The 1849 California Gold Rush is well known, but a decade later the first Colorado Gold Rush was even bigger. As in California, mining camps sprang up overnight and they soon turned into fast growing towns. Then the ore ran out or commodity prices fell, the mines closed and people drifted away leaving behind a ghost town. The scale of the Colorado Gold Rush means that Colorado has a fine selection of ghost towns, read on and see what you think of this small selection.
St. Elmo mining Ghost Town
A mining camp sprang up here in 1878 and by 1880 it was known as the town of Forest City. The US Post Office didn’t like the name as there were already several other places called Forest City so the name was changed to St. Elmo. At its peak, the town had more than 2,000 residents but in the 1920s the last mine and the railroad closed and with them went most of the population. Nowadays only one family lives in the town throughout the year. A fire on April 17, 2002 destroyed the Town Hall and Jail together with five other buildings out of the 40 still standing. The Town Hall/Jail has since been rebuilt by the Buena Vista Heritage Museum.
If you think this looks a bit big for a ghost town, you would be right. Cripple Creek is only a partial ghost town. It still has plenty of residents and a lot of shops, but the town was once much, much bigger with a population of over 35,000. Some signs of this are visible in the picture, but when in the town you can clearly see the signs of an old grid pattern of roads extending over the empty hillside. Nowadays Cripple Creek is primarily a tourist town with legalised gambling as its main source of income.
Independence is only one of many names used by this town, it was also at different times known as Chipeta, Mammoth City, Mount Hope, Farwell, Sparkill and Hunter’s Pass. Gold was found here in 1879 and by 1882 a town had sprung up with a population of 1,500. Life was not easy at an elevation of 3,300 metres (10,900 feet) with snow on the ground for the majority of the year. Miners found the life hard and many drifted away to the warmer climate of Aspen, just 21 kilometres (13 miles) away. The final straw was an exceptional storm in the winter in 1899 which cut off the supply routes to Independence. With food running out the miners made skis using timber taken from their homes to enable them to escape to Aspen.
Just 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Aspen is a ghost town that might have been what Aspen is today. Castle Forks City was founded as a silver mining town in 1880. By 1883 it had a population of over 2,000 and had been renamed Ashcroft. The ore ran out and by 1900 there were just a few residents left. In the 1930s there were plans to develop Ashcroft as a Ski Resort with an aerial tramway up Mount Hayden but World War II brought this to a halt. After the war it was Aspen that became a Ski Resort, leaving Ashcroft a ghost town.
Anaconda started as three mining camps called Barry, Mound City and Squaw Gulch. By the mid 1894 they had merged to become the thriving town of Anaconda with a population of more than 1,000 people. The nearby Mary McKinney Mine was very productive, extracting gold worth more than eleven million dollars. By the turn of the 20th century the town was in decline and a 1904 fire obliterated most of it. Now the last remaining building building is an old blacksmiths shop, as seen in this picture taken from the Cripple Creek & Victor Railroad.
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Boarding house, Alta
Alta is about 20 kilometres (12 miles) by road from Telluride. It is a ghost mining camp rather than a ghost town founded after Jack Mann discovered gold here in 1878. Most of the buildings are in a poor condition. At an altitude of around 3,600 metres (11,800 feet) in the San Juan Mountains, the climate is harsh and abandoned buildings soon crumble. This picture shows the Boarding House, one of the few buildings that in 2008 was still reasonably intact.
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