In 1858, two Kentucky-born boys, George and David Griffith, set out for the west, but arrived too late to stake a claim near George Jackson’s discoveries. They opted instead to follow the creek toward the Snowy Range, and on August 1, 1859, George discovered gold at the base of the mountain that today bears the family name. The Griffith Mining District was formed in June 1860, and quite soon afterwards, the town of Georgetown was formed. From its humble beginnings as a small mining camp site in the Kansas Territory, the town eventually was home to thousands and thousands of people in the 1870′s, 1880′s, and 1890’s.
Georgetown would not be known for its gold, but rather for its wealth of silver. The Griffith’s gold mill was closed by the fall of 1862. It became brutally clear that the gold in and around Georgetown was not easily extracted and that the costs associated with mining it outweighed its worth. Placer mining of gold in the District was a failure by most standards. But the future of the town would soon be solidified by the discovery of an exceptionally rich lode of silver ore on the ridge of Mount McClellan: the Belmont Lode. This was the beginning of a population spike that eventually drove the population to over 5,000 people!
The dusty little mining town began to flourish into a true community. Banks were formed, professionals arrived, the Barton House opened its doors to visiting investors, a local newspaper was developed, four fire companies were formed, and the saloons and pool halls sprung up to entertain the hard-working miners.
As offsets to the rough-and-tumble mining lifestyle, church congregations soon began to build churches, the first being Grace Episcopal Church. A county jail was also built in 1873 on Biddle Street, a portion of which still stands as a south-facing wall in a private home. The downtown commercial district was blossoming with new storefronts offering dry goods, hardware, and confectionaries. Georgetown had evolved into a refined community of white picket fences and came to be called “Silver Queen of the Rockies.”
Spirits were high in 1877 when the Colorado Central Railroad finally picked its way through the rugged and unforgiving landscape that is the Clear Creek Valley. Thousands of miners were working the county mines, and the outlook appeared bright. The train could now bring not only supplies up the creek, but also investors, tourists, and visions of an easier lifestyle. However, the US government had discontinued the coinage of silver in 1873, and silver ore prices had been declining. The future was uncertain.
Major silver discoveries had been made in Leadville, and the Union Pacific announced plans to build a Georgetown, Breckenridge, and Leadville extension which was intended to reach the valued Leadville market before other competitors could build a rail line first. The engineers designed the tracks to “loop” cross over itself with the help of a 95 foot high bridge that spanned 300 feet of creek and track. The Georgetown Loop Railroad, which reached Silver Plume in 1884, heralded a new age in Georgetown that could now cater to visitors, for who wouldn’t want to ride “The Far Famed Georgetown Loop?” Tourists could ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad, picnic at Green Lake, and dance at Pavilion Point… times have not changed all that much in Georgetown.
Georgetown, however, was not to be spared from the tumultuous busts that Colorado is well known for! In 1893 after the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, Georgetown’s economy was dealt a death blow. A terrible financial depression set over the entire state of Colorado, and the entire country soon followed suit. Residents of Georgetown were forced to look for work elsewhere…banks closed, stores shut down, and the population began to dwindle.
By the early 1930s, a scant 300 people still called Georgetown home. The town was a virtual ghost town and was quite impoverished. The Silver Queen had been battered and bruised after its brief brush with fame and fortune. However, a new industry was soon to reinvent the mountain town of Georgetown: the ski industry. But that’s a whole other story…
Gateway Visitor Center
1491 Argentine Street
P.O. Box 1037
Georgetown, CO 80444
Community Center and Visitor Information
613 6th Street
Georgetown, CO 80444