Archive for the ‘Mines, Mills and Smelters’ Category

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Independence, Colorado is a well-preserved ghost town dating to 1879, located just below timberline on the western slope of Independence Pass between Twin Lakes and Aspen on Highway 82.

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Indpendence was named following the discovery of lode gold on July 4, 1879, it also went by the name Chipeta, in honor of Ute Chief Ouray’s wife, for a short time before the townsfolk settled on Independence.

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At the height of its boom Independence was home to around 1,500 people, home to 40 businesses, as well as three post offices.

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Life in the town, located at 11,000 feet elevation, was difficult, and winters were extreme.  As the lode gold played out Independence’s population plummeted, by 1890 there were less than 100 residents.

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In 1899 snows were so heavy that the last 75 residents of the town were cutoff from the supply centers of Aspen and Twin Lakes, and were on the verge of starvation. The remnant population of Independence decided theoir only chance for survival was to flee towards Aspen. The snowed-in inhabitants stripped boards from the remaining structures in town and built skis and sleds out of them for their trek to Aspen,which all 75 residents successfully made.

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Since 1899 only a few prospectors and hermits have called Independence home.Today, the town is totally abandoned, preserved as a historical park. Visitors can park in a small parking lot just below the summit of Independence Pass, and take a short hike down into the townsite. a Forest Service caretaker is sometimes present at the site.

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Balfour is one of the least-known ghost towns in the state of Colorado, and for good reason- The town existed for only five short years between 1893 and 1898 before it was abandoned!

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Remains at Balfour today

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Dugout cabin at Balfour today

Prospectors had dug around sporadically in the area since the 1860s, but it was not until 1893 that gold deposits of profitable quatities were discovered. Balfour is located on the southeastern edge of South Park, roughly 25 miles from Fairplay, or seven or so miles from the tiny town of Hartsel off of Highway 9 as you travel towards Guffey.

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Balfour, at oinly ten days old in 1893!

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Balfour cabin today

When Balfour boomed in 1893,a town appeared literally overnight. Photos taken when Balfour was only ten days old already show frame buildings in equal or greater number than tents in the new gold camp.  Before Balfour faded, there were three hotels, a saloon, post office, chruches, school, general store, and around one thousand residents.

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Second shot of Balfour at ten days old in 1893

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Balfour, 1893

Today scarcely a trace of Balfour remains, just a scattered handful of tumbledown cabins and barns. It is hard to imagine the site was once home to a thousand people, and had been billed as “the next Cripple Creek” when gold was discovered in 1893.

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Balfour cabin today

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Leadville, Colorado, one of the highest incoporated cities in the world at 10.152 feet elevation, and the Silver Queen of Colorado actually began life as a gold camp in 1859 when 49ers from California found rich deposits of gold and named the spot, appropriately, “California Gulch”.  By 1860, California Gulch had morphed into “Oro City” and mining was hot an heavy for the next few years. When the gold deposits played out, Oro City declined, but in the 1870s massive deposits of silver-bearing lead and galena ore were discovered. Silver was more complex than gold, and rarely appeared in a “pure” form like placer gold in river and creek beds- Silver ore required processing to extract the precious metals contained within.

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Stringtown, just a mile southwest of Leadville proper, was born to handle the processing of ore from the booming Leadville-area silver mines which radiated outine every direction for miles. a massive smelter was built at Stringtown, and crude worker housing- Usually primitive log cabins and clapboard shacks sprang up around the smelter property. Railroad lines intersected the smelter site from the east, north, and south.

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Workshop at Stringtown smelter: Correction, a viewer informed me this is the old Leadville Train Depot which has been moved to the smelter site at Stringtown.

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Stringtown was the largest of  Leadville’s three ” smelter suburbs” which included Little Chicago, and Malta. These wre the places the poorer families lived and died during the silver boom of the 1870s-1890s. When the silver market crashed in 1893, Leadville’s suburbs suffered and many families were left destitute. Malta faded away almost completely. Centrally located Little Chicago was swallowed up by Stringtown and Leadville. Stringtown hasmanaged to hang on until today, a collection of abandoned and occupied dwellings, now considered part of Leadville.

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Colorful dweiiling at Stringtown

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The legacy of Stringtown is mountians of ingots of black slag, the byprodcut of the smelting process, which dominate the landscape today. Colorado’s Highway 24 which connects Leadville and Buena Vista passes right through the heart of Stringtown, and tourists pack a popular gas station-convenience store-sporting goods shop across Highway 24 from the old Malta schoolhouse every summer weekend.

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Malta schoolhouse, just a mile beyond Stringtown

A few years ago, by random chance,  I met a retired body guard for the late-Ross Perot, former Presidential candidate and eccentric Texas billionaire- In the sahdows of Stringtown he scrolled through his phone showing me candid photos of Perot and telling tall tales of his days as a bodyguard.

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Crystal Lakes schoolhouse near Stringtown

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Crystal Lakes schoolhouse

 

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The Final Day of A Ghost Town a Day feautures Garcia, Colorado and its sister-community Costilla, New Mexico

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Garcia is the oldest permanent European settlement in Colorado. Originally called “Plaza de los Mananares” the spot was settled by Hispanic families from Taos County, New Mexico. Adobe plazas with thick, windowless walls protected the early settlers from raids by Ute warriors.

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Located in the far southeast corner of the San Luis Valley just two miles north of the New Mexico border, Garcia was part of the once sprawling network of Rio de Costilla Valley settlements, which at their height in the mid-1800s numbered over 4,000 inhabitants. Today Garcia, and the sleepy village of Costilla across the border in New Mexico are home to roughly 475 people,  1/10th of the regions peak population, and very few of that 475 live in Garcia or Costilla proper, most reside on ranches and farms scattered in the hills nearby.

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The histories of Garcia and Costilla are so intermingled that Costilla County, Colorado is named for Costilla, the village in New Mexico- Costilla once being part of Colorado Territory, until a surveying error was discovered in 1869, which gave Costilla back to New Mexico. When Costilla, which pre-dated Garcia by a few years, returned to New Mexico, Garcia became the oldest settlement in Colorado.

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Today Garcia is a collection of homes, many abandoned adobes, and a few occupied. A stunningly beautiful church, and the remains of several adobe plazas. When traveling south out of Garcia, it is hard to tell where Garcia ends, and Costilla, New Mexico begins.

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Day #29 feautures Boston, Colorado

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Boston, at the head of Mayflower Gulch

Boston is an 1890s era mining camp situated at the head of Mayflower Gulch in Summit County.  There are around a half-dozen log cabins in varying states of decay, the sagging ruins of the boarding house, and rusted mining implements scattered around the site. Boston sits in a natural bowl, or ampitheater, and is surrounded by snow capped crags on three sides, making for some great photos. When I visited, there was a dense fog, and I was not able to capture the rocky spires that make a stunning backdrop to the camp.

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A cabin along the trail to Boston

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A combination hiking trail/seldom used 4×4 trail leads two miles into the site from a parking lot just off the side of Highway 91 that runs from Copper Mountain to Leadville. It is a popular hiking spot, and it is usually overrun with people on weekends. It is best to visit Boston early in the morning on weekdays to avoid crowds. Unfortunately, easy access also means Boston has suffered heavy vandalism and the trail in to the site is strewn with garbage from unscrupulous hikers who think it is the Forest Service’s job to clean up after them. Some “visitors” have even torn down log cabins at the site and burned the logs in bonfires.

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Day # 27 features Geneva City, Colorado

 

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Geneva City is one of the most remote ghost towns in the Centennial State located at the headwaters of Geneva Creek in Clear Creek County and sitting in a bowl at timberline. Surrounded by snowcapped year-round, Geneva City can only be reached in the summer months, usually late-July through early-September, outisde of that the narrow, rugged 4×4 trail into the site is covered in snow.

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Geneva City is an old-timer- Prospectors first set up camp here after the end of the Civil War in the mid-1860s. Sturdy log cabins were built at the very edge of the pine trees to shelter prospectors from the harsh elements and electrical storms that plague the basin where Geneva City is located.

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The mountains surrounding Geneva City are rich in iron deposits, and Geneva Creek itself features extremely rare natural iron fens- a geological occurence where iron rich mineral water springs bubble up from the ground and creates rusty colored natural terraces. The high iron content of the Geneva basin area makes metal detecting nearly impossible, and attracts fierce electrical storms.

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Prospectors and miners have worked the rock in Geneva basin for over 100 years, finding small deposits of gold, and largeer depositis of silver, along with the plentiful iron. A smelter was built in the valley far below Geneva City in 1870, and the primitive rfining methods result in the slag from the old smelter still holding about a 10% silver content. The smelter has long since tumbled down, but crumbling red bricks and piles of black slag mark the spot. A sawmill was once operated nearby as well providing support beams and other wood products for the mines of Geneva City.

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The Brittanic Mine was the last mine in operation at Geneva City, and small scale operations were still carried out there into the early-1960s. Geneva City is unique because it never had a year-round population in its entire 100-year history. The winters at the site were just too harsh, and the town too remote to warrant year-round settlement. A number of log cabins, a large saloon/mess hall, a boarding house, and at least one small home, built of milled lumber which still exists, albeit precariously today. Mining remnants can be found all around the Geneva City site, as well as the Brittanic Mine site.

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Day #21 features Dyersville, Colorado

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In 1880 Father John Dyer, an itinterant Methodist preacher and Colorado legend, along with two other prospectors staked claims on a silver vein near the headwaters of Indiana Creek on the west slope of Boreas Pass near above the town of Breckenridge.  The Warrior’s Mark mine was built on the vein and Father Dyer and his partners built cabins at the site.  Over $10,000 worth of silver ore was hauled out of the Warrior’s Mark in the first six months of operations, and soon the small town of Dyersville sprang up to house the miner’s and their families.

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Dyersville had a church, where Father John would preach the gospel, a branch of the Breckenridge-based Adamson’s Blue Front clothing store,  a large mess hall, a saloon called the Angel’s Roost, and a school house. Mail was brought to Dyersville via Breckenrdige, but no Post Office was ever established in the town.  The Warrior’s Mark continued to produce until around 1900 when the vein played out, and Dyersville was abandoned.

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For decades Dyersville was lost to time, buried in the dense timber along Indiana Creek, its whereabouts known only to a few old-timers.  Dyersville was “found” again a few decades later, virtually untocuhed since it was abandoned around the turn of the 20th Century.

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Today, Dyersville still retains about a dozen log cabins in verious stages of repair, the roofs are gone on all, so it won’t be long until they vanish. In the last five years, vandals have damaged some of the esier to locate cabins at Dyersville. The ruins of the Warrior’s Mark can still be found nearby. Ruts from the old wagon road that once serviced thre town can still be seen cutting through the trees.

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You can see where there the mess hall was, broken plates, rusted cans, and bones from meals gone by litter a slope adjacent to the mess hall ruins. Another log building tucked away in the trees has the looks of the saloon based on a slit-trench dug along the back wall of the building running downhill- So saloon patrons could relieve themselves without having to step outside into the elements!

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Day #20 features Summerville, Colorado

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A view down Gold Run Road as it cuts through the center of Summerville

Summerville is a seldom mentioned ghost town on Gold Run Road between Salina and Gold Hill in Boulder County, Colorado. Dating to around 1870 when gold deposits were discovered, Summerville eked-out an existence on low grade ores for a few years until it became unprofitable. In the early-1900s when better refining and extraction practices were developed, Summerville came to life again, albeit shortly.

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One of the first ghost town photos I ever took was of this, of a Summerville shack

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Summerville shacks, some are still used seasonally, others appear to be vacant

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One of the vacant shacks at Summerville

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Embossed tin siding on this miner’s shack

 

Summerville was abandoned for a time, then peope returned restoring the small cabins and shacks for seasonal use. An impressive two-story, part log, hotel was built in 1877 and had served as a private residence in its final form. Sadly, a devastating forest fire swept through Summerville in 2004, and the historic hotel burned to the ground, today only an empty lot marks the spot. In 2013 Summerville was hit by a flood, but its position at the high head of the canyon limited damage. A handful of shacks, cabins, and out buildings in varying stages of decay remain today, all are private property.

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The historic Summerville Hotel, built in 1877, before it burned to the ground in a 2004 forest fire. Photo Credit: www.rockymountainprofiles.com

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One of the seasonally occupied cabins at Summerville

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Sandbags piled high, remnants of the massive floods of 2013 that swept through Summerville and the canyon below causing much damage and devastation the length of its path

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Day # 19 features Engleville, Colorado

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A solitary sunflower contrasts with the ruins of two Engleville homes

 

Engleville lays just a short distance southeast of Trinidad, Colorado at the base of Fisher’s Peak- A local landmark which can be seen for miles signalling one’s approach to Raton Pass and the New Mexico border.

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Engleville, in the shadow of Fisher’s Peak

Engleville was a coal town dating back to around 1877. Locals in the trinidad area had always supplied their stoves and furnaces with the plentiful coal found in the region, simply loading carts with it from the open coal seams that dotted the hills around town. In the 1876, when the Sante Fe Railroad reached El Moro, a town just north of Trinidad, Colorado Coal and Iron, which would later become the famous Colorado Fuel and Iron Co., took note, and established large coke ovens at El Moro to supply the railroad. Sortly thereafter, Colorado Coal and Iron developed the coal seams at the foot of Fisher’s Peak and the company town of Engleville sprouted. A peak production figure at Engleville was recorded in 1881 when the mine there produced 200,000 tons of coal for the ovens at El Moro.

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A crumbling adobe at Engleville, piles of leftover coal from the mine can be seen in the background, slowly being reclaimed the earth

Engleville remained a steady producer through the early days of the 1900s, then faded as the railroads were replaced by the automobile and airplane, and gas and electric replaced coal as the nation’s top heating sources. Today, five or six abandoned dwellings remain at the Engleville site in the shadow of Fisher’s Peak, all on private property, but easily viewed and photographed from the county road. One old dwelling peers out over the vast expanse of the southeastern Colorado prairie offering an amazing view for countless miles. There is also a cemetery at Engleville, located beyond the fence line of a private residence which remains occupied.  Mountains of black coal, deemed too low-grade to ship at the time still surround the town site.

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The view over the mesa from this Engleville house, and out across the southeastern plains of Colorado is breathtaking and goes on for miles and miles

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Another shot of the same house, surrounded by blooming cholla cactus and a random sunflower here and there. Engleville is a picturesque ghost town in the summer months.

 

Engleville is easy to reach in dry months with a passenger car, or an SUV in wet or snowy conditions by taking Engleville Road southeast out of Trinidad.

 

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Day #18- Granite, Colorado

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Granite, Colorado is located at the confluence of Cache Creek and the Arkansas River in  a sandy, boulder filled, canyon.  Placer gold was discovered in 1860 at Cache Creek, and in 1861 in the sandbars of the Arkansas River.  A pair of camps named sprang up a short distance apart from each other- Georgia Bar (named after the Georgia-born prospectors who worked the claim) and Cache Creek camp. By 1862 over 3000 people lived in the camps and the numerous other craggy gulches that radiate in all directions from the spot. The scattered camps soon grew together, and the town of Granite was born.

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In 1867 gold-bearing quartz was discovered, and placer mining gave way to hard rock mining and a number of shafts were dropped and mills were built at the site.  For a few years in the 1860s and 1870s Granite was the county seat. Violence was no stranger to Granite, as returning soldiers from the Civil War often mixed it up based on their wartime allegiances, then in 1875, a vigilante group shot probate Judge Elias Dyer in his own Courtroom. Judge Dyer was the son of the famous intinerant preacher Father John Dyer, a Colorado legend.

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Today Granite is a quiet spot along the Arkansas River popular with fly fisherman. Many of the old log cabins and buildings are still used seasonally, and a few year-rounders are present. There are also a number of abandoned buildings, and mining remnants in all directions. A good 4×4 is required to explore the trails around Granite.

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