Leadville is one of the main
reasons for the growth of Denver, and for the
development of Colorado in the 1880s and 1890s. By 1880,
Leadville was the second largest city in the state. Almost
25,000 people lived here as the result of enormous
mineral strikes. By 1880, the area was producing more
than $10 million in silver per year.
More than a few fortunes were made in this
high mountain region (the town has an elevation of 10,152
feet) including that of H.A.W. Tabor who became the
state's first multimillionaire.
Leadville/Ski Cooper Snow
Located in National Forest lands, Ski
Cooper offers downhill and cross country skiing, nine
miles north of Leadville, on Highway 24. For general
information, call (719) 486-3684. Base elevation is
10,500 feet, with the top elevation at 11,700 feet, for a
vertical climb of 1,200 feet. While the length of the
slopes are not as long as those at other Colorado
resorts, the scenery is awesome, and the snow deep and
The ski operation also offers snowcat tours
of Chicago Ridge, feature backcountry skiing through
treed slopes and open bowls, and the Piney Creek Nordic
Center features 24 miles of groomed trails, plus
snowmobile rentals, and skiing lessons (cross-country and
telemark). The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is located
H.A.W. Tabor had first settled with his wife in
Oroville, 2.5 miles south of Leadville, but moved his
general store to Leadville after strikes were made there.
He lucked into grubstaking a mining operation which made
his fortune. The town boomed and soon State Street (now
Second Avenue) boasted a quarter mile of saloons,
gambling halls, brothels and other entertainment spots.
Houses, stores and banks followed.
The Tabor Opera House still stands, along
with Leadvilles's impressive Victorian homes. Tabor was
the cause of a notorious scandal when he shed his wife to
marry Elizabeth "Baby Doe" McCourt. Tabor died penniless
in Denver. Baby Doe continued to lived near Leadville, in
a cabin at the "Matchless" Mine, until she froze to death
in 1935. Tabor's first wife, Augusta, fared better. She
enjoyed a wealthy state for the remainder of her life.
Leadville not only produced silver but
there was also gold, zinc, manganese, molybdenum and
turquoise. Many of America's wealthiest families got
their start in the area: the Guggenheims, the Marshal
Fields, and the fabulous James J. Brown ("Leadville
Johnny") who owned the Little Johnny Mine and plumbed an
enormous vein of gold. He built the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and his wife was the
"Unsinkable Molly Brown," the heroine of the Titanic
sinking, and of musical comedy fame.
What to See & Do
Offering memories of that rough and lusty
era, the Leadville Mining District consists of
three streets off Harrison Avenue. The annual visitor
guide from the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (at 809
Harrison) provides a map of the area for a driving tour
of the district which has old head frames, wooden
cribbings, and a museum at the site of the famed
Matchless Mine, owned by Horace Tabor and his second
wife, "Baby Doe."
Downtown Leadville reflects all of this
history, in the old homes and office buildings and two of
the original saloons. The town offers several special
celebrations such as the Boom Days Celebration (early August), and the On Top Of It Rodeo (September). Several museums are devoted to the Leadville
mining era, including Healy House and Dexter Cabin
Museum, at 912 Harrison Avenue, and the Tabor
Opera House. Now open for daily tours, the famous
opera house was built by Horace Tabor, the mining
magnate, and opened November 20, 1879. It played host to
many world renowned artists including Oscar Wilde, Jenny
Lind, the Flora Dora Girls, Harry Houdini, and many more.
Guided tours take visitors through the opera house,
including backstage areas, from May 30th until October
Many visitors come to this high country
(two miles elevation) for outdoor adventure. Hiking
trails are available in the national forest, offering a
challenge to climb the slopes of the two highest
mountains in Colorado. Mt. Massive Golf Course offers North America's highest golfing experience, with
wonderful views of the mountains and the Arkansas River
Valley. The course is located three miles west of
Leadville, near Turquoise Lake, and is open from May
through October, unless early and late snows intervene.
For information, call (719) 486-2176.
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Turquoise Lake offer hiking, as well as camping
(public and private), plus accommodations in nearby
motels and lodges. When visiting Twin Lakes, be sure to
see the old Inter-Laken Hotel, established as a
resort for the early Colorado rich and famous. The hotel
lost its lustre after the end of mining in the area, and
is now on view courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.
Campgrounds include Forest Service camp
sites on Turquoise Lake, three miles from town. Fishing
in the lake is good, as is fishing in the Twin Lakes
The Leadville, Colorado & Southern
Railroad provides an excellent scenic train ride
which operates during the summer and fall months. The
trip begins at the historic depot on East Seventh (at
Hazel), and follows the route taken by mining trains for
a 2.5-hour ride along the headwaters of the Arkansas
River. The train makes at stop at French Gulch,
where the old trains stopped to take in water. A gift
shop is located at the depot and concessions are
available on the train. The train departs at 1 p.m.
daily, from May 23rd to June 8th, and at 10 a.m. and 2
p.m. from June 15 to the beginning of September, when it
goes back to the one-a-day schedule until October 4th.
For information and group reservation, call (719)