Beauty, History + Adventure
While on your Colorado vacation of camping, biking and hiking Colorado trails, white water rafting and skiing don’t forget to check out the historical sites. Self-guided tour booklets are available at both the Visitor Center in Idaho Springs, and the Visitor Center in Georgetown.
Historic Clear Creek County
Clear Creek County was created as a direct result of George Andrew Jackson’s discovery of gold on January 7, 1859. Although he attempted to keep the discovery a secret, it only lasted until April of 1859, when the current location of Idaho Springs was inundated with its first group of miners. But the first settlement was actually two miles above Idahoe and was named Spanish Bar, due to the evidence of earlier mining by the Spanish Conquistadors.
Clear Creek is a diverse county, with 86% of the land national forest. It is one of the seventeen original counties and one of the three left in the state with its original boundaries. Mining districts were founded creating their laws and civil government in order to protect their claims from claim jumpers, thieves, murderers, and all other unlawful acts. On November 1, 1861 the territorial Legislature of Colorado subdivided the territory into seventeen counties and Idahoe was named the county seat in the legislative act of establishment. Colorado governor Gilpin appointed the first three county commissioners to organize the civil government of Clear Creek County.
In November 1861, the commissioners met and divided the county into seven voting precincts. The first county election resulted in elections for a sheriff, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, county attorney, superintendent of schools, and a probate judge.
As more and more miners moved into the county, the prospecting moved west following Clear Creek which runs most of the length of the county. Founded Georgetown while John Dumont settled in the Mill City area (now Dumont). When Mill City was built in 1860 all the homes were, naturally, log cabins. In 1860, the settlement was renamed Dumont, in honor of the founder, John M. Dumont. Shortly after, Dumont was awarded their first post office.
Further west the Griffith brothers, David and George, were instrumental in settling Georgetown where they discovered the rich silver veins. In 1867, the Colorado Legislature called a special election and the county seat was moved from Idaho Springs to Georgetown. Georgetown was incorporated in 1885 and established their post office in 1866.
Colorado’s Best Kept Secret
Today Clear Creek County is one of the best kept secrets in Colorado. Whether you are planning a one day visit or a complete vacation, Clear Creek County will not disappoint. Remember – we are nearby and near perfect!
Historic Idaho Springs
The next day as Jackson was heading west, he saw a bluish mist or cloud from a nearby canyon. Jackson thought it was an Indian camp so preceded carefully. But instead of Indians, Jackson was surprised to see hundreds of mountain sheep grazing on green grass – a result of the warm vapors from the hot springs in the area. That night he camped in the area of Miner Street and Soda Creek Road. The next morning he pushed farther west to the junction of Chicago Creek and Clear Creek where he built a fire on a sand bar. As the snow melted, Jackson was able to pan the sand using his coffee cup. He quickly found nine dollars worth of gold. He marked the spot and returned to Golden, Colorado to tell his friend, Tom Golden.
On April 17th Jackson returned to the sight of his discovery with 22 men from the Chicago Mining Company. Near the end of April the party reached the spot on Chicago Creek where they discovered $1,900 of gold within the first seven days! Just think – in today’s economy that would be the equivalent to one million dollars!!!
The area was first known as Jackson’s Diggings, Sacramento City, and finally Idahoe. In June of 1859, the area was formally organized, the first recorded in Colorado history. 400 people lived in the settlement at that time. From 1860 until 1873, the city was surveyed three times with the last survey resulting in a town of 105 acres. R. B. Griswold, elected as the first mayor of Idaho Springs, registered with the land office in Central City. In 1874, President Grant gave the government deeds to Mayor Griswold and he, in turn, deeded the lots to settlers. From the beginning, Idaho Springs attempted to display the best of culture – James A. Payne – who returned in April 1859 with George Jackson, brought a violin and performed for the residents of the city. Payne’s was the first recorded marriage in Idaho Springs and a son was born in the camp in 1863.
What would Idaho Springs be without the mineral Indian Hot Springs? The earliest records show that in 1859, a geyser erupted but by 1860, that had disappeared, probably due to mining activity. One of the first features of the town was a modern (modern in terms of the 1860’s) water and sewer system. By the early 1900’s two different electric companies provided power and heat to the town.
Between 1870 and 1900 many fine homes and businesses were established but the feature that made much of this possible was the Colorado and Southern Railroad line that brought goods and services to the growing, thriving community. Not only did the Railroad bring goods and services, but it also provided a more affordable means to get the ore to Denver.
By the late 1930’s, Highway 40 was constructed which gobbled up a section of the city. All non-essential mining was banned in World War II to conserve powder and supplies, which once again, changed the complexion of the community. But in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Interstate 70 was built and this changed the landscape but also made the city more accessible to both residents and tourists.
And as for today’s tourists, Idaho Springs has so much to offer… From the stunning Charlie Tayler Waterwheel, just south of I-70 at the foot of Bridal Veil Falls, to Mount Evans Scenic and Historic Byway (the highest paved road in the Northern Hemisphere) which leads to Echo Lake Park and the Echo Lake Lodge, as well as Echo Lake Resort, and the Tall Grass Day Spa.
Idaho Springs is also home to the Argo Mill and Tunnel, the Phoenix Gold Mine, and the Colorado School of Mines’ Edgar Mine. There are also numerous trail heads for outdoor adventure and quick access to the Peaks to Plains trail! And don’t forget white water rafting, atv tours, ziplining, via ferrata, and horse back riding too! The Historic Downtown district on Miner Street offers an array of wonderful shops, eateries, breweries and art galleries along with a state of the art recreation center. From past to present there is so much here to enjoy!
Mill City was founded in 1859 but in 1880 the name was changed to Dumont in honor of Colonel John M. Dumont, a pioneer and influential mining man in the county. At one time, Colonel Dumont own three mines – the Whale, the Freemont, and the Lincoln mines. Today, the Stanley Mine is located on the site of the old Whale Mine.
Dumont/Mill City was once an important stage coach stop and was known for its ore stamping mills and smelting enterprises. In the early days of mining, the ore was crushed by Spanish arastres powered by mules and water. An example of this primitive technology can be seen in front of the Idaho Springs Library.
Historic DumontIn 1880, Dumont was home to around 100 people and consisted of two hotels, a general store, a school, and a firehouse. The Mill City House, built in 1860 still stands as does the Dumont School which was erected in 1909.
The stagecoach stop was located at the Mill City House and housed the first saloon west of Denver as well as the first Singer sewing machine in the territory. The upper floor of the Mill City House was used as an opera house and a town meeting hall. In fact, President Ulysses S. Grant once stayed at the Mill City House. When I-70 was built, much of the southern half of the city was sacrificed to create the highway.
Today, Dumont has an active historical society which is known for its melodrama productions which occur every fall.
John Coburn, born in Down County Ireland, on Christmas Day 1822, always felt that he had a special mission for his life. John was a dreamer who knew how to turn those dreams into reality. Dreams brought him to America where he first settled in Pennsylvania. There, he met and married his wife, Margaret Wilfong. Margaret shared John’s dreams as well.
He was interested in creating towns and that passion brought John and Margaret to Colorado where they constructed a ranch. This ranch consisted of a thirty-two room hotel and stable named the Downieville Ranch. The site was popular with Chief Colorow and his Ute tribe, especially when the tribe traveled to the Western Slope. The ranch was a good place to rest the horses plus the tribe was fond of the fresh breads baked for the hotel guests by Margaret Coburn, John’s wife.
The ranch/hotel was next owned by Emma Bridge and was converted to a boardinghouse. Delores and Ollie Jackson owned the ranch in 1947 when it burned to the ground and was not replaced. The area saw other entrepreneurial ventures such as Independent Oil and Gas, a small dairy queen, and a few homes. In 1955, a port of entry was constructed and is still in use today.
The ranch is gone but Downieville still serves as a great place catering to travelers. It is also a great community to raise a family.
The Red Elephant Mines, which were discovered in 1876, lead to the beginnings of the town which was founded by John Coburn, also credited with founding Downieville. Mr. Coburn originally called the town Free America. John came to the area from the East, settled in the area, and designed the town as a place where families could be comfortable raising children. Although an Irishman, Mr. Coburn abstained from the use of alcohol and wanted to create a community which would be alcohol free. When the railroad came through the area and the site for the depot was selected, it just happened to be the upper portion of Free America and was owned by John Coburn’s least favorite son-in-law, Alex Lawson. Free America became known as Lawson.
View of Lawson, Clear Creek County, Colorado,In 1893, Lawson had almost 300 registered voters. But when the bottom fell out of the silver market, there was little or no work and the population fell. Few businesses survived. The Lawson school consolidated with the county in 1959. The construction of I-70 in the 1960’s gobbled up much of the north side of Lawson. The oldest and longest surviving business, the W.E. Anderson General Store closed its doors in the mid-1960’s.
New homes have sprung up, creating a pleasant place to raise children. In 2010, the Lawson Water Park opened their doors, adding to the tourist attractions in the area.
Lawson Whitewater Park
Great for recreational canoeing, kayaking, and splashing fun! The Lawson Whitewater Park was made possible by Clear Creek County Open Space partnering with the Clear Creek Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC), the Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District (CCRMD), and others who worked to improve and develop the site in order to take full advantage of the various activities in this area.
The Lawson Whitewater Park has several in stream structures and the original Lawson Hole. The Lawson Whitewater Park is used for a rafting put in as well as kayaking and fishing. The park includes over 400 feet of trails, terracing and public access points. There is parking, public restrooms and a changing area.
Empire is one of Clear Creek County’s hidden gems. Located just off I-70 on US Highway 40 in a sunny star-shaped valley traversed by Clear Creek, making it an ideal location and a great base for mountain adventures, refreshing tranquility, or a mix of both.
Surrounded by stately evergreens and towering mountains, try your hand at angling for the elusive trout in numerous lakes, or explore the back country on 4-wheel-drive roads. Whether you want to experience the thrill of snowshoeing in a pristine valley, enjoying an outdoor festival or concert, shopping for stained glass artwork and antiques, soaking in a claw-foot bathtub in a Victorian bed and breakfast, or enjoying a delicious ice cream cone, Empire is the perfect destination. Come spend some time strolling down historic Park Avenue, where you can enjoy unique shopping and dining opportunities.
Fun Fact: Did you know Empire is home of the “Original” Hard Rock Cafe? Established in 1934, Empire’s Hard Rock Cafe still serves great breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Historically: As land was gobbled up by the first miners to Idaho Springs, miners from Central City were descending upon Empire. The first gold discovery of any consequence was made by Henry DeWitt Clinton Cowles and Edgar F. Freeman.
In the fall of 1860 they struck silver, the first true fissure lode ever discovered in Colorado. By 1861 a citizens committee had formed to define boundaries, draft laws, and name the mountains and streams. The second building built was a cabin which served as a courthouse, sheriff’s office, recorder’s office and the town hall.
Empire enjoyed prosperity from 1861 to 1865. When the easy gold played out, silver in Georgetown provided the siren song pulling many miners from Empire. By 1873 Congress removed silver parity with gold and demonetized silver. Overnight Empire was booming again. By 1875 the Union Pass road to Georgetown was complete as well as the Georgetown, Middle Park, and Empire wagon road over the great Snowy Range to Grand County. Today the 4 mile Union Pass road still exists as a hiking trail.
In 1862 the Peck House was built by James and Mary Grace Parsons Peck. However, after more than thirty years, Empire’s historic Peck House Hotel and Restaurant closed in April 2014, as owners Gary and Sally St.Clair chose to retire.
In 1858, two Kentucky-born boys, George and David Griffith, set out for the west, but arrived too late to stake a claim near George Jackson’s discoveries. They opted instead to follow the creek toward the Snowy Range, and on August 1, 1859, George discovered gold at the base of the mountain that today bears the family name. The Griffith Mining District was formed in June 1860, and quite soon afterwards, the town of Georgetown was formed. From its humble beginnings as a small mining camp site in the Kansas Territory, the town eventually was home to thousands and thousands of people in the 1870′s, 1880′s, and 1890’s.
Georgetown would not be known for its gold, but rather for its wealth of silver. The Griffith’s gold mill was closed by the fall of 1862. It became brutally clear that the gold in and around Georgetown was not easily extracted and that the costs associated with mining it outweighed its worth. Placer mining of gold in the District was a failure by most standards. But the future of the town would soon be solidified by the discovery of an exceptionally rich lode of silver ore on the ridge of Mount McClellan: the Belmont Lode. This was the beginning of a population spike that eventually drove the population to over 5,000 people!
The dusty little mining town began to flourish into a true community. Banks were formed, professionals arrived, the Barton House opened its doors to visiting investors, a local newspaper was developed, four fire companies were formed, and the saloons and pool halls sprung up to entertain the hard-working miners.
As offsets to the rough-and-tumble mining lifestyle, church congregations soon began to build churches, the first being Grace Episcopal Church. A county jail was also built in 1873 on Biddle Street, a portion of which still stands as a south-facing wall in a private home. The downtown commercial district was blossoming with new storefronts offering dry goods, hardware, and confectionaries. Georgetown had evolved into a refined community of white picket fences and came to be called “Silver Queen of the Rockies.”
Spirits were high in 1877 when the Colorado Central Railroad finally picked its way through the rugged and unforgiving landscape that is the Clear Creek Valley. Thousands of miners were working the county mines, and the outlook appeared bright. The train could now bring not only supplies up the creek, but also investors, tourists, and visions of an easier lifestyle. However, the US government had discontinued the coinage of silver in 1873, and silver ore prices had been declining. The future was uncertain.
Major silver discoveries had been made in Leadville, and the Union Pacific announced plans to build a Georgetown, Breckenridge, and Leadville extension which was intended to reach the valued Leadville market before other competitors could build a rail line first. The engineers designed the tracks to “loop” cross over itself with the help of a 95 foot high bridge that spanned 300 feet of creek and track. The Georgetown Loop Railroad, which reached Silver Plume in 1884, heralded a new age in Georgetown that could now cater to visitors, for who wouldn’t want to ride “The Far Famed Georgetown Loop?” Tourists could ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad, picnic at Green Lake, and dance at Pavilion Point… times have not changed all that much in Georgetown.
Georgetown, however, was not to be spared from the tumultuous busts that Colorado is well known for! In 1893 after the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, Georgetown’s economy was dealt a death blow. A terrible financial depression set over the entire state of Colorado, and the entire country soon followed suit. Residents of Georgetown were forced to look for work elsewhere…banks closed, stores shut down, and the population began to dwindle.
By the early 1930s, a scant 300 people still called Georgetown home. The town was a virtual ghost town and was quite impoverished. The Silver Queen had been battered and bruised after its brief brush with fame and fortune. However, a new industry was soon to reinvent the mountain town of Georgetown: the ski industry. But that’s a whole other story…
Historic Silver Plume
To stroll down the dirt main street of Silver Plume is like taking a step back in time. The small Victorian houses you pass by were homes to Colorado’s earliest silver miners during the 1870s. Imagine dirt streets filled with braying mules, bustling shops, and saloons, as Italian and Cornish immigrants return home from the mines that tower above town.
Today less than 200 residents make this their year round home, but during the peak of its population, between 1885 to 1905, more than 2,000 people lived in this community. The history of the Rocky Mountain West lives in Silver Plume. From the silver mines, which gave Silver Plume its name, to the small downtown Main Street shops, Silver Plume is full of picturesque buildings and attractions that create an exciting atmosphere of history and adventure.
While in Silver Plume be sure to visit the George Rowe Museum, which was the schoolhouse and the center of activity in the community’s past. The museum is open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Take a self guided walking tour of the Clifford Griffin Monument located just above Silver Plume honoring the owner of the Seven-Thirty Mine. Or perhaps you would like to visit with the merchants for afternoon tea, shop for antiques or try the local DRAM Apothecary and bread bar famously known for their specialty bitters! Oh, and don’t forget to take a ride on the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad at the Silver Plume Depot.
Historically: When silver was discovered in the area just west of Georgetown, the silver was so abundant that much of the silver lay in feather-like formations. Many consider this factor the reason for the name Silver Plume.
The town is surrounded by Republican Mountain on the north and by Mount McClellan on the south and sits at 9,114 feet above sea level. Although the town was in existence in 1870, it was not incorporated until September 21, 1880. But on election night in 1884, a fire destroyed the east end of the town. The only fire-fighting equipment available was leather buckets! So in 1885, town officials purchased a hand pumper for the city which is still used today in parades and other city celebrations.
In 1884 the town installed a water system which served until the 1980’s when it was replaced to comply with state standards. Silver Plume also had a granite quarry on the west side of the town. Granite used in the Colorado State capital was mined from Silver Plume! The peak years for Silver Plume’s population occurred from 1885 to 1905. During these years, the population of the area was around 2,000 and that included Brownville, the area just to the west of Silver Plume.
In 1895, Brownville was partially buried by a mud slide which buried seven homes but claimed no lives. Silver Plume has always been known for its celebrations – especially the Fourth of July. Band concerts, hand-drilling contests, and horse races have always been on the agenda. From 1902 until 1910 one of the best bands in the state was located in Silver Plume.
Colorado’s first ski club was formed in 1913 when J. B. Ballentine, who had spent several years in Norway, worked with one of his co-workers to supply homemade skis to all interested parties in the area. Twenty fours charter members – both male and female – created the club. By 1914, the club was hosting “ski tournaments” on a slope northwest of town. During the off-season, this group became the “theater” group and presented plays in the opera house.
In 1884, the Colorado and Southern was completed as part of the Georgetown Loop Railroad. This line extended west to Graymont. Edward Wilcox, a Methodist minister, extended the line sixteen miles in order to reach his mining interests on Mount McClellan. It passed through Waldorf, at an elevation of 11,600 feet above sea level. This line terminated at a mining tunnel filled with ice formations called the Ice Palace and was an active tourist attraction until the minister refused to run the train on Sundays. He was finally forced to sell the line in 1907 and an aerial tramway was installed to the top of Sunrise Peak on Mount McClellan. As with Georgetown, the area began to decline with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1893.
Schedule a Tour
409 6th Street
Georgetown, CO 80444
271 Silver Creek Road
Alice, CO 80452
305 Argentine Street
Georgetown, CO 80444
315 Main Street
Silver Plume, CO 80476
600 Griffith Street
Georgetown, CO 80444
2060 Miner Street
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
1416 Miner Street
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
507 5th Street
Georgetown, CO 80444