Discover Our Communities: Empire, Colorado

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Historic Empire

Empire is one of Clear Creek County’s hidden gems. Located just off I-70 on US Highway 40 in a sunny star-shaped valley traversed by Clear Creek, making it an ideal location and a great base for mountain adventures, refreshing tranquility, or a mix of both.

Surrounded by stately evergreens and towering mountains, try your hand at angling for the elusive trout in numerous lakes, or explore the back country on 4-wheel-drive roads. Whether you want to experience the thrill of snowshoeing in a pristine valley, enjoying an outdoor festival or concert, shopping for stained glass artwork and antiques, soaking in a claw-foot bathtub in a Victorian bed and breakfast, or enjoying a delicious ice cream cone, Empire is the perfect destination. Come spend some time strolling down historic Park Avenue, where you can enjoy unique shopping and dining opportunities.

Fun Fact: Did you know Empire is home of the “Original” Hard Rock Cafe? Established in 1934, Empire’s Hard Rock Cafe still serves great breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Historically: As land was gobbled up by the first miners to Idaho Springs, miners from Central City were descending upon Empire. The first gold discovery of any consequence was made by Henry DeWitt Clinton Cowles and Edgar F. Freeman.

In the fall of 1860 they struck silver, the first true fissure lode ever discovered in Colorado. By 1861 a citizens committee had formed to define boundaries, draft laws, and name the mountains and streams. The second building built was a cabin which served as a courthouse, sheriff’s office, recorder’s office and the town hall.

Empire enjoyed prosperity from 1861 to 1865. When the easy gold played out, silver in Georgetown provided the siren song pulling many miners from Empire. By 1873 Congress removed silver parity with gold and demonetized silver. Overnight Empire was booming again. By 1875 the Union Pass road to Georgetown was complete as well as the Georgetown, Middle Park, and Empire wagon road over the great Snowy Range to Grand County. Today the 4 mile Union Pass road still exists as a hiking trail.

In 1862 the Peck House was built by James and Mary Grace Parsons Peck. However, after more than thirty years, Empire’s historic Peck House Hotel and Restaurant closed in April 2014, as owners Gary and Sally St.Clair chose to retire.