Quiet; eerie; deserted; these words are often what we think of when we picture ghost towns. These once thriving cities that time left behind are ethereal reminders of Colorado’s sometimes turbulent history. The old town’s skeletons litter the Colorado landscape and while their inhabitants may be long gone their stories live on. There are in fact too many ghost towns in Colorado to mention in one article, but here are my top three picks for best ghost towns in Colorado:
Arguably Colorado’s best preserved ghost town is St. Elmo located south of Buena Vista. Like most ghost towns in Colorado, St. Elmo started as a mining town during the gold rush days. During the construction of the nearby Alpine Tunnel the town again grew as a local hub for the mostly male workers; accordingly several saloons, dance halls and houses of ill repute sprang up. When St. Elmo became a railway stop for the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad lines in 1881 the town again grew as a merchant hub in the area resulting in the development of several stores, hotels, restaurants, and even a weekly newspaper. In its heyday more than 1,000 residents called St. Elmo home (some estimates are as high as 2,000). The town’s downfall began in 1890 when a fire destroyed many buildings in town, few of which were rebuilt. When the mining boom subsided and the railroad stopped service to St. Elmo the town’s fate was sealed. Only a few residents chose to stay on in the dying town and in 1930 the town’s population numbered only seven. Today St. Elmo stands as an iconic image of Colorado ghost towns with numerous structures that have been preserved including a general store, a church, a school building and many other smaller cabins and businesses.
On April 20, 1914 the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company guards attacked a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colorado. The resulting battle, known as the Ludlow Massacre resulted in the death of between 19 and 25 people (sources vary). In retaliation miners attacked dozens of mines and company buildings over the next several days causing more deaths and destruction. In the end 66 men, women and children died in the skirmishes making the Ludlow Coal Strike one of the deadliest labor strikes in US history. Today the Ludlow ghost town is all that is left of this mining city in southern Colorado near Trinidad. Its bloody history is rumored to be the reason for the ghost town’s status as one of Colorado’s most haunted sites. A visit to the ramshackle remnants of the town can be augmented with a trip to the nearby Ludlow Massacre Monument.
Though not traditionally thought of a as ghost town, Mesa Verde is in fact Colorado’s longest standing abandoned city. The Ancestral Puebloans who built and used the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde prospered in the area for 700 years before a mass exodus in the 1300s. The stone city sat quietly until the 1800s when Europeans and later Americans started exploring and chronicling the deserted cliff dwellings. What they found was a ghost town of epic proportions; some structures in Mesa Verde, like Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree, have over 100 rooms. Today the area is a national park and visitors are welcomed year round to explore and learn about Colorado’s first ghost town.