Tag - History

Saint Elmo

Saint Elmo was known as a “Saturday Night Town” located near the Denver, South Park & Pacific railroad line. St. Elmo became a favorite place for miners and railroad workers.

The failure of numerous mines, and the closure of the Alpine Tunnel in 1910 started the decline of St. Elmo. The town officially died on Sept. 30, 1952, when the post office closed, but most residents left after the last mine closed in the 1930s.

Saint Elmo today has numerous structures that are still standing, but are all privately owned. Some of the surviving buildings include City Hall, built in 1882, with two small jail cells and an iron ball and chain attached to a boulder, and the school building, built in 1880. Located on the east side of main street was the location of the Town Hall as well as Stark family residences. These buildings were lost in a fire April 15 2002. There is currently a fund raiser to help rebuild the Town Hall. The Stark family was the last family to leave St. Elmo in 1958. The stark family owned the Home Comfort Hotel the telegraph office and Post Office. They also had a retail General Store to keep the miners with plenty of supplies.

From Beuna Vista, take US 285 south to Nathrop, and then County Road 162 west. Follow for approx. 16 miles to St. Elmo.

Titan I missile silos

451_Strategic_Missile_Wing_Lowry_AFBFew people know about the old Titan I missile silos that were operational in the early 1960′s. Lowry hosted the first Titan I ICBM missile site located on the bombing range east of Denver. This was conveniently close to the Titan I’s manufacturer, the Martin Company (now Lockheed Martin) located in Littleton, Colorado. The Titans were operational from 1962 to 1965. On March 13, 1958, the Air Force Ballistic Committee approved the selection of Lowry to be the first Titan I ICBM base. Construction of launchers and support facilities began on May 1, 1959. Deployment of the missiles entailed a 3 x 3 configuration, meaning that each of the three complexes had three silos grouped in close proximity to a manned launch control facility. The Omaha District of the Army Corps of Engineers contracted a joint venture led by Morrison-Knudsen of Boise, Idaho, to construct the silos.

A 144-day steel strike in 1959 caused delays and forced Morrison-Knudsen to resort to winter concreting. Despite this problem and others caused by constant design modifications, Morrison-Knudsen completed the project on time with the lowest construction costs of any ICBM base in the country at the time. Fairly smooth management-labor relations contributed to the success. The project also maintained the best safety record in the missile construction program up until that time. Use of a safety net was credited with saving many lives. Three workers did die during the project, although one of these deaths was the result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred off site.

The Lowry AFB Titan I Missile Complex IA is located approximately 15 miles southeast of Denver, Colorado, Township 5 South, Range 65 West of the Sixth Principal Meridian, Section 5, Arapahoe County. The missile complex is located in the center of the 442-acre missile site. The complex is bounded by a chain-link fence and contains approximately 36 acres. An access road (approximately one half mile long) runs from Quincy Ave. north to the missile site. The missile site is situated on a hilltop. Vegetation consists of a few trees and native grasses.

Prior to construction of the Titan I Missile Complex the property was part of the Lowry Bombing Range. The 59,814 acre bombing range, operated from 1 July 1952 to 31 December 1952, was used by the local Navy, Lowry Air Force Base, and the Air National Guard for practicing bombing and strafing missions and for demolition of unusable Air Force munitions.

The bombing range was decontaminated (visually searched) and cleared for unrestricted use in May 1963. Since the Titan I Missile Complexes were already completed at that time, they were not searched and subsequently have not been cleared. Titan I Missile Complex 1A is located in the northwest corner of the bombing range. Since construction of the Missile Complex involved extensive excavation, and the target area of the bombing range was approximately four miles southeast of the Missile Complex, it is unlikely that any unexploded ordnance would be present at the site today.

In September 1958, construction began on Titan I Missile Complex 1A, the first of six complexes constructed within an 18 mile radius. The excavation was started in May 1959 using an open cut method with depths ranging from 38′ to 72′. The missile silo shafts were excavated by mining crews to a depth of 163′. The construction of the underground facilities were of reinforced concrete and structural steel with steel lined tunnels. An unusual requirement was the blast-proofing of elements incorporated into the work with the major mechanical and electrical elements shock-mounted to withstand all explosions except a direct hit. The heavy construction phase was completed on 4 June 1961.

The complex was made up of three missile launching silos. The complex is made up of the following: (1) Three launch stations, each with a missile silo, supporting equipment terminal, propellant terminal and propellant system. (2) One guidance facility with two antennas and one antenna (3) One underground control center. (4) Utility and service facilities, including an underground powerhouse for the electrical generating, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment. (5) Interconnecting tunnels for utility distribution and personnel access. (6) Utilities, including roads, water storage and distribution, sanitary system, exterior lighting, portal, air intake, and exhaust. (7) Water wells to provide all water for operation. (8) Access road and perimeter fence.

The missile complex borders the Lowry Landfill to the west. The Lowry Landfill is owned by the city of Denver and is a known source of pollution of the Dawson and Denver Aquifers. The landfill was placed on the national priority list in 1984 under Superfund legislation. The missile complex has three launch silos which penetrate the ground to a depth of 160 feet The activation of the 848th SMS at Lowry Air Force Base on February 1, 1960, marked the first stand-up of a Titan I Squadron. Construction on all nine silos at the three launches complexes for the former 848th, redesignated the 724th, was completed by August 4, 1961. On 18 April 1962, Headquarters SAC declared the 724th SMS operational, and 2 days later the first Titan Is went on alert status. A month later, the sister 725th SMS (initially designated the 849th SMS) declared it had placed all nine of its Titan Is on alert status, which marked a SAC first. Both the 724th and 725th Strategic Missile Squadrons formed components of the Lowry-headquartered 451st Strategic Missile Wing.

On November 19, 1964, Defense Secretary McNamara announced the phase-out of remaining first-generation Atlas and Titan I missiles by the end of June 1965. This objective was met; on June 25, 1965, the 724th SMS and 725th SMS were inactivated. SAC removed the last missile from Lowry on April 14, 1965.

Alpine Tunnel

Excavation of the Alpine Tunnel began in January 1880. At an altitude of 11,523 feet, it became the first tunnel constructed through the Continental Divide, and was expected to be finished in only six months. However, due to unforeseen circumstances and construction taking place in the dead of winter, the task required nearly two years to complete. Fractured granite necessitated the expense of using over 400,000 board feet of California redwood to support and encase 1,427 feet of the 1,772 foot long tunnel with a total cost of around $300,000.

The first train went through the Alpine Tunnel began in July of 1882 with the last one through in November of 1910. During its thirty-year life, the Alpine tunneled bristled with activity carrying freight for the many mining camps in the area, and tourists.

One magnificent site is the retaining wall at the “Palisades”. Constructed of hand-cut stones without the use of mortar, the retaining wall is 432 feet in length and 33 feet in height. A longer retaining wall is just below this wall, but is only six feet in height.

A huge stone engine repair house that could house six engines was gutted by fire in early 1906. The remains of the engine house can still be viewed today. Efforts to save the Alpine Station are underway. Francis B. Trudgeon saved the old depot by making extensive repairs and the installation of a new roof in 1959.

The actual entrance to the western portal of the tunnel is around 1/8 of a mile further down the path (which used to be track) from the Alpine Tunnel Station complex. Debris continually sliding down the hillside has covered the west portal, while the east portal has totally collapsed.

The easiest route to the Alpine Tunnel begins northeast of Pitkin at the junction of the Cumberland Pass Road (FDR 765) and the Alpine Tunnel Road (FDR 839). The Alpine Tunnel can also be reached via St. Elmo and Hancock Pass, but that route does require a decent four-wheel drive vehicle after the town of Hancock. I made the route in a 98 Ford Explorer on a very nice day, but would have preferred to have had a vehicle with a bit more ground clearance.

Denver and South Park Railroad

The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad was incorporated in Colorado Territory on June 16, 1873. This company constructed the lines from Denver to Leadville and Gunnison and also became controlled by the UP.

The DSP&P was sold at foreclosure to The Denver, Leadville & Gunnison Railway which was incorporated in Colorado on July 17, 1889, on July 17, 1889. The DL&G became part of the UP receivership on October 13, 1893.

The Denver, Leadville & Gunnison was acquired by The Colorado and Southern Railway on December 28, 1898. The Colorado and Southern Railway was an independent Company until control of the C&S was acquired by the CB&Q in 1908.

From that time on, the C&S had to march to Chicago’s tune and the 3′ gauge main line began disappearing, the first segment in 1910 with the closure of the Alpine Tunnel and the last segment on August 25, 1943 with the conversion to Standard Gauge of the Leadville to Climax branch.

Marble

The discovery of marble in 1873 by Sylvester Richardson created the town of Marble. The marble from this quarry has been used for many famous structures including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. Marble shut down when the overflowing Crystal River destroyed much of the town in and damaged the quarry in 1941. The quarry itself reopened in the early ’90s and is unknown if it is open to visitors. There are still many old ruins that can be explored in Marble such as the Marble Finishing Mill.

Marble is located about 5.9 miles east of Hwy 133 on road 314. A museum is located on Main, west of 3rd street, where information for a self-guided walking tour can be obtained.

Crystal started out as a prospecting camp in the search for gold and silver. The Crystal mill (actually the remains of the hydroelectric generator) is one of the most photographed historical spots in Colorado. Several of the original buildings still stand. Seven silver mines in the area kept Crystal going until the Silver Crash of 1893 nearly shut the town down. Subsequent mining efforts failed which doomed the town.

Just up the road from Marble is the old town of Crystal which is located 5.9 miles east of downtown Marble on Road 314. A sign in Marble indicates that this is a four-wheel drive route and is considered to be one of the most dangerous 4×4 roads in Colorado. Crystal can also be accessed via Mt. Crested Butte ski area north along the Gothic Road. Located in the White River National Forest.

Montezuma

Montezuma grew up near the site of Colorado’s first silver discovery in 1863. With the transportation problems, the camp grew slowly, with a population of around 200 in the early 1870′s. By the mid 1880′s, Montezuma had two stores, two hotels, a schoolhouse, and a weekly newspaper. As the town grew, it became an important mining camp for a number of mining camps such as the Tiger, the Silver King, the Queen of the West, and the New York.

According to various sources, H.M. Teller was the first to strike gold here. The story probably goes that way as Teller later became a senator for Colorado, and was important in its history. Various reports show that Teller was merely among the first to prospect in the region, and he and other, including D. C. Collier, made their strikes at just about the same time. Collier was perhaps more important to Montezuma than Teller. Collier suggested the name Montezuma for the late Aztec ruler of Mexico. Collier Mountain, on which many of the best strikes were located, is just above the town.

Montezuma was threatened by a forest fire in 1889, which caused heavy damage to a number of other camps in the area. In 1958, a flash fire swept through the town, destroying a hotel, the town hall, two houses, six garages, and damaging several other buildings. Almost half of the town’s population of 75 were made homeless. The fire came at a time when Montezuma was experiencing a some better times. Although not yet a ghost town, it was hovering near the brink with only 12 or so residents.

In current times, Montezuma is a quiet little mountain town with a few dedicated residents. Montezuma grew up near the site of Colorado’s first silver discovery in 1863. With the transportation problems, the camp grew slowly, with a population of around 200 in the early 1870′s. By the mid 1880′s, Montezuma had two stores, two hotels, a schoolhouse, and a weekly newspaper. As the town grew, it became an important mining camp for a number of mining camps such as the Tiger, the Silver King, the Queen of the West, and the New York.

According to various sources, H.M. Teller was the first to strike gold here. The story probably goes that way as Teller later became a senator for Colorado, and was important in its history. Various reports show that Teller was merely among the first to prospect in the region, and he and other, including D. C. Collier, made their strikes at just about the same time. Collier was perhaps more important to Montezuma than Teller. Collier suggested the name Montezuma for the late Aztec ruler of Mexico. Collier Mountain, on which many of the best strikes were located, is just above the town.

Montezuma was threatened by a forest fire in 1889, which caused heavy damage to a number of other camps in the area. In 1958, a flash fire swept through the town, destroying a hotel, the town hall, two houses, six garages, and damaging several other buildings. Almost half of the town’s population of 75 were made homeless. The fire came at a time when Montezuma was experiencing a some better times. Although not yet a ghost town, it was hovering near the brink with only 12 or so residents.

In current times, Montezuma is a quiet little mountain town with a few dedicated residents.

Ghost Towns Overview

Some people think of a ghost town as being a “movie set” panorama with a full complement of vacant buildings complete with doors swinging in the wind and the howling of the breeze through holes in walls. Others think of a ghost town as being a town that is a shadow of its former past, but still alive with museums and shops and things to do pertaining to the old west in a true old west location. Still others think of a ghost town as being nothing but a few ruins and foundations in a far remote area accessible only by Four-Wheel drive on a good day.

So, who is right? Everyone is right. A ghost town is any place where people once lived, or are still living, that is a shadow of its past glory. This includes everything from absolutely remote locations with very little remaining (sometimes called the “True Ghost”), to flourishing tourist towns such as those located in Jerome, AZ or even Calico, CA. In Colorado, most of the ghost towns are located in the mountains. As the gold and silver mines played out, these boom towns typically went bust as folks went to the next big mine to make a buck.

However, over the last 30 years, there is a rush to head back to these ghost towns–not for gold, but recreational activities. This web site will point out a few interesting places throughout the Colorado Mountains that are worth a visit. In addition to the typical ghost towns, I have included information on a few old railroad sites which provided the means to transport the gold/silver out of the mountains. When driving, be warned that some sites are difficult to get to in anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle. It is always best to be aware of local weather conditions, in addition to understanding your driving limits in rough mountainous terrain.