LEADVILLE, COLORADO, "The Cloud City", sits at an elevation of over 10,100 feet in a broad valley near the source of the Arkansas River. An old high-mountain mining town which has ridden the boom-bust cycle for more than a century, it has been slammed by the closings of important mines in the last several decades, but is gamely clawing its way back up off the floor.
When I was a young boy, in the 1960's, I went there every summer, to our family's cabin near Tennessee Pass, and I have been going there almost every summer since 1995. It's a real town, and it has the hard and gritty edge of a place just hanging on by the skin of its teeth. In other words, it's nothing like Vail, or Aspen, or Breckenridge, or any of the other tourist-money-soaked mountain resort towns. That's why I love it.
This page (which is perpetually under construction) contains some some more-or-less random ramblings about a number of locations in and around Leadville, with links to photos. Just scroll down to see them.
A "park" is a natural geographic feature -- a large, relatively flat area, surrounded on all sides by mountains. In Colorado, two of the largest are North Park, which is in Rocky Mountain National Park, and South Park, east of Leadville on the other side of the Mosquito Range. (By the way, to get an idea of what South Park really looks like, put the cartoon out of your mind, and take a look at these pictures of roadside memorials there: 2 Randys / unmarked ).
Tennessee Park, located just north of Leadville, is much smaller -- only a few miles across. U.S. Highway 24 cuts across it south to north, dividing a sage-covered and relatively barren east half from a better-watered pasture area on the west, where this cabin is located. It is one of a group of buildings on the old "Rancho Escondido".
Large herds of cattle used to be run on the pastures, but now, with the abandonment of "Rancho Escondido", Tennessee Park is a lonely place. Apart from the traffic on Hwy. 24 -- Leadville natives heading to and from their jobs in Vail, 30 some-odd miles to the north, or the occasional visitor to the private Trout Creek development -- little happens. That traffic is responsible for one of the other things that marks Tennessee Park now: roadside memorials ["nacio 8/29/75"].
South of Leadville, past the ramshackle settlement of Stringtown, U.S. Hwy 24 makes a wide turn past a classic old "little red schoolhouse".
The old school, now empty but obviously well taken care of, is actually in Malta, a now non-existent railroad siding stop, but even though it is a couple of miles short of the Leadville city limits, it has become something of an icon for the city.
It always feels that way to me, at least. When you're rolling up from the south, you know when you swing past the old Malta schoolhouse that Leadville is just up the hill.
And, it provides a nice contrast to what lies pretty much directly across the highway from it -- the dark, dirty, abandoned railroad terminal, the slag heaps with the rusted head frames leaning at awkward angles, and the little bubbling brook running alongside of them, well stocked with the acid /heavy metal runoff of the Leadville Mining District...
When I was a kid, in the 1960's, my family would spend a month every summer in our cabin in the woods north of Leadville. Sure, we'd come into town every few days to pick up this or that at Western Hardware, "downtown" on Harrison Avenue, or at the brand-new Safeway on the north end of town, and to check for general delivery mail at the Post Office -- but we wouldn't eat out. Even though we were on vacation, we had a perfectly good cabin and a perfectly good wood stove and a perfectly good icebox and a perfectly good sink with running water piped in from the spring up the hill, so we could eat at home.
Right before we left to head back to the flatlands, though, usually on our last night, we'd go into Leadville, and we'd eat at the Golden Burro. To me it was like a palace, with all the lights, the glass blocks in the big front window, the curved naugahyde-upholstered booths, and all that neon out front -- especially the burro, way up on top, with its neon tail that switched back and forth. I don't remember what I usually ate; a hamburger, I'm sure. The event was just being there.
The Burro is still there on Harrison Avenue, amazingly unchanged. How long that will be so, is anyone's guess.
In photos of Leadville, the spire of the Annunciation (Catholic) Church is frequently a prominent feature. The church, on the corner of Poplar and East 7th, was built in 1879. The steeple holds a huge bell, "St. Mary", weighing over 3,000 pounds. The famous "Unsinkable Molly Brown" was married in the church on September 1, 1886, and the funeral services for Baby Doe Tabor were held here in 1935.
The exterior church walls bear signs reading "Danger – Avalanche". They do not refer to avalanches on the slopes above town; the danger they warn of is an avalanche of snow sliding off the roof of the church. Leadville averages over 300 inches of snow per season; people have been killed by snow falling off the roofs of regular houses. A substantial "slump" of snow off the large, high roof of Annunciation Church would indeed be a serious danger.
Now the Assembly of God Church, it was erected 1888 as the First Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The old Presbyterian Church on Harrison Avenue is referred to by many locals just as "the Old Church". It was dedicated in 1889, and has been a defining presence on Harrison Avenue ever since.
Harrison Avenue is Leadville's main drag. Its many ornate, multi-storied brick buildings evidence Leadville's past as a major city in Colorado.
One of the most impressive buildings along Harrison Avenue, both inside and out is the old Tabor Opera House, erected in 1879 by mining magnate H. A. W. Tabor .
Next door is Furman's Store. Evelyn Furman, a historian of Leadville and biographer of "Baby Doe" Tabor, rescued the Tabor Opera House from demolition in the 1950's, and still conducts tours of its interior.
The Delaware Hotel, on Harrison Avenue, was built in 1886. Doc Holliday is said to have stayed there for a time, until a dispute with a bartender (in which some shooting was involved) led to his hasty departure. Butch Cassidy is also said to have been a sometime-guest.
The Delaware underwent major renovations in 1992. There are now 36 rooms and suites on the 2d and 3d floors. They retain a wonderfully authentic feel, with antique furniture and 4-poster beds.
The lobby, and Callaway's restaurant, are at ground level. In recent years, hotel management has turned the lobby into an antique shop -- it doesn't look quite like these photos anymore. I wish it hadn't changed, but I know they're just doing what they have to in order to make a buck and keep their heads above water . . . Anyway, there is a bar in the lobby; while its hours are somewhat irregular, the Manhattan Bar, and the bar of the Golden Burro, are both only a few steps away. There is also a terrific coffee house across the street (Cloud City Coffee House).
Without question, the Delaware is the place to stay in Leadville. Centrally located in the heart of the historic downtown district, it provides a great base for exploring the town -- or for just sitting in an open window and watching life go by on Harrison Avenue.
The Scarlet Inn is located at the corner of East 4th Street and Harrison Avenue in Leadville, Colorado. Bar, pool tables. Nice place.
According to information at the www.leadville.com walking tour of Leadville, the building was built in 1887 as the Breene Block, named from Lt. Governor and State Treasurer of Colorado, Peter W. Breene, who provided the funding. Initially the first floor was occupied by Adolph Hirsch’s liquor store, which had some of the highest volume of any business in Western Colorado in the 1880's. They still like to drink in Leadville.
The Scarlet used to have a striking sign out on Harrison avenue, but it was laid low sometime in the late 1990's by an errant semi. In May, 2000, I spotted it lying in a backyard a few blocks away, and it may still be there; apparently, the owner has hung onto it. No word on whether he has any plans to try to restore it to its rightful place. I vote: do it!
I stopped in to the Scarlet for a bourbon one afternoon in August, 2001, and the bartender Carrie and good-natured patrons were kind enough to let me do some shooting. With my cameras.
One of the patrons did his part to expand my photogaphic options by climbing down off his bar stool and dropping trou. I somehow managed to avoid capturing this image. All for the best, I think.
OTHER BARS, JOINTS, AND ESTABLISHMENTS
The Grill. Operated by the Martinez family since 1965. Great Mexican food. I never pass up the opportunity to eat here when I pass through Leadville.
I had always wondered about the story behind the "Temple Of The Living God Cosmos". I asked for help here, and someone e-mailed me this bit of information:
From another e-mail correspondent, I heard this:
(By "the Old Church", the first writer is referring to the old Presbyterian Church which sits on Harrison Avenue across from the "Temple Of The Living God Cosmos".)
You can read more about it, and some other Leadville churches, above).
If anyone out there has any additional information about this (or any other) bit of Leadville "local color", please contact me.
ASSORTED SIGHTS AND LOCALES
think of this grand old structure on Harrison Avenue, dating to the 1880's,
as the Vendome Hotel. That's because when I first started coming to
Leadville in the 1960's there was a huge "Vendome Hotel" sign
perched on top of the prominent "hat" on the corner. Now, it
is referred to as the "Tabor Grand".