Central City, Colorado - a brief history

Courtesy of: Gilpin County Museum

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326]


In 1859, John Gregory discovered "The Gregory Lode" in a gulch near Central City. Within two weeks, the gold rush was on and within two months the population grew to 10,000 people seeking their fortunes. William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, and some companions pitched their tents on open ground squarely in the center of the mining district. Thus Central City was born and was soon the leading mining center in Colorado. It came to be known as "The Richest Square Mile On Earth". Gregory's discovery is commemorated by a stone monument at the eastern end of the city.

Not everyone in Colorado struck it rich, but those who settled in Central City were never hard up for wild times. In 1861 alone Central City recorded 217 fist fights, 97 revolver fights, 11 Bowie knife fights and one dog fight. Amazingly, no one was killed. To see how your average "middle class" family used to live, we recommend touring the Thomas House.

Even the 1871 Republican Convention in Central City turned rowdy when the second floor of Washington Hall collapsed and deposited 200 (uninjured) men into the Recorder's office on the first floor.

In 1872 the Teller House Hotel was built and was said to be the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River. In 1873 President Ulysses S. Grant came to see his friend Henry Teller (who became the first senator from Colorado and later, Secretary of the Interior under President Chester Arthur) and his new hotel. To impress the president, mine owners decided to lay 26 ingots of solid silver to make a path to the entrance to the Teller House so President Grant wouldn't have to dirty his boots when he stepped from his carriage. Legend has it that Grant became angry when he saw the silver bars and walked up the boardwalk instead. At that time, Congress was debating whether gold or silver should back the dollar, any no way would he show favoritism, he said.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326]
In 1874 most of the buildings in Central City were destroyed by fire. The town was rebuilt, this time of brick and stone; most of these stand today.

The grand opening of the Opera House in 1878 started a tradition of community theatre, ranging from opera to vaudeville. Buffalo Bill performed there as well at P. T. Barnum's circus. Over the years there have been many famous people who visited Central City. Many movies have been filmed here, including "The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox", and portions of the TV mini-series "Centennial" and "Dream West", as well as several Perry Mason episodes. Cowboy Tom Mix filmed several movies here also.

Marie Curie used to mine in an area south of the Glory Hole mine for her radium studies in Paris. Public health practitioner Dr. Florence Sabin lived in the mining camp and was the first female physician to graduate from John Hopkins University. Baby Doe Tabor, wife of the silver magnate Horace Tabor, once lived in Central City and Black Hawk.

Central City is located in the Rocky Mountains, 35 miles west of Denver. It is at the southern end of Gilpin County at an elevation of 8, 496 feet.

According to geologists and experienced miners, there are over 17,000 mining claims in the southern end of Gilpin County. For safety reasons, most of the mines have been "capped" with concrete slabs or have been filled in.

Many people are led to believe that gold mines run horizontally into the side of a hill , so they think it safe to enter them. However, this is not true. Gold and other precious metals were forced up through weak spots in the earth's crust. In order to follow the "vein", shafts were often dug straight down for hundreds of feet. The deepest shaft mine in the area is reported to be over 2,000 feet.

There are many summer and winter sport and outdoor activities to be enjoyed in and around Gilpin County. These include: cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snow-shoeing, sledding, fishing, kayaking, hunting, camping, back packing, four-wheeling, photography and, of course, gold panning. Numerous wildlife abounds throughout the area.

Central City has endured many boom and bust periods, including the current phase of limited stakes gaming begun in 1991. Enjoy Central City's current boom!


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