BEST LITTLE GHOST TOWN IN COLORADO
By Linda Jones, Page # 30 The Colorado Gambler (July 7, 2003)
Nevadaville used to be home for 1,000 people; now its estimated permanent population is six. The town is located one mile above Central City, at 9,000-feet elevation, within easy reach of metro drivers and it's a picturesque and charming ghost town. Five commercial buildings remain, and three of them contain unusual, fascinating antique / collectible shops worth exploring. All three are open on a more-or-less regular basis in the summer and fall.
The rich mining town has gone by three names in its 144-year existence. A. D. Gambell and Sam Link founded a town they named Nevada only three weeks after the discovery of gold in present-day Black Hawk by John Gregory on May 6,1859. The postal service objected to that name because of the similarity to the California town with the same name and a compromise name, Bald Mountain, was adopted. Most of the residents continued to call the town Nevada or Nevadaville, so the post office acquiesced. The original Nevada Post Office was chartered in Kansas Territory on Jan. 12, 1861; the name was changed on Dec. 16, 1869, to Bald Mountain Post Office, which was officially closed in 1921. The Nevada Mining District was created by a meeting called on Jan. 21, 1860, in the Burrough's Tunnel House.
A reporter wrote in 1860 "the Miners Court was hearing four or five suits a day." Early legal proceedings were pretty flexible. When a new mining district, Spring Gulch, encroached on "the territory allotted to Nevada," the judge who allowed that to happen "was arrested and brought up here for contempt of Court; and after a lengthy trial, which lasted till three-o-clock in the morning, the jury brought in a verdict of $50 damages and costs." The judge paid. Surveying was an inexact science then, too. The commissioners of the Nevada District laid out a new district with boundaries that "commenced at the dry sag, west of the Express stables, ran in a straight line south, where it intersected Chapeze's cattle yard and crossed Nevada Gulch a few feet above the old dam."
Elections in those pioneer days were wide-open affairs. In January, 1861, the same reporter says 1,700 votes were cast "for about 50 applicants and that about 400 votes was the highest received by any one candidate." Any person who owned a claim in the district could vote, whether or not he actually lived in the gulch. Some historians claim that the town's population reached 2,000 at one point, but whatever the maximum population was, several fires depopulated it. The first fire, in November of 1861, destroyed 50 homes, in the town and another in 1887 destroyed nearly all the Main Street buildings. The last fire occurred in 1914.
Main Street of Nevadaville, with the Masonic Lodge building and Joe Kramer's saloon on the left, and the City Hall on the right.
But Nevadaville was surrounded by gold! Many of the largest mines in the area were in or near the town. The previously mentioned Burroughs was one of the area's earliest discoveries, made by Ben Burroughs in May of 1859, and one of the richest. Thirty shafts on the Burroughs lode alone show in an 1869 map. Underground the Burroughs intersected the Kansas lode at depth. Instead of arguing in court, the owners merged the two properties in 1875 and the Kansas-Burroughs became one of the largest single producers in the entire region. Terry Cox in "Inside the Mountains" estimates that the mines on the Kansas lode, prior to the merger, produced 190,000 ounces of gold (over $64 million at today's gold prices) and 690,000 ounces of silver.
However, the second richest vein in the entire area - after the Gregory lode in Black Hawk - was the California in Nevadaville. By the time it ceased production in 1938, the vein yielded about _ 425,000 ounces of gold and 1,400,000 ounces of silver. On June 16,2003, gold was trading for $360 an ounce; that gold alone would have been worth $153 million! The California, dug to a depth of 2,250-feet in 1892, was then the deepest mine in Colorado. Other good producers in Nevadaville were the Pozo, Hidden Treasure, University, First National, Gold Coin, Aetna and Hawley-Gardner.
Water in the deep mines around Nevadaville was a constant problem and the miners quickly saw an obvious solution - dig a tunnel at depth to Idaho Springs, 1,500-feet lower. The Newhouse Tunnel, renamed the Argo Tunnel, was begun late in 1893. It took 16 years to dig, but it achieved its twin goals of draining the Quartz Hill mines near Nevadaville and accessing gold veins at great depth. By 1910 it was 4.16 miles long and directly or indirectly drained a hundred mines. The Argo Tunnel is about 1,300-feet deep near Nevadaville and is the reason there is little surface water in that area. During the 50 years of the Argo's life, sources estimate as much as $100 million in ore (in that day's prices) was shipped out through the tunnel, although most mine owners hauled ore out through their own shafts. During its first 2.5 miles, the tunnel is 12-feet wide and 12-feet high, then it narrows to 10-feet wide by 6-feet high. About 50 percent of the tunnel had two sets of railroad tracks for electric locomotives hauling ore out. An accidental flood and cave-in clogged the Argo in 1943 and ended all hauling through it. The water it continues to drain from deep inside the earth is heavily polluted with metals, and 'a new water treatment plant was built a few years ago in Idaho Springs to clean up the drainage, named a Superfund Site.
Paradoxically, while water in the mines was a problem, so was the lack of surface water. In the earliest days of Nevada, the Nevada ditch was built from North Clear Creek to the town and used until 1861. A surface spring has been the supply for the few residents for years.
Nevadaville had churches, a shoe store, grocery, two barbers, livery, dry goods business, butcher shop and 13 saloons. The school opened in 1864 with 100 students. The town acquired a doctor, sorely needed, in 1890, and the doctor opened a drug store. Of course, Nevada had its own baseball team, like all the gulch towns, but this town even boasted a cricket club, the Mountain Daisy Cricket Club.
Isaac Shwayder purchased a store in 1883 in Nevadaville. He had emigrated from Poland to Central City, then to Black Hawk, where his son Jesse was born (weighing 10 pounds!)in 1882. In Nevadaville, everyone had to purchase their drinking water for 35 cents a barrel from the local water wagon. The Shwayder family eventually included 11 children. After bathing each member of the. family, baby first, Rachel used the same (expensive) water for scrubbing the floor. She dreamed of moving to someplace with water, and in 1888 the family moved to Denver. But the future founder of Shwayder Brothers Corp. always remembered Nevadaville. So did other important visitors to the town, such as Henry Stanley, the explorer, and the vice president of the United States, Schuyler Colfax.
But life in a high mountain mining town was both primitive and precarious. That same newspaper correspondent noted in 1861, "A young miner died of congestion of the lungs, Wm. Coats, age 22. He was a Good Templar and they conducted rites."
The Pozo Mine.