"BOOM! BOOM! CRASH!" Top 5 Page for this destination Leadville by KiKitC

Leadville Travel Guide: 33 reviews and 73 photos

"There's Gold in them thar hills!"

Leadville, Colorado at 10,430 feet above sea level is also known as "The Magic City", "The Cloud City", and "The Two-Mile High City" and is the highest incorporated city in North America.

In 1860, Abe Lee and the Slater Party discovered $8 million in gold in California Gulch on the outskirts of what is now Leadville, Colorado. The "Gold Rush" had begun.
Thousands flocked to "Oro City", as the settlement was called, to stake their claim of the golden fortunes. By the mid 1860s, however, was short lived, as the vast numbers of prospectors quickly depleated the gold reserves.

Alvinus Wood and William Stevens, gold miners in Oro City, discovered that "all that black stuff" in the sand that seperated from their gold search was actually silver bearing lead ore and recognized it's worth in 1874. Old gold claims were quickly bought up and the "Silver Boom" had begun. Millionaires were made almost overnight, such as: Horace Tabor, David May, J.J. Brown and his wife Margaret, the Guggenheims and the Boettcher family.

"Cloud City" as it became known, incorporated and changed it's name to Leadville in 1878. By 1880, some 30,000 residents had swarmed to the rich, second largest city in Colorado. Until 1880, transport of prospectors and supplies had to be carried by mule teams over the high, rugged peaks of the mountains. The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railway made it's way making transportation of goods and passengers easier.

Horace Tabor and his wife, Augusta, owned a general mercantile store in Leadville. Profits from his store allowed Tabor to invest in silver mining operations. Most notable were the Little Pittsburg Mine, and the famous Matchless Mine. Some claims profited thousands of dollars in ore a day. “Chicken Bill” Lovell attempted to swindle Tabor by dumping a wheelbarrow of rich silver ore into a barren pit at the Chrysolite Mine to sell for a large price. The joke was on Lovell, as just a few feet deeper, one of the richest lodes in the area made a fortune for Tabor.

Tabor's success made him a powerful man and politician in town. In 1879, he opened the Tabor Opera House, once billed the finest theatre between St. Louis and San Francisco and hosted such acts as Harry Houdini, John Phillip Sousa and Oscar Wilde. He also established the Bank of Leadville and the Tabor Grand Hotel. He built a lavish mansion in town and lived the high life. In 1880, Tabor met Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe and one of the most scandalous affairs ensued. Tabor left his wife for "Baby Doe" and in 1883 his second marriage was legalized.

David May made his fortune with his auction house and clothing store, which eventally became the nationwide May D&F. Charles Boettcher opened a thriving hardware business, later moving to Denver where he became one of its most successful businessmen.

But, the fame and fortune of Leadville did not attract just the business barons. Molly Brown (Unsinkable Molly Brown) arrived in Leadville in the 1880s, as a seamstress and eventually married J.J. Brown. Susan B. Anthony, Jesse James and "Buffalo Bill" all visited during the Boom Days.

Doc Holliday moved to Leadville shortly after the shootout at the OK Corral. Ill with tuberculosis, Holliday was confronted by ex-lawman Bill Allen about a $5 debt. Records indicate that Holliday shot, but did not kill Allen...the last man to be shot by Holliday. Though penniless, the $8,000 bail was raised by Holliday's wealthy friends and he was acquitted in March 1885.

The repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893, which ended the backing of silver for notes, spelled ruin for Horace Tabor and many others who porfited from the mining riches of the area. Now destitute, Tabor died penniless and Baby Doe froze to death in the small shack at the Matchless Mine.

The "Silver Boom" was over, and miners in the area now had to mine for other, less productive minerals, such as lead, zinc and molybdenum (named for Molly Brown). In 1896-97 a miners strike proved fatal for five and the decline of many mining operations. But, it was not the end for Leadville.

Congress established the Leadville Fish Hatchery in 1889, now the oldest fish hatchery west of the Mississippi. In 1896, to counteract the decline from the silver industry, the town built the famous "Leadville Ice Palace" the largest ice palace in history.

During World War II, the Leadville area bacme home of Camp Hale, a military training installation for extreme weather rescue and survival, which trained the famous 10th Mountain Division (activated in 1943 for combat in the rugged mountains in Italy and reactivated in 1985 for Operation Desert Storm).

In 1987, the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame, the only Federraly chartered museum of its kind, was opened to commemorate the mining operations that built this town and the country.

In 1966, Leadville was designated as a National Historical Landmark District and one can walk through the original 70 square blocks of Victorian architecture and adjoining mining district, full of shops, memorable restaurants and museums.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Historic town that saw prosperous past
  • Cons:Historic town that saw disasterous crash
  • In a nutshell:Leadville's history is as adventurous as the beauty around it.
  • Last visit to Leadville: Jul 2009
  • Intro Updated Aug 21, 2009
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Reviews (10)

Comments (15)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Nov 16, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    We got to see some of this 30 years ago-but not as much as you did. Now the wonderful scenery pics and comments make me yearn to return. Nice presentation.

  • hopang's Profile Photo
    Apr 4, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    Wonderful Leadville travel page with excellent photographs! Leadville certainly has some wonderful attractions. Halfmoon Creek, Mosquito Pass and Tabor Opera House certainly sound interesting to visit and explore. ~ho & pang

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Dec 4, 2009 at 10:25 PM

    Great combination of an interesting place, plus exciting drives here Christine. Strange to think this is higher than anywhere in Australia (top just over 7,000 ft).

  • BillNJ's Profile Photo
    Nov 29, 2009 at 3:32 PM

    Christine, thanks for visiting my new Derry page. Your tips, photos, and historical stories about Leadville are great! The ride on the Birdseye Gulch Trail looks especially cool. Cheers, Bill

  • JLBG's Profile Photo
    Nov 24, 2009 at 1:57 PM

    Exciting story in your very informative intro! Wow, I would love to drive to Mosquito Pass! Actually, each of the trails look fantastic!

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Nov 13, 2009 at 4:23 AM

    Hi, Christine! Thanks for your detailed story and pictures! ><><

  • DSwede's Profile Photo
    Oct 20, 2009 at 7:41 PM

    Sorry you didnt have a chance to stay more in Truckee. Some awesome trails in the area!! I had my CJ in Leadville a long time back... the pics of Halfmoon made me jealous

  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo
    Oct 20, 2009 at 2:37 PM

    I have only been to Leadville years ago, and remember it as a beautiful area. Excellent tips, I especially enjoyed the story about Horace Tabor.

  • vinc_bilb's Profile Photo
    Sep 15, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    Thanks you for the pages and the great pictures ... A real pleasure, despite my pb with the feet to meter conversion :)

  • Mikebb's Profile Photo
    Sep 8, 2009 at 4:25 PM

    Some real history in this town. Preserved for history unlike many other mining boom towns throughout the world. A nice read.

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