By Jamie Mills
Many Colorado towns were born during the 19th century mining boom, when gold and silver attracted folks from across the U.S. Some of the towns had year-round residents, some had newspapers and most had saloons. With the decline of mining, most of the towns have since been abandoned and are now considered ghost towns. We’ve compiled a list of some of the better-known haunts where you won’t find many ghosts, just beautiful terrain.
On a four-wheel drive route between Marble and Crested Butte, you will find this abandoned mining town. The site is best known for The Crystal Mill, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. This area is now known for fly fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and four-wheel drive terrain. People started mining the area in the 1860s and the town boasted more than 400 residents at its peak.
About 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista sits the town of St. Elmo at an elevation of 9,961 feet. This is one of Colorado’s best-preserved mining communities and was home to 2,000 people before the industry declined in the early 1920s. At its peak in the 1890s, the town had a telegraph office, general store, town hall, five hotels, saloons, dancing halls, a newspaper office, a school house, and 150 mines within the area. Arguably, the location isn’t truly a ghost town bacause a few residents still live in St. Elmo.
Just 30 miles east of Greeley you can find Dearfield, a town settled primarily by African Americans in the early part of the 20th century. It was formed by Oliver T. Jackson who was trying to create a community in Weld County for African Americans. By 1921, at least 700 people populated the town and were prosperous farmers for a few years. However, with the Great Depression, the agricultural success died down and people began to desert the town.
In the eastern corner of Pitkin County, just below the Continental Divide, is the ghost town of Independence. It was the first settlement established in the Roaring Fork Valley after gold was struck in the vicinity on Independence Day, 1879, hence its name. Many of the residents helped build a toll road through the area, which is roughly the same route as today’s Independence Pass. It lost its popularity and population once people started flocking to Aspen. At nearly 11,000 feet, few could tolerate the cold winters they faced at such a high elevation. It has been a ghost town since 1912 and many of the original structures still stand.
The abandoned community is located 12 miles northeast of Silverton on the Alpine Loop at an elevation of 11,200 feet. By 1876, the town near the headwaters of the Animas River had become a bustling mining community with a population of 450 people. The Animas Forks Pioneer served as the newspaper that kept residents informed. Townspeople had to migrate down valley every fall and once endured a blizzard for 23 days with 25 feet of snow, forcing the residents to dig tunnels to escape from
This old town and mining camp near Granite was founded in 1867 when, according to legend, some prospectors’ burros wandered off and found their way down to the creek. When the miners found their animals, they discovered gold. The town is just four miles from another ghost town named Winfield. For the most part, the town is abandoned except for some buildings that are seasonally occupied.
Located southwest of Gould is Teller City, which was said to be one of the largest cities in the Grand Lake region, with more than 1,500 people. The largest building was a 40-room hotel. Residents could be found at more than 27 saloons and there were hundreds of cabins for miners. The town became deserted once the value of silver dropped in 1884, and it became an official ghost town in 1902.
Jamie Mills is a Denver-based writer who enjoys exploring the state.