Before Colorado became a state, it was included as part of the New Mexico, Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas territories. In 1859, a provisional government was established, and the area of present-day Colorado was known as the Territory of Jefferson. Two years later, in 1861, the significant increase in population due to the Colorado Gold Rush turned the Territory of Jefferson into the Territory of Colorado. On August 1st, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant signed Colorado into statehood as the 38th state of the Union.
There are over 1,500 deserted settlements and ghost towns in Colorado. It is estimated that only 640 of those ghost towns still have visible remains. Dearfield, Ashcroft, Alta, Independence, Hancock, and Crystal are some of the most visited sites.
The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush heavily struck the rise of Colorado’s mountain towns in the late nineteenth century. The gold rush attracted an estimated 100,000 gold prospectors to take part in one of the most significant gold rush eras of American history. However, these once prosperous cities quickly faded to dust, leaving the area abandoned as politics and nature shifted.
The site for Independence is a well-preserved town located 13.5 miles east of Aspen and can be easily accessed in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Due to its 11,000 feet in elevation, winter access is challenging. It was built around the 1880s and was considered the first settlement in Roaring Fork Valley. It acquired its name because, on July 4th of 1879, miners struck gold.
Independence reached a population of 150 people and became an incredibly prosperous mining city of 500. The town produced over $190,000 for the Farwell’s Mines company. By the end of 1882, it had 1,500 residents, three post offices, and 47 businesses.
A drop in gold production in 1883 and migration to a new mining settlement Aspen, was the beginning of the end for Independence. In 1899, severe snowstorms also cut off the town’s communication and contact with other cities. As a result, a lot of the habitants ran out of food and were forced to evacuate.
In 1912, Independence was declared a ghost town. In 1973, it was recognized as a historic district. If you are interested in visiting this ghost town, here are some of the attractions you can look forward to:
- Exhibitions from the stables, general store, and intern cabin
- Guided tours over the town
Animas Forks, Colorado
Animas Forks is located only twelve miles northeast of Silverton in San Juan County. It is considered one of the highest mining camps in the United States, with an elevation of 11,200 feet.
The town’s first cabins were built in 1873 by prospectors, and by 1876, it became a crowded mining community. The population rose in 1883, having 450 people living in the area but often moving to warmer towns due to the blizzards that inundated the city with 7.6 meters of snow.
After the mining profits started to decrease, the investment in this town became unjustifiable. It tried to resurface briefly in 1904 after the construction of the Gold Prince Mill, but the railroad never met the expectations. Animas Forks was declared a ghost town in the 1920s, and in 2011 it was listed under the National Registry of Historic Places.
Here are some adventurous activities you can do in Animas:
- Self-guided tour and you can take pictures of the area
- Explore historic buildings such as the Old Hundred Mine and the William Duncan House
Initially known as “Castle Forks City” and “Chloride,” Ashcroft was a mining town located ten miles south of Aspen and eleven miles up from Castle Creek Road. This ghost town features historic buildings, a homestead, a saloon, a post office, and the Bird House Hotel.
Ashcroft was founded in 1880 by prospectors Charles B. Culver and W.F. Coxhead, who were searching for silver deposits in the Castle Creek Valley. Once they started to promote their discovery, twenty-three prospectors joined the “Crazy Culver,” Together, they formed the Miner’s Protective Association. It was later renamed Ashcroft in 1882 and had over 3,500 people, twenty saloons, and six hotels.
These silver deposits initially produced around 14,000 ounces of silver, but they were shallow. In 1884, a rich strike was found in Aspen which ended the prosperity and growth of Ashcroft. By 1885, only 100 residents lived in the town, and after the death of Jack Leahy (the town’s last resident) in 1939, it officially became a ghost town.
If you want to visit Ashcroft, some of the most popular tourist attractions are:
This historically black majority area in the Weld County of Colorado was formed by Oliver Toussaint Jackson, who wished to create an African American colony. Dearfield is situated only 30 miles east of Greeley, its nearby community.
During the late 1910s, Dearfield’s farming community started to bloom with an upward amount of 300 residents, a school, and two churches established by the end of the 1920s.
However, the Great Depression took the town’s agricultural success, ending it in a significant economic decline. Many settlers began to migrate to other areas in search of better opportunities. By the end of 1940, the population decreased to only twelve people. Eight years later, in 1948, Oliver Jackson died, and Dearfield became a ghost town.
In 1988, the Black American West Museum tried to preserve the site as much as possible and registered it as a historic landmark.
Even though there are not many tourist attractions to enjoy, you can visit the remaining buildings that contain information and history about the town, have a self-guided tour, and experience with your own eyes what it was like living in the plains in the 1900s.
St. Elmo, Colorado
St. Elmo is located 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista and sits at an elevation of 9,961 feet. It has been claimed that nearly 2,000 people previously settled this city when mining for gold and silver reached its peak in Colorado.
St. Elmo is considered to be one of Colorado’s most well-preserved ghost towns. Previously referred to as “Forest City” in the 1880s, Saint Elmo attracted many miners due to its abundant minerals and resources such as gold and silver. The town also had many saloons and dance halls among its larger population by the end of 1881. Throughout the town’s prime years in the 1890s, there were over 150 mine claims, a general store, five hotels, and a telegraph office.
However, all this rapid abundance seemed to die down once the train service of Chalk Creek Canyon closed in 1926. It marked the end of the town’s success, and by 1958 it was finally declared a ghost town.
Interestingly enough, there are still a few people and businesses currently operating in this area. Here are some splendid tourist attractions in St. Elmo:
- Visit the general store for souvenirs, snacks, and drinks
- Rent a cabin
- Ghost Town Guesthouse with bed and breakfast inside the city
It is undeniable the vast and rich history of how Colorado’s most prosperous mining towns ended up being abandoned and deserted because of the economic decline, lower profits of silver and gold, natural disasters, or political disputes. Most of the tourist attractions available in these areas are exhibitions and self-guided tours, making it possible to enjoy their history and understand the living conditions that people had at the time.