St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town: A Journey Through Time
St Elmo, Colorado, nestled deep within the Sawatch Range, is renowned as one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the United States. With its fascinating history and picturesque location, this once-bustling mining town offers a unique glimpse into the past, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you on a journey through the captivating history of St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town, exploring its rise and fall, the people who called it home, and the attractions that make it an unmissable destination today.
The Origins of St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town
The story of St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town begins in the late 1870s when prospectors, drawn by the allure of gold and silver, started to settle in the Chalk Creek Canyon. In 1880, the town of Forest City was founded, but due to other towns with the same name, it was later renamed St Elmo after a popular 19th-century novel.
The town quickly flourished, reaching a population of around 2,000 residents by 1881, most of whom were miners working in the nearby gold and silver mines.
The Mining Boom
Several mines were established surrounding St Elmo, including the Mary Murphy, Teresa C., Molly, and Pioneer mines. The Mary Murphy Mine was the largest and most successful, producing over $60,000,000 worth of gold during its lifetime, and employing more than 250 men at its peak.
Although not as profitable, the other mines also provided a steady income stream for the town and its residents.
As the mining industry thrived, St Elmo’s infrastructure and amenities expanded to cater to the growing population. The town boasted a telegraph office, general store, town hall, five hotels, saloons, dance halls, a newspaper office, and a schoolhouse.
In 1881, the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad arrived in St Elmo, further fueling its growth and providing a vital link to the outside world.
The Decline of St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town
The End of the Mining Era
Unfortunately, the prosperity of St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town was not destined to last. The mining industry began to decline in the early 1920s, as mines were depleted and miners moved on to more lucrative prospects.
The closure of the Alpine Tunnel in 1910 and the discontinuation of the railroad service in 1922 further contributed to the town’s decline. As businesses closed and people left, St Elmo gradually transformed into the ghost town it is today.
The Remaining Residents
Despite the town’s decline, many die-hard residents chose to stay in St Elmo, jealously protecting its buildings and legacy. The Starks, one of the town’s prominent families, continued to run the general store and rent out cabins to tourists.
The post office remained in operation until 1952, when the death of the postmaster marked the end of an era for the town.
St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town Today
A Living Ghost Town
Although considered a ghost town, St Elmo is not entirely abandoned. A handful of full-time residents and dozens of summer residents continue to call the town home, preserving its historic buildings and maintaining its charm.
The general store remains open during the summer months, offering tourists a unique glimpse into the past, while off-road vehicle rentals, fishing in Chalk Creek, and exploring the old mining roads provide plenty of outdoor adventure opportunities.
The St Elmo Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, ensuring that the town’s rich history and well-preserved buildings are protected for future generations to enjoy. Several buildings have been restored and repurposed, including the Miner’s Exchange building, which now serves as a general store, and the former Home Comfort Hotel, which houses the Stark Store.
The town hall and a few other buildings were destroyed by fire in 2002, but efforts are underway to restore and rebuild these lost treasures.
Exploring St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town
Visitors to St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town can take a stroll down its main street, admiring the preserved wooden buildings and imagining life during the town’s heyday. For those looking to delve deeper into the town’s history, a visit to the Iron City Cemetery, located two miles east of St Elmo, offers insights into the lives and deaths of the town’s early residents.
Staying in St Elmo, Colorado Ghost Town
For a truly immersive experience, visitors can spend the night in an authentic cabin, available for rent at a reasonable price. Surrounded by the haunting beauty of the ghost town and the stunning natural scenery of the Sawatch Range, a stay in St Elmo is sure to be a memorable and enchanting experience.
Nearby Attractions and Activities
Scenic Drives and Outdoor Adventures
The journey to St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town is a scenic adventure, with the drive along County Road 162 offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and Chalk Creek. Outdoor enthusiasts can also explore the numerous four-wheel-drive trails in the area, go rock-hounding for quartz and aquamarine, or enjoy camping and fishing in the nearby mountains.
For those looking to explore further afield, the nearby towns of Buena Vista and Salida offer a wealth of attractions, including shopping, restaurants, breweries, and distilleries. Both towns boast a rich history and vibrant arts scene, making them the perfect destinations for a day trip or extended stay.
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort
Located just a short drive from St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town, the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort offers visitors a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. With a range of hot springs, spa services, and accommodations, it’s the perfect place to unwind after exploring the ghost town and its surroundings.
St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town is a captivating destination that transports visitors back in time to the Wild West era. Its well-preserved buildings, fascinating history, and stunning natural surroundings offer a unique and unforgettable experience for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and those simply looking for a peaceful escape.
Whether you’re exploring the ghost town itself, adventuring in the nearby mountains, or soaking in the nearby hot springs, a visit to St Elmo Colorado Ghost Town will surely be a memorable and enchanting experience.