Tag Archives: Silver Plume Colorado

Silver Plume, a Worthwhile Visit

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

As mining booms hit areas just west of Denver during the 1870’s, a number of satellite towns, communities and camps sprang up. The best known of these was Georgetown, surrounded by places such as Bakerville, Graymont, a stage stop 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, Sidneyville, another railroad stop on the Argentine Central Railroad upon its completion in 1905; Silver Dale with its Upper Dale and Lower Dale; Waldorf, site of the world’s highest steam railroad when the Argentine Central Railroad was built, and of course Silver Plume.

Established in 1870, Silver Plume quickly became a lively sister city to Georgetown with a population of 2,000 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 and its silver production, however, the name Silver Plume likely was given for the 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. Both mines ended up in court and the Pelican eventually won. The suddenly unemployed miners of the Dives may have had the last laugh, however, absconding with six coffins filled with high grade ore and disguised as dead miners.

Other mines around Silver Plume 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 with rooms to rent, 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 rockslide in 1912.

Silver Plume boasted 1,500 people in 1890. Following the Silver Crash of 1893, both Georgetown and Silver Plume began their decline. During Colorado’s tourism boom during the late 20th century, both towns saw a revival in their economies as visitors flocked to the historic towns and explored the area. While Georgetown remains larger and more often visited today, Silver Plume is a must-see destination almost directly across Interstate 70.

Georgetown & Silver Plume, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Gambler Magazine

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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).

A Quick Look at Colorado’s Central Mining Belt

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Gold! Silver! Lead! Quartz! Copper! Zinc! Colorado’s newly arriving prospectors could shout any one of these symbolic words of fortune in 1858 and mean nearly the same place.

The Colorado Gold Rush is actually attributed to three Native Americans who passed through the territory on their way to the California goldfields. After failing to find fortune on their own two Cherokee men, Lewis Ralston and John Beck, had joined a gold party coming through Colorado. Somewhere in the vicinity of today’s Interstate 70 the men, along with a Delaware Indian named Fall Leaf, collected some gold dust. For some reason, however, the men chose not to stay in the area and the exact site of their discovery remains a mystery.

Before long, white men made the discovery of gold official. Their names were William Green Russell and John H. Gregory, the latter of which created the rush to Central City and the surrounding region. As the first official gold rush in Colorado, the area now traversed by Interstate 70 just 20 miles west of Denver boomed into one gigantic mining region in just a short time. With the formation of Boulder, Clear Creek and Gilpin Counties in November of 1861, a bucket full of towns sprang up all along the I-70 corridor. Their economies were based on any number of minerals while serving as supply towns, rest and railroad stops. By 1886, would-be prospectors could expect to visit a number of promising cities. There was gold at Alice, American City, Arrow, Central City, Gilson Gulch, Mountain City, Nevadaville and Yankee Hill.

More gold, but silver also, could be found in and around places like Brownsville, Empire and Idaho Springs, which also offered such modern day amenities of the time as eating houses, hotels and supplies. Other silver meccas included Caribou, Fall River, Freeland, Silver Creek, Silver Dale and Silver Plume. Silver Plume also contained lead deposits, as did the sinful city of Cardinal with its many saloons and brothels. Other minerals, including zinc and copper, could be found at Cardinal as well as the town of Hessie. And there were even more towns to choose from, such as the trading center of Apex, Baltimore, the milltown of Blackhawk, Georgetown, Gilpin, Lawson, Nederland, Ninety Four, Nugget and Rollinsville.

Despite being located in such close proximity and within about a 40 mile radius, these early towns that shaped Colorado were rough and tumble, varying in economy, services, morals and values. Their residents were a hardy bunch who risked everything to make their dreams come true in the Rocky Mountains. The number of stories to drift out of “them thar hills” are equal to or greater than the amount of mineral produced. And the history they left behind is more fascinating than anything one could imagine.

Today, most of the towns along the mineral belt are ghosts, but their importance has not been overshadowed. The picturesque towns and cities of Idaho Springs, Georgetown and Silver Plume, with off-shoots to Central City, Blackhawk, Rollinsville and Nederland, survive today as a tribute to Colorado=s heritage, as well as the gold and minerals that made it all possible.

The Gregory Diggings in 1859, as portrayed in Crofutt's Gripsack Guide to Colorado

The Gregory Diggings in 1859, as portrayed in Crofutt’s Gripsack Guide to Colorado