I’m finishing a novel set in Colorado at the turn of the nineteenth century. Part of the tale includes my protagonist traveling to a high-altitude mining town. Research for the book allowed for an excursion into the Colorado mountains. Ghost towns are boom and bust towns related to the mining industry that flourish for a short time but then are abandoned. They are not particularly known for ghosts, but I’m sure a few linger…
The photos show some of what remains of St. Elmo today.
The town was founded in 1880 and originally named Forrest City. It was changed when several other towns also used that name causing confusion. One of the founding fathers happened to be reading a book titled St. Elmo and was inspired by the romantic tale. Gold and silver mining drew people to settle there.
At its height, St. Elmo had about 2000 residents (mostly male, typical of all mining endeavors). The town center included several hotels and saloons, a general store, a telegraph office, a newspaper office, a town hall, and a schoolhouse. No mention of a church nor the prostitution cribs (in some places like Cripple Creek, we know where the “Red Light District” was).
There were 150 mine claims in the area, but the majority of men worked at only four of the biggest mines. The largest and most productive was the gold mine called the Mary Murphy which operated until 1922 recovering $60 M through the years. A railroad ran through St. Elmo allowing the town access to supplies.
Although the Mary Murphy continued to be profitable many of the other claims failed. By the 1920s, the town had been in steady decline for years. By 1958, the place was a virtual ghost town although a few people still reside in the houses photographed.
Nowadays, most of St. Elmo is considered private property. You are allowed to photograph from a proscribed distance, but the buildings are not necessarily deserted like they are in some more remote ghost towns of the west. In fact, St. Elmo is considered to be one of the most accessible Colorado ghost towns (despite the long drive on unpaved road) because you can actually drive up to it. Many require hiking through remote parts of the state.
So if you read about Tallulah visiting Teller City searching for her long-lost Ma, you’ll know I’m waving from St. Elmo!