Posts Tagged ‘Colorado Mining’

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In the far northern reach of Jackson County northwest of Walden, Colorado, just a mile or so shy of the Wyoming border sits Pearl. Pearl is long-forgotten copper mining town which boomed from the 1880s to around 1910.

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Pearl was home to a couple of mines and smelter- The red brick smoke stack of the smelter still exists today on hillside southeast of the town. The Pearl town platt covered some 14 blocks,  but they never quite filled up. There was however a school, Post Office, a couple of hotels, a butcher shop, and three saloons.

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A few precious stones were also found around mineral- Rubies and diamonds, though rare did exist in the volcanic sands of the area. When the copper mines played out in the early years of the 20th Century, it is said that one of the last die-hards in Pearl bought up all of the abandoned properties, then “salted” the earth around Pearl with rough diamonds and rubies he had purchased in bulk from a jewelerin Denver. The trickster then offered the Pearl townsite up for sale to speculatorsand prospectors. The unknowing buyers conducted samples in the area and were excited to find diamonds and rubies in large numbers. The buyers snatched up all of the land around Pearl, only to learn later that they had been tricked and the gems they had found in their samples had been placed in strategic spots around town.

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Today Pearl is a cluster of around a dozen cabins and frame homes which appear to be used seasonally,or atleast maintained by the current owner of the townsite.  All buildings at Pearl are private property, and the town itself sits just hundred or so yards beyond a barbed wire fence. Photos can be taken with a zoom lens from the nearby County Roads that circle the site.

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Atchee, Colorado

Colorado is famous for its Gold Rush era and Silver Boom ghost towns. South of the Arkansas River ghost towns from Colorado’s “coal belt” are plenty. The eastern and northern plains house the remnants of the farming and ranching centers of yesterday. But the far western slope along the Utah border is almost devoid of ghost towns.

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Cabin along the old Uintah Railroad grade near Atchee

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Another view of the same cabin. The unique tight fit “puzzle” style construction of the cabin is something I have found unique to this isolated corner of Colorado/Utah. Perhaps it was the signature style of a local craftsman, or maybe the hand-select, tight fit, was a regional neccessity to keep the abundant lizards, scorpions, and snakes out- Scorpions, Sun Spiders, Rattlesnakes and Western Coachwhips outnumber humans 100-to-1  in this part of the world!

There isn’t much, and wasn’t much in the far western portion of the state, but chalky, sandy cliffs, scrub brush, and cacti, prior to the oil boom. Towns in this part of Colorado can almost all trace their origins to the railroads that once criss-crossed the region and followed the route of the mighty Colorado River as it meandered its way west to its terminus at Mexicali in Baja Mexico.

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A sense of the desolation and solitude of the area- The County Road today over Baxter Pass into Utah is the old Uintah Railway grade. In the Spring deep, soupy, mud can make it impassable.

Atchee, north and slightly west of Fruita near Grand Junction, Colorado, is now a 100% ghost town, with only one standing structure and the foundations of others, was founded in the 1880s. Atchee occupies a unique spot in Colorado history as one of the few far-western ghost towns in the state.

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A glimpse of Atchee from the railroad grade above as it ascends Baxter Pass

Atchee came to life in the 1880s as a railroad station along the tiny, narrow-gauge, Uintah Railway which served the Gilsonite (huh? what???) mining camp of Dragon, Utah which lay on the western side of Baxter Pass. The entire length of the Uintah Railway was only 62.8 miles in total length, running from Mack,Colorado to Watson, Utah, which was nothing more than a named place with a water tank, coal shed, and wye where the train turned around.

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Atchee, Colorado 1880s

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A Uintah Railway engine at Atchee around 1900

Atchee lay at just under the halfway point of the Uintah line- 28 miles to be exact. Atchee featured a wye, coal shed, water tank, machine/repair shop, and a couple rows of simple houses for railroad employees and their families. Atchee was situated in a arid, but beautiful basin,dotted with sage brush, scrub, and short pines on the slopes surrounding the town. Water was scarce and both summer and winters at Atchee were harsh. Atchee was named in honor of Ute Chief Atchee- A man of which little is known, but must have made a positive impression on his contemporaries.

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Chief Atchee, of whom the town was named

Gilsonite, the mineral mined at Dragon and Rainbow in Utah, where the Uintah Railway passed, was first discovered in the 1860s by Sam Gilson, a prospector.  Gilson discovered rich veins of black, shiny, oily substance in the sandy hills of the Uintah Basin. The substance looked like coal, was flammable, but was hard to keep burning. His discovery was also flexible and sticky. Gilson knew it had to be worth something to someone, but a use for the substance did not exist…yet.

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Gilsonite

 

Gilson tried to refine his strange mineral into a fuel source like coal, but it never could maintain an even slow burn. He discovered it could be used in varnishes and paints with moderate success- But the only color would be jet black, and it never really dried properly, always remaining tacky to the touch, and more troubling, flammable.

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Sam Gilson

 

Around the turn of the 20th Century Gilson, and his mineral, now called “Gilsonite” found their place in the world- Mixing Gilsonite with gravel created a smooth, durable, long-lasting surface for the city-dwellers and their velocipedes and new-fangled horseless carriages to ride on. Gilsonite, a naturally occurring, semi-solid, soluble, hydrocarbon-  The strange, sticky, black muck of the Uintah Basin would become a key ingredient in what we know as “asphalt” or “bitumen” today.

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Atchee at its peak around 1900. The “peaked” building at the far righ of the photo is all that remains today- The machine shop/repair shop for the Uintah Railway train engines.

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The machine shop today.

Atchee is all but gone now- One structure, or more appropriately, the walls of one structure remain- The old machine and repair shop for the steam engines that once passed through the town.  Numerous foundations can be seen in the scrub surrounding the machine shop. All the remnants are on clearly posted private property, but this has not stopped idiots from spray painting their names on the last remnants of the town. The rest of us who respect our Nation’s history can safely and legally take photos from just a few feet away alonmg the county road which passes through the site. The county road is the old railroad grade which crosses Baxter Pass into Utah.  When my brother and I visited winter snows were still melting and had turned the track into a swampy morass that became impassable shortly before we reached the summit of Baxter.

 

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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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Day #23 features Lincoln City, Colorado

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Lincoln City is one of the oldest settlements in Colorado, dating to 1861. A man named Harry Farncomb discovered enormous amounts of gold in the gravels of the creek in French Gulch, in the unusual form of strands and clumps of wire. “Wire gold” as it is known is of fine purity, and most could be used immediately in the minting of coins and manufacturing of jewelry, which made it even more valuable than “regular” gold which normally required some sort of refining. Farncomb knew the source of the wire gold must be the hill above French Gulch, so, even before staking claims, he bought the hillside, and much of the bottom land in French Gulch.

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An example of wire gold, similar to that found in French Gulch

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When Farncomb began mining operations in French Gulch, and news spread of his discovery of pure wire gold, a mad rush into the gulch followed. Fortune seekers were irate to find that Harry Farncomb already owned all of the land in upper French Gulch and violence ensued.  Gunfights were common between Farncomb and would-be prospectors who felt he had unfairly grabbed the land. Cases were taken to Court, but Farncomb had legally purchased the land, and the prospectors had nothing legal to stand on in their complaints.

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Tensions eventually reached a crescendo one day, and a shootout between the warring parties took place in Frenchg Gulch that lasted seven hours! Three prospectors were killed and numerous others were seriously wounded by Farncomb and his allies that day. After the battle, Farncomb agreed to sell parcels of his land in French Gulch, and he was paid handsomely for the rich claims. Today, Farncomb Hill at the head of the gulch bears his name.

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The town that sprang up around the claims Farncomb had sold was called “Lincoln City” in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, and as a slight to the nearby town of Breckinridge, which was named after former Vice President John C. Breckinridge, who had recently joined the ranks of the Confederate Army as General, and who would go on to become the Confederate Secretary of War under President Jefferson Davis. The town fathers of  “BreckInridge”Colorado quietly changed the spelling of its name to “BreckEnridge” in 1867 to hide this inconvient truth. (Breckenridge is now a fashionable ski resort and summer recreation spot, and few knows of the town’s controversial name change.)  

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General John C. Breckinridge, Former Vice President of the United States, Confederate Secretary of War, whom “Breckenridge” Colorado was named after, the town fathers altered the spelling in 1867 to hide this fact

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Passions were strong in the Civil War days as roughly 40% of the population in Colorado at the time was southern-born, and fights oftne broke out in the mining camps based on regional alliances between northern and southern factions. Such was the case between the townsfolk of Lincoln City, and the people living in Georgia Gulch on the other side of the mountain from them. Bands of drunken men would leave one gulch and appear in the other where fist fights, broken noses, and the occassional gunfight would erupt between the opposing groups. The “war” between Lincoln City and Georgia Gulch carried on for years with no serious loss of life, but plenty of spirited jawing and bruises.

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Old newspaper article about the pro-south faction in Georgia Gulch, Colorado near Lincoln City

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In the 1880s the gold deposits around Lincoln City began to play out, but silver and galena ores were discovered which kept the town alive. Around 250 people called the spot home in the mid-1880s. A smelter was built to process the lower grade ores and the silver now being mined. Dredges were scraping the last of the placer gold from the creek below. Mills crushed hard rock on the hillsides around the town for the last specks of gold to be found. Lincoln City boasted a general store, Post Office, and two hotels. In the decade between 1885 and 1895, Lincoln City all but died, dwindling from 250 residents to only 25.  In the 1940s when ghost towning legend Muriel Sibell Wolle visited, only two old grizzled prospectors remained at Lincoln City.  Today, Lincoln City is no more, it is just a cluster of tin-roofed and tin-sided shacks, some cabins, mining debris, and a lone grave nestled in amog the pine and aspen trees. Modern-day Breceknridge has absorbed the old Lincoln City townsite, and modern luxury homes dot the pines all around the old shacks and cabins. Sadly, some have even called for the removal of the lone grave so they spot can be turned into a parking lot for the mountain bike and hiking trails that begin at the old town site. The future does not look bright for the sparse remnants of one Colorado’s oldest towns.

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Some have called for the removal of this tombstone dating to 1864 so a parking lot can be built for hiking and biking trails that start near the Lincoln City town site

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Day #22 feautures Holland, Colorado

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Holland, Colorado dates to 1874 when a smelter was built at the site to handle the silver, gold, and iron ores being extracted in the Mosquito Range a short distance to the west. Two theories exist on how the town was named- One claims it was settled by Dutch immigrants from Pennsylvania who named the town “Holland”, but the other, more plausible story is that the smelter was built by two brothers Park and Dwight Holland, and the tiny settlement was named after them.

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Several log cabins were built in a small, circular, meadow around the smelter, and one large, luxurious, two-story home, said to belong to the smelter owners was built in a forested area just south of the main cluster of cabins, near the smelter. A Post Office was opened at Holland in February of 1874, but lasted less than one year, closing in December 1874. The smelter was a failure as well, and was sold at auction to pay off taxes only a year after its construction in 1875.

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Holland remained occupied until around 1890, the inhabitants working in nearby mines, or in the surrounding towns of Alma, Alma Junction, and Park City. In the mid-20th Century Holland, like many Colorado ghost towns, was “rediscovered” and some of the cabins were restored for seasonal use, and newer homes and cabin were built nearby.

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Today around six cabins remain at Holland, some buried deep in the trees require a keen eye to spot. Near the smelter site the brick chimney of the Holland Brothers house remains, obscured by pine trees, but the rest of the house is long gone. An old stage barn  which may date to Holland’s prime can be seen on the northern end of the town site, next to a newer home on private property.  All of the Holland site is privately owned and accordingly posted, but can be viewed from the public road.

 

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Day #16 features Goldfield, Colorado and the surrounding historic sites of Bull Hill, Independence, and the Vindicator Mine complex.

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Goldfield was part of the sprawling Cripple Creek Mining District which boomed in the 1890s, and has continued until this day. In 1900, at the peak of Goldfield’s boom, the town had a population of 3,500. Most of the residents worked at the Portland Mine. Goldfield was the thrid largest town in the district behind Cripple Creek and Victor- All three towns were situated around mountain which was a virtual “dome” of gold, having once been a gigantic volcanic bubble filled with the precious metal.

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There were other satellite towns and camps in the immediate vicinity of Cripple Creek-Victor-Goldfield, and those nearest to Goldfield were the town of Independence (called Hull City originally) Bull Hill, and Hollywood. Ruins of all of these towns, camps, and settlements still abound today, and one can spend hours taking it all in through a series of interpretive trails in the area.  Among the most impressive relics in the district are the remains of the Vindicator Mining complex.

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Poweder bunker at the Independence site, across the road from Goldfield near the Vindicator

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The Vindicator Mill

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Another part of the Vindicator complex

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Day #10 features Animas Forks, Colorado

Located at 11,200 feet elevation Animas Forks, Colorado once boasted the title for being the highest incorporated city in the United States, but since it is now abandoned that title belongs to Alma, Colorado at 10,578 feet.

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Lonely Cabin High on the Hillside

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Old suspension bridge over the Las Animas River

Animas Forks was built around rich silver veins first discovered in 1873. The initial camp was built where a number of high mountain streams converged to create the Las Animas River, and the town was first called “Three Forks of the Animas” but was shortened to “Animas Forks” in 1875. In the summers of the 1880s the town had nearly 500 residents, many of whom would retreat to lower elevations in the winter months. However, a few did remain year-round at Animas Forks, and over 30 homes, a jail, several saloons, a newspaper office, drug store, general store, and Post Office were established permanently. One foul winter storm circled above Animas Forks for 23 days in 1884. When the squall finally let up, 25 feet had accumulated and tunnels had to be dug to connect the residents of the town! Animas Forks faded follwoing the silver crash of 1893, and today around a dozen buildings, numerous foundations, and mining debris remain at the site.

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Cabin at Animas Forks

The highlight of Animas Forks is the often-photographed Duncan House (usually mislabled “The Walsh House”) woth its bay window that overlooks the mining operations and the valley below. In recent years the Forest Service has preserved the house by shoring up the foundation and structural beams, adding plexiglass windows to keep the rain and snow out, and applying a thick coat of Forest Service brown paint to the structure. Although it looked better in older photographs in its natural stay of decay, the Forest Service brown will protect the structure for future visitors to enjoy.

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The Duncan House

 

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Ghost Town a Day For 30 Days- Day #8 features Ironton, Colorado.

Ironton was one of the two major towns in the Red Mountain Mining District of the San Juan Mountains and is located between Ouray and Silverton. In its prime Ironton was a major shipping hub for the mines of the San Juans, and mining was done around Ironton as well in all directions. The town’s peak population was over one thousand and there were over one hundred buildings at Ironton in its heyday.

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Ironton, early 1900s

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Ironton, early 1900s

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Ironton today

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Ironton dwindled in the early decades of the 20th Century, and is totally abandoned today.  Around a dozen structures, homes, shops, and out buildings remain at the Ironton site today tucked deep in a grove of dense aspen trees, hiding the old town from plain view. To find Ironton keep an eye open for the large rust-colored field of mine tailings on the left hand side of Highway 550 as you travel from Ouray to Silverton. There is a parking lot and trailhead for outdoor recreation at the tailings pile. If you keep a close eye out, you will find a rough road here that leads into the trees, a few hundred yards fown the road the buildings of Ironton will appear.

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Day # 6 of A Ghost Town a Day For 30 Days features Bluebird, a picturesque mining camp in Boulder County Colorado. Bluebrid requires a round-trip hike of 3 1/2 miles to reach, but the trek is well worth it.

Bluebird dates to the early 1870s when a rich silver vein rumored to assay at $6,000 per ton was discovered. Bluebird was an up-and-down mining camp until as recently as the 1950s when the veins finally played out. Parts of the 1966 film “Stagecoach”  starring Ann Margaret and Bing Crosby was filmed at Bluebird.

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The centerpiece of Bluebrid is the 2-story bunkhouse

Today there is plenty to be seen at Bluebird- The mine workings, the stunning bunkhouse with its wooden porch, the toppled log remains of the earlier 1870s era bunkhouse, the stone and brick mine manager’s home, and most unusual for a 10,000 foot elevation setting- A stone-lined swimming pool with centrally located firepit used to heat the waters!  The rushing waters of Boulder Creek and stunning views in every direction are the icing on the cake at Bluebird.

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Backside of the bunkhouse

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The small, arched window was used by the camp bookkeeper distribute pay to the miners

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Front door to the bunkhouse

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Front porch/boardwalk of the bunkhouse

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The collapsed remnants of the earlier-1870s era bunkhouse

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A view south looking over the Bluebird camp

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The mine manager’s house

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Staircase leading into the seemingly out-of-place swimming pool

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Swimming pool right outside the front door of the mine manager’s home

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Central firepit inside the swimming pool used to heat the waters

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Animal pens used for livestock kept at the Bluebird camp

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Building near the entrance to the mine

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Shed at the mine

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A chipmunk waves “hello” from the boardwalk at Bluebird

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Day #2 of A Ghost Town a Day For 30 Days is Wall Street which is located in Boulder County and easily accessible in the warmer months by following the signs in Four Mile Canyon.

Wall Street began its life around 1895 as a mining camp called “Delphi.” From 1895 to 1898 Delphi grew in size and numerous gold claims were staked in Schoolhouse, Melvina, and Emerson Gulches which surrounded the camp. For a little over two years a Post Office operated under the Delphi name.

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One of the older shacks at Wall Street

In 1898 Charles Caryl, a wealthy industrialist from New York arrived and bought up nearly all of the claims in Delphi. Caryl renamed the camp “Wall Street” in homage of his home in New York City.

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The boom days at Wall Street

Charles Caryl funded the construction of a gold mill, built atop a towering stone foundation, that used a cutting-edge (at the time) chlorination process to extract gold from the host rock being processed. Today the mill buildings are long gone, but the enormous stone foundation still dominates the old Wall Street site.

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The Wall Street chlorination mill in its prime.

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The towering foundation of the mill today.

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Some more of the stone foundation works that can be found around the mill site today.

Wall Street had a Post Office from 1898 to 1921 when the mining operations subsided and the population moved on.  Wall Street today has a small year-round population, as well as a number of summer residents. The town site today is a mixture of old and new, occupied, and vacant- The old schoolhouse has been converted into a residence, and the Assayer’s Office is now a museum open to the public in summer months.

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Wall Street school house, converted into a residence in recent years.

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The James F. Bailey Assayer’s Office- Now a museum in the summer months

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A view down main street shows the chlorination mill and the Assayer’s Office sometime in the glory days of Wall Street, the town boomed between 1989 and 1921.

 

Wall Street suffered some damage in the floods of 2013, and a large two-story house at the mouth of the canyon was damaged so severely it has since been torn down.

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Sadly, this old Victorian house was damaged in the flood of 2013 and has been torn down since this photo was taken. Note: Front lower wall is bulging outwards due to flood damage.

 

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