Spring is here. You just completed your car maintenance service at your local auto shop, and are ready for an interesting road trip. No more slogging through treacherous ice crusted blizzards on Mountain passes. No more sliding on black ice on your way to work. You can now drive without clutching the wheel so tightly, and even roll down the windows and enjoy that sweet fresh air.
How about a day road trip this weekend. Colorado has so many interesting things to do, so many natural wonders to enjoy, and great shopping, sports and culture in the bigger cities (often in the small towns as well.) Those are all good, but how about checking out a few of the more intriguing ghost towns in our state? Did you know we have over 1,500 ghost towns? I remember when Lake Loveland was drained for maintenance when I was a child. I was pleasantly intrigued to see an old brick grain mill popping up, some building foundations, and abandoned ancient farm implements once the lake was drained. My first ghost town! I could not stop thinking about the farms that had stood where the lake now was so many years ago. How many people had lived there? What did their houses look like? Did they have wells and stables and outhouses? Could old buttons and coins be scattered down there? As I grew up, I started finding the remnants of towns just about anytime I went anywhere. And, I am not counting the abundance of abandoned farm and ranch sites that are found every 20 miles or so as one drives through our rural areas. Colorado history is rife with communities that pop up, and quickly vanish.
Why do we have so many? According to Wikipedia,
“Due to incomplete records and legends that are now accepted as fact, no list will ever be complete. Ghost towns are predominantly of few reasons: mining towns, abandoned when the mines closed; many due to the devaluation of silver in 1893, mill towns that were abandoned when the mining towns closed, farming towns on the eastern plains deserted due to rural depopulation, coal towns abandoned when the coal, or need for it ran out, stage stops abandoned when the railroad came through, and the rail stops that were deserted when then railroad changed routes or abandoned the spurs. Somewhere resort towns which never brought in enough tourists. One or two were caused by the creation of reservoirs, or covered in mining tailings, as noted below. Of the list below, some involve settlements with visible tangible remains such as structures or cemeteries, while the precise location of others is known only through maps and historic accounts.”
The first town I investigated as a young journalist was Deerfield. Dearfield is a ghost town and one of only a few a historic black settlements in Colorado. It is located in Weld County, Colorado, 30 miles east of Greeley. The town realized the vision of Oliver T. Jackson who wanted to create a colony for African Americans to be self sufficient and self sustaining.
In 1910, Jackson, a successful businessman from Boulder, field on the homestead that later became Deerfield and advertised for colonists to join him building a utopian community for people of color. Farming the pasture turned out to be extremely taxing, yet the people endured, building a community that featured a roadhouse and a restaurant in addition to agrarian pursuits. By 1921, 700 people called Deerfield home, and he town’s net worth was appraised at $1,075,000. The Great Depression turned deerfield’s economy sour. By 1940, only 12 residents remained.
Drive on out to the ghost town, and you will be greeted by the remaining gas station, diner, and Jackson’s house.
In 1998, The Black American West Museum in Denver began preserving the town’s site in 1998. It is a Colorado Registered Historic Landmark. A monument at the site erected in 2010 contains the history of the town.
Want to head the other way? How about visiting the ghost town of Buckskin Joe in Park county? Or O.Z. (yes OZ) south of Colorado Springs in El paso county. Head up to the mountains instead, and you will find numerous towns that were once much larger communities. Sometimes the graveyards host more inhabitants than the township does with its current population. Notable graveyards include Leadville and Silverton. Like many mining towns, the history with all of its drama and scandals reads like a really good western novel. See what you can uncover about those wild times in the headstones. We don’t make towns like those in Colorado anymore.
For a comprehensive list of Colorado ghost towns, please see://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ghost_towns_in_Colorado
And here is a really cool interactive on line map of Ghost towns to visit://www.ghosttowngallery.com/htme/map.htm