Colorado's history in mining, milling and farming is on full display throughout the Rocky Mountains, as many of the remnants of towns that once were remain on the hillsides and nestled in valleys.
These ghost towns are either completely abandoned or contain a tiny fraction of its original population. It's no surprise that these places have sparked curiosities and become destinations for explorers and historians.
Colorado’s abandoned mines pose many dangers. This program works to protect them
Here is a list of some of Colorado's ghost towns, from their beginnings to their endings:
Ashcroft, a silver mining camp that is now a ghost town, was about 10 miles up Castle Creek Road from Aspen.
For a time, Ashcroft actually rivaled Aspen as a growing town.
In the spring of 1880, prospectors Charles B. Culver and W. F. Coxhead left Leadville to look for silver in the Castle Creek Valley. They eventually gathered a group in the area, which they deemed Castle Forks City. Within just a couple weeks, they formed a Miner’s Protective Association, built a courthouse and laid out streets, according to the Aspen Historical Society.
Three years later, in 1883, the camp was home for about 2,000 people, which was bigger than Aspen at the time and closer to the railroad in Crested Butte.
But soon the mines ran dry and strikes in Aspen lured investors and workers away from the area. Just 100 people remained in Ashcroft by 1885, the historical society said. At the turn of the century, only a few men were left.
The 10th Mountain Division used Ashcroft for its mountaineering training during the summer of 1942.
In 1948, Stuart Mace, a World War II veteran, decided to devote his life to protecting the area. The Aspen Historical Society joined him in this effort in 1974 and Ashcroft became a National Register Historic Site.
Several historical buildings, including a saloon, post office and hotel still stand.
Several miles up the 4x4 Henson Creek and Engineer Pass road is Capitol City, which was once named Galena City.
At one point, there were dreams of establishing this as Colorado's capital — a goal for George S. Lee, who wanted to invest in the state's future. Within the area, he built a home in the 1870s, as well as the Henson Creek smelter and sawmill.
The name of the town was changed to Capitol City, but it, of course, never became the state's capitol.
However, Capitol City did have 200 acres that encompassed hotels, restaurants, saloons, a post office, a schoolhouse and several homes. The population peaked at 800, according to Lake City.
That dropped alongside the price of silver. Today, the old post office and Lee's Smelter Stack are all that's left.
Visitors should be aware that there are private homes and private property in this area, and trespassing is illegal.
At nearly 12,000 feet, Carson is a high-altitude ghost town near the Continental Divide. The ghost town of Old Carson is nearby, on the other side of the divide. Neither were easily accessible, which would ultimately contribute to their downfalls.
The two old mining camps, which focused mainly on gold and silver, may be close together, but Carson is "particularly well-preserved," according to Lake City. Both ghost towns provide views of the Weminuche Wilderness Area and the Rio Grande Pyramid.
Between the long journey to the camps from Lake City, and the brutal winters up at 12,000 feet, the conditions took a toll and the town was deserted.
You can visit Carson by taking Wager Gulch Trail on a 4x4 vehicle, bicycle or by hiking from Lake City. It's off a side spur of the Alpine Loop. Be aware that Wager Gulch Trail is rough.
East of Greeley, Dearfield was the only all-Black settlement in Colorado in the early 1900s, when more than 700 people settled in. Dearfield was founded by O.T. (Oliver Toussaint) Jackson, an African American who worked for several governors as a messenger.
“He wanted to start a Black farming community,” said Dr. George Junne, an Africana Studies professor at the University of Northern Colorado. “He started off in another community and it didn't work out, so the governor at that time helped him proceed to get the land that is now Dearfield.”
However the town vanished during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl years.
Today, only three buildings remain: a gas station, diner, and the founder' home.
The Black American West Museum in Denver is currently working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the History Colorado Center to preserve the site.
“There's a lot of things that are involved in this work,” said Junne, noting how many others have worked alongside him in an effort to preserve Dearfield’s history.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. John Hickenlooper joined Rep. Ken Buck and Rep. Joe Neguse in introducing legislation last year aimed at getting the Interior Department to conduct a study on Dearfield.
Federal government to evaluate national significance of Dearfield, Colorado
“Dearfield is a testament to Black Americans who shaped Colorado’s history,” Hickenlooper said. “We must honor their legacy and educate future generations by protecting the Dearfield Homestead.”
"America must always be mindful of its past," Buck said. "We cannot properly do that if we do not preserve physical elements of our history. I appreciate the important work that the University of Northern Colorado and the Black American West Museum have done to preserve Dearfield's history thus far, and resources from the National Park Service will help this work continue for years to come."
Douglass City was a railroad — not mining — town. And it was known to be a rowdy one.
In the early 1880s, men who lived there were building the Hagerman Tunnel, trestles and the Colorado Midland Railway tracks.
A sign at the Douglass City site says it was a one street "city." The sign explains that at the Dance Hall, "the Professor played the piano while the Ladies of the evening, too jaded for Leadville, entertained and took the laborers' money."
The last sentence on the sign reads: "The wild city was the scene of drinking, shooting, fighting, knifing and other innocent pleasures."
The town reportedly did not have any schools or churches.
Today, it is a beautiful place to see wildflowers in the Sawatch Range.
The Town of Dunton was established in 1885 about 12 miles northwest of Rico. As the town built up as a mining camp, people established cabins and saloons for about a mile along the West Dolores River in a valley between modern-day Telluride and Dolores.
The town was originally a mining camp and those mines — the Emma, Smuggler and American mines — were about half a mile down the stream from the community, according to the Dunton Destinations.
The population was less than 50 until the Emma Mine was sold to Eastern investors in 1897 and the town expanded. The population likely peaked around 1905 with between 260 and 300 people.
This boom did not last long, though. Many people left by 1910 and, by 1918, Dunton was deserted.
That year, Joe and Dominica Roscio purchased the entire town and patented mining claims to operate the property as a cattle ranch. By the 1970s and 1980s, it operated as a dude ranch, which closed by the early 1990s, according to the Dunton Destinations.
In 1994, Christoph Henkel, the current owner, bought the town and spent the next seven years renovating it.
Today, Dunton — now known as Dunton Hot Springs — is a small and exclusive resort that, according to its website, "thrives on contradictions; hand-hewn log cabins exquisitely furnished, a life-worn saloon serving food of startling quality, lung-torturing trails followed by pampering massages, sensuous hot springs beneath shimmering snow banks."
It has 13 luxury cabins and the entire town can be rented for weddings.
See the ghost town that's now a luxury resort
Gilman was established in the early 1880s around 8,950 feet in Eagle County.
The first mines on the nearby Battle Mountain opened in 1879, around the silver boom. Miners from Leadville began to explore nearby mountains, which led them to the land that would become Gilman after the name of the superintendent of the Iron Mask Mine, according to Western Mining History.
The mines were built in an "unusual and difficult" position on the side of a steep cliff above the Eagle River Canyon, the organization said.
The town was bustling in 1885 and 1886 with more than 1,500 residents. It had hotels, a school, an opera house, multiple businesses and a newspaper. Fast forward a few years and just 442 people remained by the 1890 Census.
Tragedy struck in August 1900, when a fire destroyed much of Gilman — an estimated loss of $31,000. According to the reports of the fire, nobody died.
But the residents persevered and by the 1910s, miners were focusing on zinc, as the price of the metal was on the price. This expanded to include copper and silver.
The mines closed in the mid-1980s. The town, now abandoned, was designated as an EPA Superfund site in 1986 due to the toxic pollutants, which includes contamination of groundwater.
Gilman is completely on private property and off-limits to the public.
In central Colorado, about four miles outside Lake City, a neglected mining town is decaying. But even though it's been decades since this boom town was producing millions in minerals, visitors can still see the homes, the mining equipment and even the outhouses left behind.
"The Ute and Ulay mines were some of the best known silver and lead producers in Colorado," according to ColoradoPreservation.org. "Between 1874 and 1903, the mines were responsible for $12 million worth of minerals which today would amount to more than $280 million in value."
The mines are in the ghost town of Henson.
The website says the mines were largely responsible for the development of nearby Lake City.
This Colorado ghost town still has homes
More than a dozen homes are still standing, including residential cabins, a blacksmith shop, a boarding house, a red-cedar water tank, and assayer’s office.
The mill was hydroelectrically powered by Henson Creek until the Hidden Treasure dam burst in 1973.
County Road 20 takes drivers right by the site. The road is part of the Alpine Loop on the Engineer Pass side. Hundreds of people in ATVs, Jeeps and other vehicles drive the scenic loop every day in the summer.
Visitors are welcome to hike the road, but are asked to stay out of the buildings.
The Town of Independence, which is 16 miles east of Aspen, was possibly named because gold was discovered there on the Fourth of July in 1879.
The Aspen Historical Society says a tent city sprung up that summer and by the following year, about 300 people called Independence home. It was the first mining site in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The Farwell Mining Company acquired most of the leading mines in the area by 1881, and by that summer, the population of Independence grew to 500 and had grocery stores, boarding houses and saloons. The following year, the town had more than 40 businesses and the population had grown to 1,500.
This was a short-lived boom though and miners were drawn away from Independence with the promise of better work and pay in Aspen.
The Aspen Historical Society said more than $190,000 worth of gold was produced between 1881 and 1882. A few years later, only 100 citizens remained.
During a storm in the winter of 1899, supply routes to Independence were cut off and the miners, who were already running out of food, had to dismantle their homes to construct 75 pairs of skis and escape to Aspen.
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Colorado ghost towns: Independence
Skip ahead to 1975 and the Aspen Historical Society was granted a permit by the U.S. Forest Service to maintain the site. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places to protect the structures that remained. The preservation efforts truly began in the 1980s.
There are interpretive signs and trails in the area. While it is free to visit, a $5 donation is suggested.
In the 1880s, nearly 2,000 people settled in the town of Forest City, later renamed St. Elmo.
Many came in search of gold and silver, while others came to run boarding houses, stores and other businesses. At one point, there were 150 patented mining claims in the St. Elmo area. The Mary Murphy Mine was the largest and most successful of them.
It recovered more than $60 million worth of gold while it was in operation.
The mine stopped operations in the 1920s and the population slowly declined afterward.
Today, the Miner's Exchange may be the most well-known and photographed building in town. It was once a saloon, but is now the St. Elmo General Store. In summer, thousands of tourists flock here for snacks and drinks.
While St. Elmo is called a ghost town, people still live there and it remains pretty accessible. There's also the Ghost Town Guest House, a Bed & Breakfast that is open yearround and a general store that sells souvenirs. The road up is unpaved, but most cars should be able to drive it without a problem.
PHOTOS: Visit an 1880s Colorado ghost town
In its heyday, the Town of Tomboy, about five miles from Telluride, was home to 1,000 residents. It was established in 1894 at 11,509 feet, according to Western Mining History.
The settlement included a school, store, stable and cabins.
The Tomboy Mine produced gold ore in 1894 before it was sold in 1897 for $2 million.
Western Mining History said "this was one of Colorado's largest alpine company mining camps, a significant community that lasted decades."
Violent crime was a recurring event here though — in September 1919, four miners were executed at the mine by a group of men during an argument.
The mine closed in 1927 and the residents flooded out, leaving behind several buildings and mining relics, according to Telluride Mountain Village.
Visitors who swing by in July and August will be treated to wildflowers on the town's north side. It can be reached by hiking or driving up Imogene Pass road (a Jeep road).
Colorado ghost towns: Tomboy Mining Camp
Vicksburg and Winfield
In Colorado's early mining days, Vicksburg was the second-largest town in Clear Creek Canyon with about 600 to 700 people, according to the City of Leadville. (This is the Clear Creek Canyon between Leadville and Buena Vista, not the one along the Front Range.)
Vicksburg was initially found when some burros — or donkeys — wandered away from their owners and led the prospectors to gold in the creek bed.
It had several buildings, including a post office, school and two billiard halls. Today, you can find a small museum open on the weekends during the summer.
A little farther down the canyon is Winfield, which was once home to several mining camps in the late 1880s. Its 120 acres were split into small parcels, which were given away for free to anybody who wanted to build on them, according to the City of Leadville.
Skip ahead nine years and the town had attracted 1,500 people and had three saloons, three stores, a post office, a miller, a smelter, a church and a school. Multiple mines were within walking distance, including Crescent Mining Camp, Tasmania Mine, Swiss Boy Mine, Fortune Mine, and Banker Mine.
The school and a cabin, now used as a museum, still remain.
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