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.