Central City... Then and Now!
Gilpin County Historical Society
PO Box 247
228 High Street
Central City, Colorado
Historical Central City Facts
Central City Welcomes You!
In 1859, John Gregory discovered "The Gregory Lode" in a gulch in Central City. Within two weeks, the gold rush was on and within two months the population grew to 10,000 people in search of their fortune.
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. That was until 1896 when Samuel Covington entered Judge Seright's office to pay a $61 debt. Covington had his revolver aimed at Seright's chest and Judge Seright knocked the gun to the side as it discharged through the floor into Goldman's card room (Golden Rose). Covington again drew his gun on Seright and demanded a receipt. As Marshall Kelleher opened the office door, Covington turned and fired at Kelleher striking him in the chest. Covington ran downstairs only to meet Dick Williams coming up. Williams had borrowed a revolver and ran to the scene to provide help. Williams was struck in the breast at point blank just as he fired a shot which struck the ceiling behind him. Covington then back up Main Street with two revolvers drawn on the crowd following him. Henry Lehman confiscated a Winchester and hopped on Sherman Harvey's wagon in pursuit of Covington. Covington was blazing away on Nevada Street when Lehman aimed and fired as he leapt from the wagon, striking Covington. A mob gathered around shouting "hang him", but he died before a doctor could arrive. Marshall Kelleher recovered from his wound. Dick Williams died several days later. His funeral was the largest in the county requiring his service to be held at the Opera House.
The south end of Pine Street was the location of the Red Light District. Children were warned not to venture past the Catholic Church on Pine. An 1864 article by the Miner's Register complained that a Madam Wright was operating a crib below the Methodist Church. The paper thought the City should require her to locate to a more remote area in the City. The Census of 1880 listed four women of the same residence on Pine Street as "house keepers." In 1900 Central City's most celebrated madam appeared on the census as a widow, occupation: boarding house. She apparently had two girls working for her and one said she was married. Lou Bunch again appeared on the 1910 census with two new girls with listed occupation as "prostitutes". Lou Bunch was the last operating madam in town. During an epidemic, Madam Lou Bunch and her girls provided generous nursing care to many sick and dying miners. Every year we honor Madam Lou Bunch, and Central City's heritage, with a celebration on the third Saturday in June.
In 1871 the Republican Convention turned rowdy when the second floor of Washington Hall collapsed and deposit 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 good friend Henry Teller (who became the first senator from Colorado) and his new hotel. To impress the President, the gold mine owners decided to lay 26 ingots of solid silver to make a path to the entrance of 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, and no way would he show favoritism, he said.
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 those buildings are still standing today.
The grand opening of the Central City Opera House in 1878 started a tradition of community theater, from opera to vaudeville. Buffalo Bill performed there as well as P.T. Barnum's circus performers. Western movie star, Tom Mix, made some of his films in the Central City area, and Baby Doe Tabor, wife of the silver magnate Horace Tabor, once resided in our famous town. Several 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. Other famous people associated with Central City includes:
- Marie Curie used pitchblende mined in an area south of the Glory Hole mine near Central City for her radium studies in Paris.
- Public health practitioner, Florence Sabin, lived in the mining camp and was among one of the first female doctors in the west.
- John B. Stetson manufactured the first Stetson hat here.
- Douglas Shoes, still known for their outstanding wear and durability, were first manufactured here.
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, the most dangerous of these mines are being "capped," using large slabs of concrete, steel reinforced, or are being filled-in with dirt. Many people are led to believe that gold mines run horizontally into the side of a hill or mountain, so they think it is safe to walk into old mines. This is not true. Gold and other precious metals were forced vertically up through weak spots in the earth. In order to follow the "vein," shafts were often dug straight down into the earth for hundreds of feet. The deepest mine in this area is reported to be well over 2,000 feet. When hiking in gold mining country, always stay on the trail and keep away from old mines and tailings in order to avoid accidents. Because of this serious safety hazard, trespassing laws are strictly enforced in mining districts.
There are numerous summer and winter sports and outdoor activities to be enjoyed in and around Gilpin County. Wildlife includes chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, badgers, black bears, otters, foxes, coyotes, deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and Mountain lions. Some of the birds include Broadtail hummingbirds, Rufous hummingbirds, crows, ravens, golden and bald eagles, hawks, Stellar jays, camp robbers, robins, chickadees, swallows, finches, woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches and Canadian geese.
In June, the hillsides and yards are brightened by the yellow Harrison roses, reputedly brought over from Cornwall, England. Ancestors of the wild hop vines can be seen in the fall. These were utilized not only to brew beer, but also to make yeast for bread making. Rhubarb grows wild around the tailing piles and there are lilac bushes in most yards. Wild flowers are at their peak during the month of August. Aspen leaves usually start to turn around Labor Day, covering the mountains in a magnificent golden cloak in September. The Colorado Blue Spruce throughout the hillsides is majestic year round.