1892: Report from a mining camp
In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society.Charles L. Fielding returned recently from a short visit to Creede camp, Colorado’s new mining town, and in conversation with a reporter of a Leadville paper gave the following particulars concerning the new district, and its possibilities for the future:”Creede is situated in a narrow canon, upon each side of which walls of rock rise perpendicularly to a height of from 500 to 1000 feet, and into which the sun looks but a few hours each day. Starting from Leadville at night, Creede is reached 1 o’clock the following afternoon, after several changes of cars have been made. The road leading from Wagon Wheel Gap to Creede is one of those rickety concerns such as are generally thrown together in a hurry in the mountainous regions. The train upon which we were riding was packed full, and contrary to most reports, upon its return trip brought out as many passengers as it had taken in. Jimtown is the first place reached, and is situated nearly a mile below Creede, although the space between the two camps is entirely staked off in lots. Jimtown is considerably larger than Creede and its location is pleasanter by far than the latter place. The gulch is much wider, and on each side the hills rise at a gradual slope and thus the sun is visible a greater portion of the day.”The depot at Creede is a small frame shanty, thrown together in the usual bustling manner of the new mining camp. We stopped at the Cliff house, a $2 a day hotel, and, although the rates were reasonable, I have seen much better accommodations. The hotel in question is a board concern about 40×50 feet, and is built plump against the cliffs in the rear. It is one and a half stories high, and the sleeping accommodations consist of about twenty beds crowded into the attic, or loft as it may more properly be termed, with no partitions between. One has hardly enough room to walk between the bunks, and should a fire occur in the building one would be unable to find his way out.”The town consists principally of saloons, restaurants and 10×10 shanties. The latter are an interesting and curious sight. They consist of four sides, with a slanting roof through which a crooked stovepipe protrudes and continually emits a small cloud of smoke. The lots on one side of the creek are sixty feet deep and on the other are only forty feet deep, so you may imagine how narrow the gulch is. In view of this scarcity of land, some enterprising citizens have formed a foundation of poles across the creek, and upon this weak support have erected small board shanties, which when the snow melts in the spring, and the creek becomes a roaring torrent, unless I am badly mistaken, will be carried to another portion of the town without the owner being obliged to pay for moving them. The railroad grade follows the bank of the creek through the town, and this naturally takes up a large portion of the limited space between the two cliffs. Should one of the latter topple over, the entire town would be entombed, and nothing would be left to denote that such a place as Creede ever existed. The houses are jumbled together in such a manner that all regard for streets is entirely neglected, and in going from one end of the town to the other one is compelled to wind in and out among the shanties, and take chances of keeping the right direction.”As the tow camps are so closely connected, one may walk from Creede to Jimtown in a few minutes. Jimtown boasts of one public eating house, designated as the ‘Creede hotel,’ and one newspaper, and a few shanties and tents. The bewilderment of shanties here is not so noticeable as at Creede, and more order as to streets is maintained, if streets they may be called. The proper location for a town in that section, however, is at Wason’s ranch, three miles below, at the confluence of several wagon roads from different parts of the country, and of several small creeks coming down from the mountains. This tract of ground is beautifully situated for a townsite, and is as level as a floor.”New mining camps of mushroom-like growth are usually very lively, but Creede seems to be an exception to the general rule. Whether it is on account of the scarcity of money, I cannot say, but for all that, few people seem to be supplied with an over-abundance of cash capital. Many men ride in on the passenger train, who afterward walk out, packing their blankets on their backs. Gambling rooms are in great abundance, and game of all varieties to allure the unsuspecting tenderfoot and sucker, are conducted on a free and easy plan; but no one seems to care about trying his luck, and in consequence the games are doing a poor business. One small dance hall is the extent of Creede’s places of amusement, and employs two women. The hall is generally crowded with onlookers, and upon rare occasions someone indulges in a dance. The owners of the place, therefore, are not reaping a harvest. In fact, neither Jimtown or Creede are all night towns, and toward morning the club rooms and saloons are only patronized by a few unfortunate persons who have no place to sleep, and while away the tedious hours in a chair near the stove. Prices are not near so high as might be expected in a new camp, and a majority of the businessmen are farmers, who, when the excitement first began, packed together a few articles and rushed in, expecting to make a fortune in a few days, and if they clear a dollar a day, think they are doing wonderfully well.”Sometime ago the proprietors of the Cliff house decided to erect a more commodious structure in order to meet the increasing demands of their business, and with that end in view purchased a lot directly across the road from the present building. A foundation for the new hotel was laid during my visit, but there the work stopped. I asked one of the projectors why the work was not continued, and he replied that it would be resumed with the renewed vigor the following day, as lumber was scarce and he would be unable to secure an additional supply before that time. Next day I happened to look over towards the new building and saw an easy going carpenter leisurely working about the place. This was the manner in which the work was ‘vigorously pushed.'”The mines are situated about three miles from town and the ore is brought down to the railroad by means of jack trains and sleighs, as it is here. From the Holy Moses, a tramway has been built to the foot of the hill, and from there is loaded on to the cars. About thirty carloads per day are being shipped, making an aggregate of from 50 to 300 tons per day, which, it is claimed, is worth and average of $100 per ton. Old prospectors from this city, who have examined the ore, report that it is of the kind generally found in pockets, and if such is the case, when the present big mines there play out, the changes for a second Leadville are very small. The snow in the hills is from twelve to eighteen inches in depth. So that no prospecting can be done until spring, and I would advise no one especially those in favor of work, to go there for at least two months. Carpenters and mechanics in all branches of the trades are lying idle about the town, with nothing to do, and waiting for the opening of spring, in hopes that the dull times will relax and that business will pick up. None of the stores carry a large stock, so, if anything should happen to the camp, the loss to the merchants will be troubling.”
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City of Aspen officials are trying to figure out what the downtown core looks like this winter as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state and in some parts of the country.