11 Colorado Ghost Towns
Colorado's gold rush brought humanity and hardship to these rocky mountains. Mining towns popped up by the dozen, but just as quickly found themselves abandoned as the politics of man and nature shifted. The 11 ghost towns on our list might be haunted by the past, but it isn't hard to find the beauty in these booms gone bust.
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9. GILMAN - Eagle County
Founded in 1886, this company mining town perched on the side of Battle Mountain had as many as 2,000 residents during its boom years. Half of Gilman was destroyed by fire in 1899, but resilient residents rebuilt, and as recently as 1950, yearly mine production at the site was valued at nearly $13 million. Gilman’s 100th anniversary was not celebrated as a result of falling metal prices and labor disputes with the controlling New Jersey Zinc Co.
In 1984, its residents were forcibly evacuated while the town was to be cleared of toxic pollutants, the consequence of a century of lead and zinc mining. The pollution was rated so extreme that the Environmental Protection Agency placed the site on the Superfund national priorities list. Some residents left so quickly that spare cars still sit in their garages. The town remains off-limits to the public, but the multicolored homes that sit in suspended animation on Gilman’s steep mountainsides can still be seen, surrounded by an autumn rainbow of aspen trees, from U.S. Highway 24 south of Minturn.
10. LUDLOW - Las Animas County
Unlike the hard-rock mining towns of the central mountains, where silver queens and gold kings charmed settlers with glittering promises of becoming overnight millionaires, soft-rock mining communities of the southern Front Range like Ludlow were home to residents with no such illusions of good fortune. Here, King Coal ruled a working class with an iron fist. For most colliers the thought of eight-hour work days, mine safety standards and the abolition of child labor were more unpretentious goals worth fighting for. In 1914, when 1,200 miners went on strike demanding these simple luxuries, Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. strike breakers were sent to harass the miners’ tent city on Ludlow’s outskirts.
Tensions came to a boil on April 20, when guards opened gunfire. Between 19 and 25 people were killed in the “Ludlow Massacre,” including two women and 11 children who asphyxiated under a burning tent. Ludlow became a rallying cry for further strikes and American industrialists slowly implemented more favorable conditions. Ludlow is now abandoned except for a memorial maintained by the United Mine Workers of America and a legacy of labor laws earned by the blood of those involved in Colorado’s “Coal Wars.”
11. ANIMAS FORKS - San Juan County
Townspeople once boasted in an advertisement that Animas Forks was the “largest city in the world.” That claim was punctuated by a caveat in small print: “at this altitude.” Set in a narrow canyon at more than 11,200 feet, the town was targeted by frequent avalanches sweeping like pendulums between mountainsides, destroying buildings and stranding travelers caught in the middle.
Despite this, Animas Forks was once the seat of San Juan County. As legend has it, when a disgruntled defendant threatened to take his case to a higher court, the county judge replied: “There is no such thing. This is the highest court in the United States.”
The town remains a fork in the road separating the Jeep trails of the Alpine Loop leading to the rocky Engineer and Cinnamon passes and State Highway 110 leading to Silverton.
Animas Forks’ most famous structure is the “Bay Window House.” Built by William Duncan, the elegant home was sold to mining magnate Tom Walsh, whose daughter Evelyn was the last private owner of the Hope diamond. However, neither Evelyn nor the diamond is thought to have ever resided in the house.
(This story originally appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Colorado Life Magazine)