"The Home of Unsinkable Molly Brown!"
By Glenn Arnette, lll
It never fails! You love a small town and it turns out to be one of the biggest stories. This place I truly enjoy and never realized how much history abounds in LEADVILLE, COLORADO. My goodness, it is really about people and places, some famous and some not so famous. It is the town where millions of dollars were made and lost. A town at the top of the mountains where the world crossed from St. Louis to San Francisco.
Back in 1860, Abe Lee and four companions were searching for gold and found a creek just outside of the present-day Leadville. At that time it was known as the “California Gulch” loaded with rich gold deposits. The word spread and over 8000 people arrived. The mining camp became Oro City, after the Spanish word “gold”.
There was gold in “them there” hills, lots of it! The gold finally ran out and they discovered “lead” after hoping for “silver”. Mines shot up everywhere and the race was on. Between 1887 and 1893 - Leadville’s premier silver years - Over 250 men died in the mines. Nonetheless the silver and lead flowed and Leadville flourished.
The town grew to over 30,000 residents with 13 hotels, 45 boarding houses, a variety of churches, 65 doctors and over 100 lawyers. There were 106 saloons and a number of gambling joints, dancing halls and brothels, plus several questionable theatres which drew a boisterous and often drunken clientele. That is how it started and it was the place to be. It was the home of the Tabor Opera House, owned by Horace Tabor. He was one of the local success stories. Famous stars including Oscar Wilde and leading productions; i.e., Figaro, the Mikado and Macbeth were a part of the culture when passing through the area. Tabor married Elizabeth McCourt Doe and they were millionaires until they lost everything in 1893. After his death, she lived in a run down cabin at the famous Matchless Mine until her death.
However, she had plenty of money!
Leadville had many famous people, but the most notable would be Molly Brown. She was “unsinkable”, so to speak! She was married to James J. Brown and had one daughter, Helen, and a son Lawrence. They had all the money you could imagine and a mansion in Denver. Remember she sailed on the Titanic and became the saving hero for many. She was a society legend and famous for her courage. Through the years she became a folk legend.
Today, Leadville is a fantastic place to visit. The old is still in place and the new is springing up around the town. A must for those visiting is the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad. www.leadville-train.com It runs from Memorial Day through September and the views are spectacular. Drama abounds at the “home of the silver kings” at Healy House and Cabin Museum. See live performances with Melva Tochette and Mary Jane Druan playing leading ladies of history. (Phone: 719-486-0487) There is the Heritage Museum, a collection of Leadville memorabilia including Victorian furniture, mining and boomtown miscellany. The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum houses mineral collections from around the world. There is a mock gold mine, gift shop and much more.
There are mine tours and the one to see is the Matchless Mine located 1.25 miles east of town. Step into history and use your imagination. Then you have Doc Holliday’s, a former bordello, the Tabor home and the Tabor Opera House.
Today the Tabor Opera House is owned and operated by Evelyn Furman and her daughter, Sharon Bland. They have “tours by tape” and offer some of the greatest historical and theatre stories of the time. I had the pleasure a few years back of having Mrs. Furman give me a personal tour. She is a wonderful woman and deserves much thanks for maintaining the great old palace of stars. If you stand in the theatre long enough you might hear a few ghosts performing. Can you believe that they will celebrate 125 years of the Opera House in November of this year? Try their website www.taboroperahouse.net They still have special performances frequently in the theatre. The acoustics are absolutely perfect and no microphones are ever needed. Beware of the trap door on the stage when you step out for your personal moment in the spot light!
The perfect place to stay to get yourself in the historical mood is the Delaware Hotel. They have 36 period rooms and a beautiful Grand Lobby. Rates run from $70 per night. www.delawarehotel.com
There are biking trails, hiking, fishing, gold and more. You can play North America’s highest golf course, Mt. Massive Golf Course (Phone: 719-486-2176) or just spend a few days experiencing the beauty of nature.
During the Winter you must SKI COOPER. Talk about being on top of the mountain! Wait until you see the vista while skiing one of my favorite places. Now, this is not your typical “ski resort”. It has a “scoop and dump” chair lift and some of the most difficult black and blue ski trails anywhere. They have the best rates and are very affordable. (www.skicooper.com) If you miss skiing COOPER just outside of Leadville, you missed the mountains.
Leadville has Burro Racing and the Famous Boom Days. Then at the Leadville Medical Center and the Cloud City Medical, you can take a dose of OXYGEN to knock out the high altitude sickness. This is something to know about, as it is almost necessary to pace yourself going up the mountain from Denver when you go to visit. Remember you are up there and fatigue and dizziness can set in real quick. Some call it the “Rocky Mountain High”. I called it a “free drunk”!
While traveling from the Denver area to Vail, you make a turn and go through Minturn, Colorado (another wonderful place) up the mountain and pass the home of the World War II soldiers who trained for battle high in the Colorado Rockies. The soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division learned to fight on skis and snowshoes, climb mountains, and live in frigid temperatures. Their distinctive training helped the Allies break the German stronghold in Italy’s Apennine Mountains. A place you must see and possibly snowmobile during the Winter months. Remember, SKI COOPER is a part of that history too!
Leadville is right in the middle between Aspen and Vail. It is the highest incorporated City in North America. If you happen to come from the Aspen area, just cross the mountain. For more information contact the Leadville Chamber of Commerce at (800) 933-3901. You will step into history when you visit this special crossroads of America.
I would like to give special thanks to Leslie Marshall for all of her help at the Leadville Chamber of Commerce. I thought she was the Director or President of the Board. With her personality and knowledge, she should be! Check their website [email protected]
Before I go I must tell you about one of the most unusual places in Leadville. It is the Western Hardware Antiques located right in the heart of town. It was originally one of the first and finest hardware stores in the Country. It had two floors with the upstairs being the general offices and a private Gentleman’s gambling club. Today it is still exactly as it use to be but now houses 35 antique and collectible dealers featuring everything imaginable, including the best Western collection anywhere. It is open daily except Christmas and is owned and operated by Hillery and Bruce McCalister. If nothing else, give them a call (719) 486-2213 and say hello or make your way up the mountain to see one of America’s best kept secrets complete with walnut floors upstairs and the original hardware on the doors. Just to see the building is worth the trip.
Until next time, I appreciate all your calls and emails. Remember, your thoughts and comments are important to me. [email protected] I will be leaving for Greece to bring you a wonderful story for the Holland American Cruise Line soon, so keep reading! If you want to read some of our past stories, go to www.travelstorymagazine.com
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