Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Eberle’

My last photo blog about the ghost town of Aroya, Colorado led to a number of people mentioning, relating memories, and asking about Wild Horse- Another small eastern plains town just a few miles down the road from Aroya.

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Storm clouds and high winds welcomed me to Wild Horse in mid-October 2019. The only sign of life I found in town was a American flag flapping proudly and a car parked in front of the Post Office- the only remaining business in this tiny Cheyenne County town. The majority of the remaining buildings, seen here, at Wild Horse sit on the south side of Highway 287.

I visited Wild Horse on the same trip that I visited Aroya, and found a place, much like Aroya, that has seen its best days vanish in the rear view mirror. Wild Horse stills clings to life, though just barely, straddling Highway 287 in Cheyenne County, a little over two hours southeast of Denver.

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These buildings sit on the north side of Highway 287 which runs straight through the center of Wild Horse. A school house built in 1912, and the Post Office are adjacent to these structures.

Wild Horse is a cluster of old storefronts and shops and residential dwellings. With exception of the Post Office, every business and service in Wild Horse are but a memory. A quick drive up and down the streets of Wild Horse reveal that maybe four or five people still live there, but during my visit on a blustery October afternoon, I saw no one stirring.

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The Antelope Bar at Wild Horse.

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Another Shot of the Antelope Bar.

Wild Horse was originally an outpost for the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1860s, named for a pack of wild horses a cavalry detachment guarding railroad surveyors noticed at a water hole in the area. The Kansas-Pacific Railroad set up a section house at Wild Horse to house workers while tracks were laid from Kit Carson to Denver. 

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An old storefront in Wild Horse.

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It is rumored that this  building was the Wild Horse Dance Hall in more prosperous times.

Wild Horse boomed in the early-1900s, having a number of businesses, including a lumber yard, three saloons, a pool hall, a barber shop, hardware store, the two story stone Albany Hotel, and even a newspaper “The Wild Horse Times.” Sheep and cattle ranching, as well farming, and the railroad accounted for the majority of commerce centered at Wild Horse.

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An old postcard shows an image of Wild Horse during its peak years in the early-1900s.

A huge fire in 1917, which started in one of the town’s two creameries when a wood stove toppled off its shoring burned down most of the business district, spelling the beginning of the end for Wild Horse. The depression coupled with the dust bowl epoch of the 1930s further weakened what remained of Wild Horse, then the railroad went under. Today, one hundred years on from the great fire, Wild Horse teeters on the very edge of existence.

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An image taken shortly after the great fire of 1917 which obliterated much of Wild Horse. 

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On the eastern plains of Colorado’s Cheyenne County a tiny ghost town is whipped by the relentless prairie winds. A cluster of abandoned buildings ranging from the picturesque schoolhouse, with its double-arched doorways (considered by some to be the most photogenic abandoned building in all of Colorado) to the collapsing William Smith General Merchandise store, to a handful of residential dwellings, trailers, and foundations mark the spot of Aroya.

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William Smith’s General Merchandise Store

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Fantastic wooden doors on the William Smith General Merchandise building.

 

Aroya got its start in 1866 when a Bohemian immigrant, and Civil War veteran, named Joseph O. Dostal came to Colorado to sell meat to hungry miners. Dostal picked a remote chunk of the plains 130 miles from Denver to establish his ranch. Though it has changed hands many times in the past 150 years, the ranch is still active, and still carries Dostal’s initials- The J.O.D. Ranch.

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The J.O. Dostal Ranch Crew circa 1870s or 1880s

 

Around 1870 the Kansas-Pacific Railroad reached the area near Dostal’s ranch.  A railroad construction camp grew and was named “Arroyo” being the Spanish term for “gulch.”  As the tracks were being laid, the Kansas-Pacific sent trains to the end of the line at Arroyo, and stagecoaches would bring passengers 130 miles from Denver, a three day journey at the time, to what was now christened “Arroyo City” although it was not much more than a tent camp on the line.

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A triple-engine Kansas-Pacific snow plowing team. The flat, treeless, and featureless expanses of the great high plains, coupled with high winds, and winter storms that butt up against the Rocky Mountains and double back over the plains make for enormous snowdrifts on the open prairie, some can reach 20 feet or more in depth! For a short time in the 1870s, Arroyo City was the terminus of the Kansas-Pacific.

As the tracks were laid further north and west, the terminus of the line also moved, and “Arroyo City” city faded into obscurity. Ranching and farming became the main profit making enterprises once the railroad construction boom had ended, and around the turn of the 20th Century, a small town with a general store, service station, lumber yard, hotel, and school sprang up about three miles from the old “Arroyo City” site. In honor of the old camp, this new town was named “Arroyo”, but the United States Post Office decided it should be called “Aroya” since there were already enough towns named “Arroyo” in the southwest.

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No one calls this Aroya dwelling home but rattlesnakes these days.

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This home marked the far northern end of Main Street in Aroya. A small cemetery which I was unaware of until later is apparently on a small rise just behind this house. If walls could talk…

 

The old schoolhouse, in which someone has situated an old deer mount in the window, was said to have held its last class sometime in the 1950s…or was it the 1960s?  There is no one around who remembers. Aroya became nationally famous in 1970 when a reporter from the New York Times just happened to pass through, and wrote a full-page story with photos lamenting Aroya’s demise, and how the population had just been cut in half- From two residents to only one!

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At first approach I thought I had a one-in-a-million shot of a big buck deer peering out of the schoolhouse window, then I realized it was a mount placed by someone with a sense of humor!

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A fall storm rolls into Aroya. The hand-painted metal “No Trespassing” sign was a welcome change in a world full of bright neon orange/white/black plastic signs we so often encounter.

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The double-arched doorways on each end of the Aroya schoolhouse are an architectural marvel.

Around 1980 the last permanent resident of Aroya, an eccentric artist named  Red Moreland finally moved along to the great unknown. Some of his creations, made out of the many iron relics he found scattered around the town, can still be found among the sun-scorched, blonde prairie grass, shrubs, and debris scattered about the town. His most famous creation- The Aroya Lighthouse, which was a welcome beacon to weary travelers on the “…endless waves of grain…” in the old days was moved to the Cheyenne County Museum in Kit Carson, Colorado.

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Moreland’s Service Station and the Aroya Lighthouse decades ago.

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Moreland’s Service Station. October 2019.

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Red Moreland’s home. It was built on the foundation of the old Aroya Hotel, and Red lived here until he passed away around 40 years ago. Moreland was Aroya’s last permanent resident.

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An Aroya house, consumed by trees and grasses. What appears to be a 1970s vintage Chevy Luv truck in red/white/blue paint looks like it was abandoned in the town after a joyride.

 

Aroya is a fun place to visit, if, for some reason you find yourself in this far-off seam of fabric in the quilt we call America, but beware-  Aroya is a rattlesnake paradise, and ample evidence in the form of shed skins can be found everywhere in the town. A few squatters and shady drifters who “don’t want to be found” call Aroya home from time-to-time, and they should be treated with the same caution and distance as the rattlesnakes. Luckily when I visited on a cold October day, neither were present.

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In this view you can see the impressive lineup of radio and TV antennas necessary for Red Moreland to keep in touch with the outside world from his remote hermitage on the plains.

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The sandstone remnants of a long-forgotten Aroya business. An abandoned trailer house of more modern vintage was just behind this structure and had clearly been used by a squatter recently.

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Just got home from another mini-vacation to Victor, Colorado and was once again impressed and amazed at all of the things I found that I had missed on previous trips. Missing little details is easy to do in a town that once had a population of 12,000 around 1900, which now has about 400 residents. Whatever you do, however, DO NOT call Victor a “ghost town” I made that mistake once and only once. A week’s worth of hate mail and  subsequent explaining and apologizing, and I was back on in good graces with the locals!

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Panoramic Painting of Victor circa 1900

 

Victor has always caused me mixed emotions- On one hand it heartbreaking to see so many empty store fronts and vacant properties, I imagine how beautiful and bustling this town must have been in its heyday, when it even boasted a fancy “San Francisco” style trolley line known as the “Victor Inter-Urban Railway.” On the other hand, I love Victor as it is, and would be devastated to see the gentrification that has destroyed so much of Colorado happen here- I want Victor to retain its character, and anymore in Colorado, “character” is too often bulldozed to make way for luxury condos and coffee shops for people with no ties to Colorado and no respect for the State’s history.

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Victor in 1899, the building on the left is the Victor Hotel which still welcomes guests today

A huge amalgamation of abandoned, occupied, old and new (mostly old though) and a sense of a mining boom town suspended in time best describes Victor, Colorado, sister city of the more famous Cripple Creek, just six miles away around a mountain of mine tailings. Preservation efforts have been carried out or started on a number of the buildings around the town, and visitors can still stay in the historic Victor Hotel, comfortable, large rooms, with great views and giant arched windows are available for a very reasonable rate year-round. A couple of small cafes, The Side Door and The Mining Claim 1899, and a the Fortune Club Saloon (the Fortune Club also offers rooms) serve the needs of hungry and thirsty visitors as well as the locals, many of whom work at the nearby Newmont gold mine. A few antique and gift shops, a liquor store, and a tiny general store round out Victor’s business district. The most impressive building to be found in town (in my opinion) is the old Masonic Lodge, be sure not to miss it!

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A view looking west down Victor Avenue, the Victor Hotel is the tallest building on the right. Several blocks of largely vacant storefronts radiate out, north and south, from Victor Avenue.

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Part of the Victor business district, note the “Undertakers” advertisement

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Masonic Lodge

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A look downtown and you can imagine what it must have been like in 1900

One thing you will quickly notice about Victor are the stunning views of the rugged, snow-capped spires of the Sangre de Cristos Mountain to the southwest- The view of the Sangres can not be beat from the 4th floor rooms of the Victor Hotel.

(Click Here for Victor Hotel Website) 

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View of the Sangre de Cristos Mountains from the 4th floor rooms of the Victor Hotel

Another aspect of Victor that first-time visitors may find unusual is the large amount of wildlife that freely roam the town, deer and foxes, unconcerned with the people and cars around them. And, almost as if trained, it seems the wildlife prefers to use the painted crosswalks in town when crossing the road- I have been entertained watching this numerous times! Just a reminder though, never ever, ever, feed the wildlife, they are still wild animals, no matter how tame they might appear. Human food harms wildlife, it also causes wildlife to associate humans with food, which is bad for both us and the animals, just don’t do it. Enjoy the critters from a distance and take only photos.

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This well-behaved fox and its family are regular fixtures in downtown Victor

 

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From my hotel room window above I watched this fox use the crosswalks every time it needed to cross the streets in town, take it slow driving through, there are lots of animals roaming town!

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The deer in Victor have the same street smarts as their fox neighbors

Vintage advertising and forlorn, antique mining machinery can be found all over the town. Adding to Victor’s unique personality is the fact that mine shafts exist right in the middle of town! When you find a rich vein of ore while excavating the foundation for a building, you forget about the building and get into the mining business! One the east edge of town a colossal two-story red brick schoolhouse with an imposing flight of stairs leading to its front door dominates the view. Below the school is the “Gold Bowl” a football field built many decades ago- The entire project was paid for with gold ore excavated while leveling the playing field!

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Vintage advertising abounds in the streets of Victor

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A small fraction of the vintage mining equipment scattered about Victor

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An old tractor

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This beautiful old Buick watches over things from a ridge above town, deer tracks nearby

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The old Colorado & Midland train station in Victor

North, east, south, and west of Victor’s business district are rows of Victorian era residences. Many occupied year-round, others occupied seasonally, and plenty abandoned and forlorn. You can take one look up and down the streets and sense what a beautiful town Victor was in its prime. The people here lived a good, comfortable life, before the mines went bust.

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Trapped in time

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Remarkable woodwork on this old beauty!

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Withered beauty

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If walls could talk

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Craftsmanship which has weathered the harsh winds of time

 

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Mine tailings in the middle of a row of homes

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Once called “home” by a miner and his family

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The old Texaco at the edge of town hasn’t plugged a flat or changed oil in many years

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A  doe deer inspects the “skinny” house on the east end of town

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And a minute later….the buck deer arrived

Victor, Colorado, now only a shadow of its former glory is truly a gem to visit if you are a history buff or interested in the history of mining. Victor and Cripple Creek, Colorado were the heart of a massive gold-producing district from around 1895 to 1930s. Mining structures, debris, and abandoned and occupied homes and businesses dating to the boom years radiate out in all directions from Victor. Newmont Gold which still operates the sprawling mine nearby along with Teller County and various historic/preservation societies have teamed up to construct a series of walking paths that wind their way through many of the old mining areas, which give visitors an up close look at the structures and equipment used 100 years ago.

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Miners at the Vindicator just north of Victor, today a foot path leads you to the ruins of the mill in he background of this photo, much, much more impressive in person!

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The towering remains of the Vindicator north of Victor, a foot path I didn’t care to walk in the snow leads below for an awe-inspiring view of this enormous ghost structure

 

If you find yourself in the Colorado Springs or Canon City, Colorado area, be sure to plan a day trip to visit nearby Victor and soak up this town’s very unique atmosphere and wonderful sights!

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Locals

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A handsome fella

2019 Ghosts of Colorado Calendars Only $14.99 CLICK HERE!

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At first glance it is hard to believe Goldfield, Colorado once boasted a population of over 3,500 residents when the nearby Portland Mine provided ample employment opportunities around 1900.

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The Portland Mine at Goldfield in its prime around 1900

The ebb and flow of mining is a brutal life of boom and bust, in Goldfield, as in nearly every mining town and camp in the West, the ore played out that coupled with the Federal Government abandoning the gold standard, the town withered and faded away. Today, Goldfield still struggles to hang on, a handful of residents, some retired, some weekenders, some descendants of earlier miners, and a smattering of coyotes, deer, and foxes still occupy a number of homes in this boom and bust town.

 

Newmont Gold is reworking the tailings piles from yesteryear nearby, as well as carrying out new large-scale mining operations which has also brought a few folks back to town, but for the most part, Goldfield is fragile, wind-blown remnant of a forgotten era. The splintered wood and cracked cornices, peeled paint, and shifting foundations stand today as silent witnesses of grander times in Goldfield. The highlight of the town in the City Hall and fire station, built in 1899, which stands guard over the town, its weathered and flaking yellow paint an ode the gold that once brought life to this great Colorado ghost town.

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Preserved in a state of “arrested decay” in recent City Hall, built in 1899, looms over Goldfield

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Another view of the combination City Hall and Fire Station

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Goldfield’s residential streets are a combo of abandoned and occupied dwellings

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A 100-year-old miner’s shack with the Newmont property in the distance, providing work for modern-day miners who rework the tailings piles of yesterday’s mines for microscopic gold which could not be harvested with the primitive  techniques of the 19th Century. Newmont employs hundreds at decent wages, reworking the “waste rock” of 100 years ago.

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A little elbow grease and we’d have a winner!

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A seasonal home in Goldfield, boarded up for the winter

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This beautiful old Ford and the house behind still have lots of promise!

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Many years since a fire warmed the hearth of this Goldfield house

2019 Ghosts of Colorado Calendar by Jeff Eberle $14.99 CLICK HERE!

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If walls could talk

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On the south end of Goldfield is the short-lived suburb of “Hollywood” which was swallowed by Goldfield’s expansion. Hollywood was actually a suburb of nearby Victor, about a mile away in the boom days. Hollywood was soon swallowed by Goldfield when the Portland Mine boomed.

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One of Hollywood’s nicer homes

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On the north end of Goldfield sits this impressive two-story, occupied until recent years as evinced by the satellite dish. This home is where the “suburbs” or “satellite camp” of Goldfield known both as “Indpendence” and “Hull City” was located. Just south lies the Vindicator Mine.

Ghost Town Guide Books and Photography by Jeff Eberle- CLICK HERE!

 

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The Vindicator, a truly impressive structure, photos do it no justice. It is an enormous building.

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A “fancy” house at the old Indpendence/Hull City site

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Close-up of the fancy house

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Home of the mine boss and his family, occupied until the early-1950s

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Another “satellite” camp of Goldfield was Bull Hill where the hardscrabble miners lived in retired railroad cars on the windswept side of the hill.

Travel pretty much anywhere in the western half of the United States and you’re sure to come across the iconic “false front” store. False front architecture is almost as synonymous with the Old West as the Colt Pistol and John Wayne- We see examples of the false front in nearly every vintage photo of the Old West, and any classic western film would be incomplete if it didn’t contain at least one false fronted store somewhere in the story.

But what is the reasoning behind this strange architectural style? There are several answers, and they are all based in practicality-

First, the false front was often added to impermanent structures such as large tents for stability. Tent colonies were commonplace in the early years of westward expansion and the gold rush era. People would flock to an area and the quickest, easiest and most affordable dwelling to put up was the tent. As prairie or mountain winds whipped, and the colder weather moved in, settlers would shore up the sides of the tent with logs, making somewhat of a “half-cabin.” Others, in many cases businesses being run out of tents, would add a false front with a formal door. This gave an impression of permanence, as well as providing additional security to the contents inside via the proper locking door on the front.

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As time went on, and the tent colonies grew into permanent log, brick, and milled lumber towns and cities, the false front carried on- This time the false front served both as advertising space, and as a decorative facade. The large flat surface was perfect for painting the name of your hotel, saloon, or general store. The wealthier and more prosperous you were, the fancier and more ornate your false front would be, featuring time consuming scrollwork, cornices, and gingerbread trim. The false front soon became the status symbol of the Old West, and merchants and hoteliers would engage in spirited attempts to one-up each other, much like men do today with their pickup trucks.

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Today, the false front hangs on across the West. Some retain their their glory, and for many others that glory has faded to a forlorn, splintered, black-brown-gray of rotted and neglected wood.

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Jail at the abandoned coal town of Berwind, Colorado

Colorado mining history is usually thought of in terms of gold and silver, but coal mining in the state also dates back to the earliest days of the state’s existence. Coal was found in large seams along the foothills shortly after John Gregory, the Russell brothers, and George Jackson made their more famous gold strikes in 1859.

Coal isn’t glamorous, or precious- It’s dirty, it smells, and those who toiled underground to extract it were faced with the grim aspect of underground fires and explosions and pockets of poison gas which could extinguish life in the blink of an eye. The future wasn’t much brighter for those who were lucky enough to avoid disasters, as inhaling the powder fine dust of the mines resulted in “black lung” and various cancers which cut many a life short.

But coal was vital to the industrialization of America and the westward expansion- Coal was used to fire the furnaces that smelted the gold, silver, and copper ore mined in the mountains. Coal fueled the giant boilers of the steam railroad engines that connected the United States, transporting people, goods, animals, and armies across the continent. And, for many miners who failed to find riches in the gold mines, there was always plenty of demand for coal miners.

Traveling south along Interstate 25 in Colorado, just as you cross the Arkansas River and leave the city limits of Pueblo you enter the heart of Colorado’s coal country. A quick side trip down nearly any of the many exits along this southern stretch of I-25 will lead you to sandstone and concrete ruins- The final reminders of the many small coal towns which once dotted the foothills in the late-1800s through through the 1950s- Places like Lester, Rugby, Tioga, Tobasco, Ludlow, Pryor, Valdez and Berwind.

Here is a collection of random images of these fading faces of Colorado’s coal industry:

(Click on image to make larger)

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25 Abandoned Buildings In Colorado You Must See Before They Are Gone

25 (More) Abandoned Buildings in Colorado You Must See Before They Are Gone

25 Forgotten Cemeteries and Burial Plots of Colorado

Autumn Colors in Colorado’s Ghost Towns

Abandoned Faces of Colorado’s San Luis Valley and Northern New Mexico.

“The Gray Ghosts of Colorado- Book I: The Copperheads” The True, Suppressed History of Colorado’s Secessionist Movement of 1860-1861, and the Coloradans Who Fought for the Confederacy During the Civil War $19.99

 

 

Photos I took during the 2016 and 2017 “Hot Rod Hill Climb” in Central City, Colorado. It’s a great event featuring pre-1965 vintage style hot rods. If you get a chance come on up to this year’s Hot Rod Hill Climb on the weekend of September 14-16, 2018.

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