansas River connect with the upper valley of the Frying Pan River above Basalt. In the years preceding Hagerman and his famous railroad, the pass was known as Frying Pan and had served as a foot trail between Leadville and the community of Basalt.

Hagerman himself hailed from Michigan and Wisconsin. In one of those places he contracted tuberculosis, high-tailing it to Colorado on his doctor’s advice in 1884. By then he had already amassed at least some of his fortune, and Colorado seemed like the right place to spend it. Using his forthright business knowledge, Hagerman invested in mines around Leadville and Aspen and soon had even more money. Before long he was building the Colorado Midland Railroad, intended to be the biggest and best standard gauge rails in Colorado.

With a peak elevation of 11,925 feet, the old Frying Pan Pass proved quite challenging when Hagerman decided to extend the Colorado Midland Railroad tracks over it in 1887. Ultimately the high-mountain trail proved impossible for railroad construction, so Hagerman decided to construct a tunnel underneath it instead. Many of the immigrants Hagerman hired to build the tunnel were Italians who settled at Douglass City, a shanty settlement that is still accessible along the Hagerman Hiking Trail. The town once hosted eight saloons, a dance hall and, allegedly, a post office—all clustered together on one main street.

For a time, Douglass City gained a reputation as being one of the rowdiest new towns in Colorado. There were no schools, churches, police or firemen. But there was a lot of wine and other libations. Soiled doves who were too jaded to work down in Leadville made their way to Douglass City, and shoot-outs and knife fights were common. According to author Marshall Sprague, the community met its end when the tunnel’s dynamite powder house blew up by accident.

On the other end of Hagerman Tunnel was Ivanhoe, an even more uncomfortable town in which to live. The small camp was named for nearby Lake Ivanhoe, so-named by a Scotsman who thought it resembled Loch Ivanhoe in Scotland. Ivanhoe’s post office was established on April 26, 1888 and ran until June 13, 1894 as a postal and passenger station along the railroad. By then there were several cabins and railroad buildings there, but not much else in the way of accommodations.

Paying his laborers at Douglass City and Ivanhoe was just a fraction of Hagerman’s expenses. Shipping oak railroad ties from Missouri, bringing materials from Chicago and freighting everything over the rough roads from Leadville cost plenty. Also, Colorado’s tough winters didn’t help. When finished, the tunnel ran 2,151 feet from its beginnings over to Lake Ivanhoe and was soon heralded as the highest railroad tunnel in the world. It had also cost roughly $80,000 per mile to build, making it the most expensive road built to date. Construction on the railroad included two trestles, one of which spanned 1,100 feet and was 84 feet high. When complete, however, the new addition made the record books as the first standard-gauge railroad to traverse the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

In spite of the initial accolades, Hagerman Tunnel’s fame was short-lived. The Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel had replaced it by 1893. This latter tunnel began construction in 1891. Admittedly, there were some advantages over the Hagerman: the Busk-Ivanhoe was lower in elevation, and thirteen snowsheds would help the trains travel through during heavy winters. A tiny working community, known as Busk, had established a post office in December of 1890 in anticipation of building the tunnel. But such an undertaking proved costly.

During construction of the tunnel, several workers died. Among them were John Carlson, killed by falling rock in April of 1891 and Morris Donahue and George Hoffman, killed by an explosion in May. A man named Moore Allen was considered fatally injured in another accident later that month. When yet another man was crushed by falling rock in February of 1892, newspapers began calling the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel “the greatest life destroyer in the state.” Even more accidental deaths were reported through 1893, when the tunnel neared completion. During one ill-timed explosion in April, five men were killed at once.

The post office at Busk closed in 1894, shortly after the tunnel was completed. Hagerman had by then turned his attentions to Cripple Creek, where he had made several investments. His Isabella Gold Mine was coming under fire in the wake of Cripple Creek’s first labor wars, and Hagerman was called upon to represent other mine owners during negotiations. Soon the Santa Fe Railroad had become involved in the operations on Hagerman Pass. Promoters of the railroad were glad to announce that the new tunnel cut a full ten miles off of the trip to Salt Lake City, Utah—only a slight gain considering how many lives were lost building it.

Then in February of 1896, residents at Ivanhoe were witness to a train wreck. On the way from Leadville to Basalt, the train struck a rock in the track during a wild blizzard and the engine overturned. Engineer John Mead was crushed to death under the engine and the train was forced to return to Leadville until the tracks could be cleared. Despite the tragedy, an assessment of the company in June of 1896 valued the railroad at $6,000 per mile.

In 1897 the Colorado Midland took over operations of the Busk-Ivanhoe. Again, it was an expensive endeavor. At a cost of $1,250,000, questions were raised over repayment options on the loans needed to build the tunnel. For a time the old Hagerman Tunnel was brought back into use until negotiations could be settled. And in 1899, severe snows stopped traffic over the pass altogether from January 27 until late April.

By then Hagerman, whose investments in his Cripple Creek mines, property throughout Teller and El Paso Counties and even business dabblings New Mexico had brought him even more wealth, had sold almost all of his business interests to his son, Percy. John Hagerman died in Italy in 1909. Despite troubles with ownership and the expenses involved, the Colorado Midland continued chugging from Leadville to Basalt for a few more years. Ivanhoe’s post office reopened again in July of 1899 and lasted until 1912. Then it opened a third time in 1913, this time lasting until 1918 when the railroad was abandoned.

When the Colorado Midland Railroad abandoned its tracks over Hagerman Pass, Cripple Creek millionaire Albert E. Carlton stepped in. Carlton’s wealth first came from freighting and later from his many mine investments in the Cripple Creek District, and he had long ago become president of Cripple Creek’s First National Bank. The capitalist purchased the failed Colorado Midland shortly after it closed, took up the rails along Hagerman Pass and converted the rail bed into a wagon road at a cost of $25,000.

The road was next designated an official state automobile route and the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel was renamed the Carlton (spelled Carleton) in about 1924. The road ultimately fell into disuse when easier roads were built over the Continental Divide. In 1943, the tunnel was closed for good, but the old trail over Hagerman Pass had been sufficiently widened enough for continued access from Leadville to Basalt.

Today, Hagerman Pass is still highly accessible from Turquoise Lake near Leadville. The road follows the former Colorado Midland tracks as far as Hagerman Tunnel before veering off. Hikers can also still access the original railroad bed. Skinner Hut and Betty Bear Hut, built as part of the 10th Mountain Division Trail System, are available for use in both summer and winter. In Colorado Springs, the 1885 Hagerman Mansion on Cascade Avenue has been an apartment house since 1927, but is still exemplary of the grandiose projects Hagerman so struggled to complete.

The fantastic views from Hagerman Pass are complimented by remnants from its days as a railroad. Photo by Jan MacKell Collins.

The fantastic views from Hagerman Pass are complimented by remnants from its days as a railroad. Photo by Jan MacKell Collins.

Nighthawk Colorado: A Fallen Resort Town

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine in 2006.

 Long before the appearance of prospectors and white settlers, Indians had long enjoyed the virtues of the South Platte River, a gentle but wide waterway that cuts through the central and northeastern portion of Colorado. When Anglo Americans discovered the river as early as the 1830’s, they too enjoyed its ample fishing holes, scented pines, picturesque valleys and fresh mountain air.

By 1876 the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad was laying its rails along the South Platte. From Denver, the railroad traveled south through Buffalo Creek, Pine and eventually to Leadville. The South Platte branch of the area in Jefferson County soon blossomed to include a number of small communities. Among them was the actual hamlet of South Platte, landmarked by the South Platte Hotel. The hotel sat just 11 miles east of Buffalo Creek and 16 miles north of Deckers. It was a two-story wood frame affair with an upper balcony skirting the front of the building. Along the top, visible for some distance, was the sign reading “South Platte Hotel”.

Both the hotel and a tiny depot were located at the confluence of the north and south forks of the South Platte River. For unknown reasons, South Platte was alternately known as Symes. A post office under that name opened February 9, 1887. By May of 1896, there were no less than 500 mining claims around South Platte as more communities came into existence. One of these was Nighthawk. The small town with the intriguing name was located in such a beautiful area that promoters soon envisioned it as a prominent tourist resort.

 At an elevation of 6,200′, Nighthawk was located in Douglas County on the banks of the south section of the South Platte River. Most historical annals identify Nighthawk as a mining camp, although in reality the community was meant to become one of many premier resorts Colorado was so famous for. Located just 33 miles from Denver by train or 40 miles by wagon road, the place offered a unique getaway for city dwellers. Nighthawk’s only newspaper, the Mountain Echo, premiered on July 10, 1897. The paper was published each Saturday under the direction of editor T.C. Knowles and business manager H.C. Wood. During its short lifetime, the paper was the only periodical within a 25 mile radius. Subscriptions to the paper were initially $1 per year.

By 1897, the Nighthawk Town, Mining & Improvement Company was already in place with an office in Denver. One F. Alley was employed as general manager. Douglas Avenue appears to have been the main drag. From the South Platte depot, along what was alternately known as the South Park Road, stages met the trains and took passengers the remaining 4 ½ miles to Nighthawk. The fare from Denver cost between $1.25 and $1.70.

 Although advertisements fairly screamed for folks to come to Nighthawk for pleasure (Tell Your Friends About Nighthawk!”), there were still a few mines. The Caledonia Gold Mine was among the most prominent, owned and operated by the Nighthawk Mining and Milling Company, Inc. with E.T. Hanna serving as its authorized agent. Other mines included the Agnes and the Kitty Clyde. Although Nighthawk never had a government post office, daily mail service from South Platte was available by July 17, 1897. Hanna distributed mail from a small postal station and sold camping supplies.

 Promoters at Nighthawk certainly worked fast. Editorials promoting the new town talked lovingly about the “towering and craggy mountains” and “tall and stately pines” surrounding the area. Ample fishing, hordes of berry bushes, abundant wildflowers and even the nearby Strontia Mineral Springs completed the picturesque description of Nighthawk.

By August of 1897 one could find accommodations at the Craggie View Hotel or the local boarding house at Nighthawk. A.J. Dugger was offering general blacksmithing and wagon work at Douglas Avenue and Pine Creek Street. A month later C.B. Derby opened a store with “groceries and provisions at Denver prices.” A carnival was held in October, followed by the premier of the Nighthawk General Merchandise Co. and Miss Annie Vermillion’s Post Office Store with confections and stationery. Interestingly, most residents did not live in Nighthawk proper, but rather along Sugar Creek just south of town.

Nighthawk continued to blossom. In November I.P. Cleary opened a feed and livery stable and a Miss Harger began teaching school there. Sunday School children also could catch services in nearby Trumball. Residents celebrated with a turkey shoot. The Mountain Echo also reported on railroad tycoon David H. Moffat and Eben Smith’s plans to construct an electric power plant at Goldfield in the Cripple Creek Mining District some 60 miles away. Doing so would require building a dam on the South Platte near Nighthawk. Such an endeavor would not only be a feat for the 19th century; it would also bring Nighthawk into the limelight even more.

In February of 1898 mining prospects must have been looking better, judging by the appearance of Mining Engineer A.F. Polhamus at the nearby community of Daffodil some nine miles from Nighthawk. Nearly next door at Trumbull, miners could party the night away at the Miner’s Home Saloon run by C.P. Combs or another tavern operated by J.S. Gardner, or get a .25 cent meal and a room at Mrs. M.M. Smith’s Half Way Restaurant. Fatty Miller also opened the Palace Saloon at West Creek, offering keg beer and lunches. By April, Charles F. Denison was selling Hercules powder, fuse and caps at Nighthawk.

Cripple Creek was mentioned in conjunction with Nighthawk again in April of 1898 when it was announced that any new rails from Cripple Creek to Denver would surely pass through Nighthawk. Then in 1899, the Denver, Cripple Creek & Southwestern Railroad purchased right of ways for a “Nighthawk Branch” and began constructing a spur.

By January of 1899, Mrs. J.E. Pitts was running Trumball’s Half Way Restaurant and directing travelers to Nighthawk. Then on January 31, the Symes post office finally changed its name to South Platte. Such small changes were early signs of a developing metropolis, but it was never to be. The last issue of the Mountain Echo was published in February of 1899. By then, ads reading “Come to Nighthawk” almost seemed like pleas. Town promoters switched their ads, asking folks to “buy lots in Nighthawk” to the West Creek Mining News.

Nighthawk did continue to experience limited success for the next several years. In October 1899 W.H. McMahon opened yet another general merchandise store there, and in 1900 James Kelly was running a huge boarding house on Sugar Creek with 38 lodgers. More communities, such as the resort of Bethesda, popped up near Nighthawk as the Nighthawk Branch of the railroad began service in 1902.

In spite of all efforts to turn Nighthawk into a vacationer’s dream, for some reason the town just failed to catch on. By about 1910 only a few structures were left at Nighthawk. Photographs of the community show two frame structures identified as the post office and a dance hall, with a tent reposing on the site of the Craggie View Hotel. A stable that once serviced the hotel was also still standing. A few broken down cabins and a gabled home are also depicted. By then only a few residents were left, among them mail carrier J.C. MacDonald and sawmill laborer Hugh Kendall. Roughly 70 people were living along Sugar Creek.

Railroad service to Nighthawk ceased in 1916. By 1920 there were only 35 people left at Nighthawk, most of them farmers. Both Nighthawk and Bethesda appeared on 1923 maps, though merely as place names. Only 26 residents lived at Nighthawk in 1930, including school teacher Minnie Norman. The South Platte post office closed September 15, 1937. A year later, the railroad through South Platte ceased operations.

 Soon the remaining cabins in and around Nighthawk became nothing more than summer homes. Today the road through South Platte is a part of the Colorado Trail. At Nighthawk, a few occupied buildings are visible in the trees above the road. Many areas along the river still serve as ideal camping and picnic spots. In their own small way, Nighthawk and South Platte still survive as the resort areas they were meant to be.

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While summer homes accommodate part time residents at Nighthawk, almost all of the original buildings are now gone. One exception is the schoolhouse which is now a private home. Only an interpretive sign at the townsite informs travelers as to what was once there.

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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