c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Gambler Magazine
The famed Georgetown Loop, as seen in the 1800’s.
Georgetown (also once known as George’s Town), was called the “Silver Queen of the Rockies”. In about 1860, the fledgling mining camp was located next to another early camp known as Elizabethtown. The connection between the two was literally relative: Elizabethtown was named for Elizabeth Griffith; Georgetown was named for Elizabeth’s brother George. A third sibling, David Griffith, missed out.
Both Georgetown and Elizabethtown were combined during a public meeting in about 1864, when the growing city became simply known as Georgetown—Colorado’s first silver city. It is said George actually preferred Elizabethtown, and that his town lots were offered free to the first 10 “respectable women” to call Georgetown home. At the time, the town only sported four cabins. Clearly, however, the city wanted to build everything in high taste with plenty of class and culture.
By the mid-1860’s Georgetown was boasting a population of over 2000 residents, with the post office opening in June of 1866. Soon after, the prestigious McClellan House was built. Early Georgetown boasted every modern amenity required in a boomtown: brothels, churches, gambling halls, saloons, schools and shops. Four fire stations and even gardens were almost immediately in the works. Even today, gardens seem essential to Georgetown residents The town was officially incorporated in January of 1868. An opera house was built in 1869. Precious metals were mined from around the hillsides, netting $200 million dollars during its boom.
Georgetown kept striving for decency. The women of the town succeeded in turning Barne’s Saloon Hall into a Women’s Christian Temperance Union hall, and the County Courthouse supplied its jurors with real rocking chairs. Still, the town had to deal with the realities of any western mining town; the first resident of the cemetery was a hanged man. Georgetown also had its share of questionable characters. They included Mattie Silks, who would later become a reigning madam in Denver, as well as the eccentric and refined Louis Dupuy. An alleged army deserter in both France and America, Dupuy had left a long trail of woes, as well as his real name of Adlophe Francois Gerard, behind him. They said he was sued for plagiarism in New York.
Whatever his real story was, Dupuy was working as a miner in Georgetown by 1869. After being injured while saving another miner’s life, he was given money from the town fund for injured miners and opened a store which eventually grew into a lavish hotel. Dupuy was very selective about his guests. He refused to pay taxes and had little use for American “barbarians”, choosing instead to give them an education in fine dining, table manners and the art of civilized conversation. The hotel, later known as Hotel de Paris, eventually gained national recognition for its fine accommodations—including fine wine but no tavern—and is now a museum.
Homes, some of which seemed to hang off Georgetown’s hillsides, reminded travel writer Isabella Bird of a Swiss colony when she visited in 1873. A second opera house was installed in the Cushman Block in 1876. The depot came along in 1877, built along the Colorado Central Railroad. In 1880 the Union Pacific Railroad took over operations, followed by the Colorado & Southern in 1898. From Georgetown, Central City was accessed via the gold towns of Alice and Yankee Hill. Alice was the largest of the camps located along Fall River. Yankee Hill started in the early 1880’s and was named by northern sympathizers from the Civil War. It was also the mill site of the Gold Anchor Mine in 1905.
By 1880, Georgetown’s population was 4,000. Its prestigious mansions included one built by W.A. Hammill of the Pelican-Dives Mine at Silver Plume. In 1882 Jay Gould of the Colorado Central Railroad constructed the Georgetown Loop, a railroad to to Leadville, which proved very popular. Equally popular were upwards of 20 traveling theatrical attractions during the 1881—1882 season. A rousing and crowded performance by Madame Janauschek, however, proved to be to hard on the beams holding the Cushman opera house together and it was condemned.
By 1887, Georgetown’s population had soared to 3,301. Even after Louis Dupuy passed away in 1900, his Hotel de Paris continued to operate at the hands of his friend, Madame Sophie Galet. Theirs had been the most tempestuous of relationships, and despite frequent loud and heated arguments, there was clearly no one Dupuy would have rather left his hotel kingdom to.
Towns around Georgetown included the mining towns of Bakerville, the stagestop of Graymont that eventually turned railroad stop and later resort; another resort town called Green Lake; Lawson with its Six Mile House; Magnet with its Magnet Mine; Pomeroyville, Santiago, Silver Dale with its Upper Dale and Lower Dale, and Waldorf, site of the world’s highest steam railroad when the Argentine Central Railroad was completed in 1905. Sidneyville was a stop along that railroad.
Although most of those early towns are no more, one of the survivors lies just across today’s Interstate 70 from Georgetown. Established in 1870, Silver Plume quickly became a lively sister city to Georgetown with a population of 2000 miners and their families. Tall-tale tellers used to claim the town was named for politician James G. Blaine, who in the 1890’s was known as the “Plumed Knight”. Given its date of birth however, the name Silver Plume likely sprang like so many plume-like silver streaks from the rocks in the hills above town.
Silver Plume’s biggest dilemma of the 1870’s was when it was discovered that two mines, the Pelican and the Dives, were located on the same vein of silver. Lawsuits ensued. The Pelican eventually won, but upon departing the Dives employees absconded with six coffins filled with high grade ore and disguised as dead miners.
Other area mines produced such valuable minerals as gold, lead, zinc, copper and granite. There was a theater, two churches, a school and several stores at Silver Plume. When the railroad came in 1877, Silver Plume enjoyed even more success. The town finally incorporated in 1880. Immediately, such state of the art structures as the New Windsor Hotel, Ma Buckley’s House and a jailhouse arose. These buildings luckily survived an 1884 fire that consumed over 50 buildings in and around the business district.
Nearby suburbs such as Bakerville and Brownsville utilized Silver Plume as their main supply town. Brownsville in particular was subject to rock slides and avalanches, succumbing to a final slide in 1912. Silver Plume boasted 1,500 people in 1890.
Following the Silver Crash of 1893, both Georgetown and Silver Plume began their decline. Both the Colorado Southern and the Georgetown Loop stopped operations in 1939. The Loop was torn down in 1939, but reconstruction began in 1976. The project was completed in 1984 and reigns once more among Georgetown’s most popular attractions. Also, thanks to the efforts of Historic Georgetown Inc., Georgetown has suffered the least amount of destruction to its historic buildings when compared to its contemporaries. In February of 2006, concerned residents successfully nominated the Georgetown School, circa 1870’s, to Colorado Preservation Inc.’s Endangered Places List and set about raising funds to restore the neglected building.
Georgetown has retained every bit of its historic charm and is easily accessible from Interstate 70. Those who can’t get there can still see the town in three movies that were filmed there: Every Which Way But Loose (1978), The Christmas Gift starring John Denver (1986) and Phantoms (1998).