GEORGETOWN

Clear Creek Co., CO

 

By

 

Gary B. Speck

 

 

From Denver, head west on I-70. Shortly out of the city, the highway begins to ascend the east slope of the Rockies. Our goal this month is the old Victorian beauty of Georgetown about 45 miles west of downtown Denver.

Georgetown lies just south of the Interstate, and to experience it, allow several hours. It is colorful and very attractive, but is NOT a typical tourist trap. It doesn't exude a "honky-tonk" atmosphere, and doesn't put on false airs. It is the genuine article: a beautiful historic community proud of its roots.

Sixth Street, the main drag now, is a narrow paved road with parallel parking on one side only. It is lined with multi-hued one and two story structures of clapboard, brick and cut stone. Unpainted, weathered, clapboard antique shops with the patina of old chocolate but with brilliant white window trims compete with vibrant blue, lavender and green stores. These snuggle alongside majestic yellow, white and blue trimmed brick buildings with colorful overhanging cornices. The sidewalks are lined with half whiskey barrels planted with a profusion of petunias, violas, and other colorful flowers, which also festoon window boxes and hanging pots under weathered canopies. Antique shops, ice cream parlors, and book stores compete for attention with colorful handmade wooden signs.

Do you want to buy an old out-of-print book on Colorado ghost towns? Do you enjoy riding old trains? Do you like to explore old mines? Just ask. You'll find

Do you want to shop for antique clothing and period furniture? Do you want to stay in romantic B & B's? Do you like elegant candle-lit dinners? Just ask. You'll find.

Georgetown is a unique collection of mining era structures and the heritage represented by them. Georgetown is one of the very few old mining towns that never was destroyed by fire or other disasters. Today over 200 original structures still stand! It is so unique, that in 1966, the US Department of the Interior, National Park Service designated Georgetown as part of the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District. The town's 900 residents are proud of their heritage, and it shows.

However, Georgetown was not always this dignified.

Back in 1859 George Griffith discovered a gold vein in a beautiful mountain ringed valley. He had gone to the placer mines in Gregory Gulch (later called Central City), and all the good spots were taken, so he headed up the mountain. He staked a claim, and headed back to Gregory Gulch to fetch his brother David and three other men. They returned, staked out claims and commenced mining.

The following spring they returned, followed by a few others, and George's Town was born. Word got out, and a rag-tag canvas mining camp popped up in the canyon. The deposits were not rich, and within two years the camp had fizzled.

1864 was the big year. Silver was discovered five miles to the northwest, and the old camp at Georgetown began to grow again. from a start of four cabins, it grew quickly, mostly due to its prime flat site and central location to the mines. It became part of the number one silver mining district in the state.

 

In 1868, Georgetown had become large enough that it incorporated, wrested county seat honors from Idaho Springs. The bustling community grew until some 5000 folks called it home, and it was the third largest city in Colorado.

Georgetown's streets were lined with hotels, saloons, restaurants, stores, doctors, lawyers, and all other necessities of life. There were churches, schools, two opera houses, an active volunteer fire department, and mansions.

It even had the county offices, courthouse, and a railroad.

Those who didn't have jobs in town labored in the mines and mills that provided the economic bonanza that fueled the city's life.

In 1878 when the big silver strike was made in Leadville, Georgetown took a slight hit, but very slight. Then in 1893, with the country being placed on a gold standard, the boom turned to bust. There was no more market for silver, and the town's economy collapsed. As folks left, buildings were abandoned. The borrasca lasted some thirty years, and by the 1930s, Georgetown was an empty shell. At the start of WW II less than 200 people remained.

It remained a shell until the 1950s and early 1960s when it showed some growth. During the late 1960s and early 1970s many disenchanted hippies and other urban folk looking for their roots, and a life uncluttered with urban trappings headed out into the mountains of Colorado (among other areas), and discovered this gem. In 1968, when the community officially celebrated its Centennial, the population was about 500.

Today, respectable, and colorful Georgetown hangs out the welcome mat for all.

Outside of town are many hidden mountain valleys, some with old ghost towns sites hidden away. Places like Waldorf, Santiago Mine, Bakerville, Sidneyville, and Greenlake. Most are small mining camps, some have no remains, and all are much harder to find than the big ones.

No matter how your tastes in ghost towns run, Georgetown is a unique and worthwhile stop. No pretentious, stuffy, money hungry, tourist chomping, don't-call-us-a-ghost-town-but-stay-long-enough-to-spend-money-then-leave types. Heck these folks are genuinely friendly, hang out a large welcome mat, and share some of the WOWiest scenery in the country. What more could you ask for?

It's even FREE!

 

This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for October 2001.

 

LOCATION:

        S Sec 8, N Sec 17, T4S, R74W, Sixth Principal Meridian

        Latitude: 39.7060984 / 39 42' 22" N

        Longitude: -105.6975041 / 105 41' 51" W

 

 

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FIRST POSTED: October 01, 2001

LAST UPDATED: September 22, 2009

 

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