GTC Home

The Ghost Town Club of Colorado is an active and energetic group of people with diverse backgrounds who share an interest in the history of the west, especially Colorado. 

The club enjoys visiting historic sites and is committed to the preservation of these sites for future generations.

The club holds monthly meetings with programs on historical subjects. In addition, the club conducts field trips to sites throughout Colorado, and occasionally beyond to locales in the western United States and Canada.

Historic preservation is a focus of our work and preservation work is done in conjunction with field trips. Also once a year the club distributes its preservation funds to nonprofit historical sites in need of financial help.

Exploration, enjoyment and preservation of historical sites.

About GTC

The Ghost Town Club of Colorado was founded in 1958 by two Denver teachers, Jack Morison and Bob Brown. Together with several other people who shared an interest in Colorado history and historic preservation, they created a group focused specifically on ghost towns – their history and preservation.

What do we do?

Ghost Town Club of Colorado (GTC) holds monthly meetings featuring guest speakers on a variety of topics related to western history, ghost towns, Colorado history and relevant historic subjects. Past presentation topics include: the adventure, danger and romance of Colorado’s railroads, Denver’s great mansions and the people who inhabited them, and the unusual opportunities and challenges of living in a fire observation tower. There is something for everyone in this group of enthusiastic lovers of Colorado history!

Members also plan, organize, and lead many field trips to ghost towns and/or historic sites. These include day-trips to local sites such as old Fort Lupton to learn about and observe reconstruction of the fort, as well as to the ghost town of Dearfield to explore a hundred-year-old African American agricultural community on the arid high plains. Our excursions may include leisure driving, four-wheel driving, and/or hiking to our destinations.

Our field trips also include weekend excursions such as a motorcoach tour to Nebraska and the Lincoln County Historical Museum depicting a WWII canteen serving more than six million soldiers traveling by train through North Platte.

We also organize longer tours traveling to several states and parts of Canada, visiting significant historical sites and monuments, national parks, and local historians along the way.

And lets not forget about historic preservation. The club collects money throughout the year in a preservation fund to distribute at the end of the year to nonprofit historic sites in need of finacial support. Also, we will often help by doing actual preservation work with hands-on labor.

Who are we?

We are a diverse and active group of people with a shared sense of and reverence for history. We honor the significant contributions of many people through our strong desire to study, learn from, and preserve ghost towns and the memory of the people who built and lived in them. Perhaps most importantly, we are a group of friendly people who enjoy getting out, socializing, learning, and having a lot of fun.

How do we operate?

We are a volunteer-run organization. Our board of directors consists of six members who are elected to two-year terms. The president and other officers are elected for a yearly term. Subcommittees plan and execute special projects such as the yearly banquet, preservation fund awards, volunteer coordination, or outreach activities, to name a few.

Snapshot of GTC History

During the first three meetings of the Club back in 1958 when organizers were trying to decide on a name for the club, one lone stranger kept insisting that “toll roads” be added to the name. Finally Ghost Town Club of Colorado was “railroaded” through. In December 1963, the Club was legally incorporated with the Secretary of State.

First dues for the Club were $1 a year. In 1979, dues were $5 a year. Slowly postage, printing, insurance and rent have caused minimal increases. It’s been many a year since we had to raise the dues, and as Dick Ramsey says, “It’s still the best bargain in town.”


Join us!

We invite you to attend a monthly meeting to learn more about us. Our membership dues are $25 per year. Join GTC today! Costs for field trips vary based on distance and length.


Letter from the President Ethan Knightchilde, September 2018

By the time you read this, the Nominating Committee should be well into their work of selecting officer candidates for 2019. (If you have an interest in being considered, please contact me). Should we phone you in the coming months and ask you to serve, please keep in mind what I wrote in the August Gazette before you answer. As members, we must be more than the equivalent of moviegoers enjoying passive entertainment—we must be filmmakers who create the show. If you are unable to say yes, I challenge you to take an active role and contribute in some other way. After all, the committee chose you for a reason. Use your experience (or youthful enthusiasm) to offer guidance, suggestions, programs, or perhaps something new to GTC. The club can only continue if we all take a part in its future.

In June I asked founding member Ron Ruhoff to share his personal ghost town “origin story” along with his recollection of that fateful Historical Society meeting in 1958. It is presented here as the second installment of our GTC Legacy Project.  I hope it will serve as a reminder to us all of how we came to be here and why we choose to remain.

~ Ethan Knightchilde, September 2018

A Ghost Town Club is Born
By Ron Ruhoff

My interests in Colorado mining and ghost towns probably began with my wanderings around Central City in the 1950’s. My father was a musician in the Denver Symphony and also had joined the Central City Opera orchestra at that time. During my junior high years at Byers School in Denver, I used to go up there with him before I was old enough to drive. I was fascinated as I walked around Central City and Black Hawk and saw so many abandoned buildings, mine structures, and the “glory hole” atop Quartz Hill.

In 1957, the year I graduated from South High, I got my first car: A 1942 military jeep. My friends and I had a grand time that year exploring the back roads around Central City and Idaho Springs. The ghost town of Lamartine was one of my first discoveries. Back then, there were several cabins and a stamp mill still standing. I was also having fun shooting all these things with slide film and a 35mm camera. Those good old Kodachromes have never faded.

Later in 1957, a friend joined me for a Jeep trip to the San Juan Mountains near Ouray, Lake City, and Silverton. We traveled over Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, and visited such places as Yankee Boy Basin, Capitol City, Carson, and Mineral Point. I was off and running on a quest for Colorado ghost towns.

At this same time, I often attended lectures given by the Colorado State Historical Society in the basement of Denver’s First Baptist Church on 14th and Grant in Denver. At one such lecture in January 1958, a man named John Farr got up to make an announcement before the main speaker began: “All of you who might be interested in forming a ghost town club, please stay after the meeting.” There were some one hundred people there for the program that night and, when the lecture concluded, every single one stayed.

All thought a ghost town club was a great idea, and much discussion proceeded regarding what such a club would do. Some thought railroads, toll roads, or old passes should be included, but it finally was agreed that those other subjects would naturally follow the ghost town theme. Some also thought the club would run out of places to visit in a short time; certainly no one dreamed it would last 60 years and still be going strong.
Agnes Wright Spring, the Colorado State Historian at the time, had suggested to John that he bring up the idea of a ghost town club that evening. Upon seeing the interest it generated she wrote an article for the Rocky Mountain News and gave a date for the first meeting: March 3, 1958. The location would be the same church basement room used by the Historical Society.

The program for the first meeting of the Ghost Town Club of Colorado was presented by Robert L. Brown and featured two of his 8mm movies with music and narration: “San Juan Holiday” and “Jeep Trail to Timberline.” The remainder of the time was spent electing officers and planning future meetings. Dr. Gerald Coon was the first president; Jack Morison, a Denver schoolteacher, would be vice president and program chairman; and Gary Balliet was the first treasurer. We all paid our dues of $1.00 that night and the GTC was off and running.

John Farr never joined the club he had proposed, nor was he present at any of the meetings. Soon after he got the ball rolling with his announcement at the Historical Society meeting, the insurance company for which he worked moved him off to jobs in Montana and the Dakotas, and he never had the chance to participate in the club. He later relocated to Encampment, Wyoming, where he resides today and remains very involved with their historical old-town museum.

Over the many years of Ghost Town Club fellowship, lectures, and field trips, I have found that this organization has probably had the greatest influence on my life of anything I have done. Many other members have expressed similar feelings. The Ghost Town Club has proven to be a grand adventure over these many years and a heartfelt thanks goes out to John Farr for getting it all started.

What are you waiting for?

It’s not too late to share your ghost town memory. Don’t feel pressured to write a novel–just set down a few paragraphs on one sheet of paper. Your story can be about ANY ghost town visit and does not even need to be GTC-related. There are a wide range of topics you can consider sharing, for example: my tale about the letter of lost love found in an Oregon ghost town (February 2018 Gazette); Nancy Smith’s recollection of an anniversary celebration on a GTC trip (August); and, Ron’s offering this month about the GTC’s founding. So what are you waiting for?

Please email your tale to me. If you send it through the USPS, please be sure to keep a copy for yourself just in case. (Note: For consideration of inclusion in the Gazette, the story must be an appropriate length. Or at least suitable for a Reader’s Digest condensed version.)

Letter from the President Ethan Knightchilde, August 2018

Later this month, the September-October issue of Colorado Life Magazine will hit the stands. Barring unforeseen circumstances, an article about the Ghost Town Club and its 60th Anniversary should be right up front in the “Sluice Box” column–the first a reader (and possibly future member) will see. I have not read the piece, as journalists typically don’t share with their subjects before publication. However I did suggest to writer-editor Matt Masich that he should contact Ron Ruhoff, who was there before there was a “there” there, and so could speak firsthand about our origins and first 60 years.

About that “first 60 years:” I believe it safe to say that the club has endured because it is important to each of us and is much more than the sum of its parts (i.e., us). People protect the things they love, and so the club has continued even as members have come and gone. But attracting new members is the only way to ensure it continues to do so; additionally we must be prepared to adapt to meet their expectations when necessary, so that they remain members. (Since history is littered with organizations that remained stagnant or intransigent and so perished, I won’t dig up the dinosaur analogy and how the specialization that made them successful didn’t allow them to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.)

While it is my sincere hope that the article will bring new members our way, nothing is guaranteed. But…when you think guests might arrive at your home, don’t you usually tidy up a bit around the house and make yourself presentable if and when they do? Let’s take the same wise course of action and make sure that any guest’s first impression of us is the best we have to offer. We must show that we are an ACTIVE membership, the majority of which not only show up at meetings for entertainment and socializing, but also participate in some combination of the following:

Field Trips – First, pause and remind yourself of your past or present spirit of adventure. Even if you can’t or don’t want to lead, surely you have ideas, suggestions, or advice for those that can or do, especially if the proposed trip retraces some or all of a route you once traveled?

Programs – If I personally could start filming a theatrically released documentary about ghost towns without even knowing about the GTC until the movie’s production was nearly complete, then some of those who have been exploring the echoes of the West far longer than I should be able to create a program for their fellow members. Do something with those photos and slides!

Committees, Officers, and all those who keep things running – Each year it has become increasingly difficult for the Nominating Committee to find members willing to commit. The most obvious recent example is the search for 2018’s VP, when there was no candidate to present to the membership for approval along with the other officers. Imagine what would happen if NO ONE had stepped in. None of us want a program-less meeting; and I am sure we can all agree that it is unfair to continually ask more of those whose names consistently appear on the officer and committee rosters. Please consider submitting your name for a 2019 officer role in advance of the Nominating Committee’s work (which begins soon), especially if you have never served before or have not for many years. You’d be surprised at how fulfilling and fun it can be.

We are a club formed and maintained by those who share a common love of history and the Old West. When something in your life is always present, it may take some reflection upon past memories to make you realize why that particular something has maintained its importance in your life. Take a moment to think back and remember what brought you to the GTC and kept you here. (Judging from the conversations I overheard at the banquet, I have no doubt that there will be plenty reminiscing over Kodak moments as we gather at our 60th Anniversary picnic and enjoy each other’s company.) As you reminisce, consider the impact of the events you are recalling–an impact so great that details remain crystal clear in your memory years or even decades later.

The legacy of the club, of the members who are no longer with us, and of those who have been with us for more years than they might care to consider resides solely in our collective hands. It is our duty to pass it on to our newest members and to those who have not yet found their way to us.

When I traveled around Colorado for Ghosts of the West screenings, I encountered so many people who, like us, have a glimmer of “the West in their eyes.” I hope the Colorado Life article proves to be another way to reach them. But the burden is on us to put our greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts heads together, and think of other ways to lead them there. I hope you will commit to joining me in that effort.

Tidy up and look busy. Guests might arrive any day.

~ Ethan Knightchilde, August 2018

Letter from the President Ethan Knightchilde, July 2018

“It’s A Great Story But…”

Independence Day, secession, foreigners & hyperbole in the Old West

Last month I speculated that perhaps more people might be engaged with history if events were presented in a story format. Even when summarily told, an historical tale is able to spark interest and inspire one to delve deeper in a search for details.

However, details can prove elusive for many reasons. Consider that those living beyond the frontier often experienced a deep feeling of isolation; entertainment options for distraction were severely limited; and, particularly when news was local, many papers of the day considered their duty as town booster to be of greater importance than inconvenient facts. As a consequence events were often embellished; tales grew in the telling; and, details that sprang from the imaginations of storytellers eventually became factoids. Thus the history of the Old West is replete with exaggerated accounts of wild discoveries, lost mines, epic confrontations, and inflated population figures that would have made even the town boosters and editors of the day blush.

If tall tales stemmed from frontier folks’ sense of isolation, so too were the Independence Day celebrations that went on far longer and more intensely than many generations since can imagine, and which helped even fiercely independent souls feel connected to their countrymen back in the States. Parades and firecrackers were common, as well as orations that included readings from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, toasts to almost everything, setting off of gunpowder, foot races, horse races, drilling competitions, climbing greased poles, and contests to capture oiled pigs.

I mention obfuscation and July 4th celebrations to better frame this month’s anecdote.

Founded in 1849 Rough and Ready, California, had been named after recently-elected President of the U.S., General Zachary Taylor, who bore the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” during the Mexican-American War. Tales say that most of the townspeople were Southern-sympathizers who objected to California’s entry into the Union as a free and undivided State, but especially to a government-imposed mining tax on their claims. And so on April 7, 1850, residents voted to secede from the United States and found The Great Republic of Rough and Ready. Then something funny happened on the way to the forum: miners from the new republic were denied the purchase of alcohol at a nearby town on the grounds that they were foreigners.

Rough and Ready voted to rejoin the Union just in time to celebrate Independence Day.

To be sure it’s an interesting tale that invites one to delve further, but one will find that the facts here are very muddied. At first glance the objectionable tax seems to be the Foreign Miners Tax. However that little legislative slice of heaven was aimed at Chinese and Mexicans. Additionally, the bill was only signed into law six days AFTER Rough and Ready’s secession on April 13, 1850, and only became effective on June 1. As to California Territory entering the Union as a free and undivided State—well, that didn’t happen until September 9, 1850, five months and two days after secession.

Some sources state that Rough and Ready remained independent for more than a year as opposed to a few months, and did not rejoin the Union until July 1851 rather than 1850. Others state that hostilities did not officially end until 1948, when the town wanted a post office. But that usually ignores the fact that a post office had been established there in 1851 and has served the town with few breaks since.

As the saying goes, “Fiction is history that did not happen, and history is fiction that did.” Now it’s your turn to share a unique story about one of your ghost town visits, but please… don’t let entertainment get in the way of the facts.

~ Ethan Knightchilde, July 2018

P.S. To clarify: Your tale can be about ANY ghost town visit and does not necessarily need to be GTC related! Don’t feel pressured to write a novel–just set down a few paragraphs on one sheet of paper! (See my letter in the February Gazette for an example of just how short it can be.)

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Programs & Monthly Meetings

November 8, 2018

Lee Whiteley will present the history of placer gold mining in Central City’s “Richest Square Mile on Earth”. This very unique program will be illustrated by the dioramas built by woodcarver Hank Gentsch.

Monthly Meeting Schedule

We hold ten regular meetings per year on the 2nd Thursday of each month at 7:30p.m. We meet at the Grace United Methodist Church located at 4905 East Yale Avenue, Denver, Colorado (just west of I-25 and Yale).


Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the Ghost Town Club of Colorado is held each November.
This year it is scheduled for November 8, 2018.  The slate of officers for 2019 will be presented for vote, as well as any other business to come before the meeting.


Upcoming Field Trips

For additional details about any of the field trips listed below please email us or call us at 303.659.4858.

MORE INFO COMING SOON…


Past Field Trips with Reports

Colorado Yellow Cake: The History They Tried to Bury on September 7-11, 2018

We visited Uravan, Bedrock, Paradox, Hanging Flume, Silverton, Old Hundred Mine, Mayflower Mill, Palisade Peaches and much more! The Ghost Town Club has been instrumental in helping support and preserve many of the sites through donations from the Preservation Fund. (Itinerary: The Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, Million Dollar Highway, Old Hundred Mine, Mayflower Mill, Naturita, Uravan, Bedrock, Paradox, Hanging Flume, Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway, Gateway Auto Museum, Enstroms Candy Factory + Wine Pairing Dinner)

FIELD TRIP REPORT

On a beautiful Colorado morning, 20 Ghost Towners and 9 guests left Denver headed for southern Colorado and a trip into history. As usual there were breaks every two hours and great lunch stops. Friday afternoon found us at the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose. We were given an overview description of the Museum and then were left on our own to explore. It is one of the best venues to learn of the Ute way of life.

The first night was spent at Montrose and the next morning we headed for Silverton and the Old Hundred Mine. After donning slickers and hard hats, we were given a tour of the mine itself, riding a cart 500 feet into the tunnel. We were given a demonstration of the workings of the mine, from the days of working with only candles for light to present day. We also learned the finer points of working with dynamite.

After lunch in downtown Silverton we went to the Mayflower Mill. Bev Rich of the San Juan Historical Society talked about how the Mill was saved. Since a tour would involve many stairs, we opted to watch a video which detailed the workings of the mill. After that we spent the rest of the day at the San Juan Historical Museum. Ghost Towners have given many hours and donations to this museum, so it was good to see the results. Dinner was at True Grit Restaurant (of John Wayne fame) in Ridgway, then back to Montrose for the night.

Sunday we headed for Naturita, Colorado where we met our local guides. Jane and Sharon are two women who have spent most of their lives in the area, and are heavily into keeping the history of the area alive. After touring the Museum we had lunch at the Ball Park, then we were back on the bus for a tour of the area.

The story of the Uravan & Naturita area is a story of the making and destroying of a complete town and its importance in the uranium industry, and the Rimrocker Historical Society works hard at trying to have people understand that story.

The Ball Park deserves special mention, as it had been a thriving place when the town was alive, then fell into disrepair when the town was destroyed. The Rimrocker Historical Society undertook to restore the Ball Park. The Ghost Town Club Preservation Fund has given money several years to this endeavor and are responsible for the US flag that flies from the original flagpole and can be seen from the highway
Our tour also included the surrounding area and a stop at the Bedrock store (which was closed). We spent the night in Naturita and the next morning we headed for Palisade traveling the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway.

Our next stop was at the Hanging Flume, which is located on the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway. It is a twelve mile long wooden water carrier attached to the side of the canyon and was built to carry water to a nearby mining site. It took three years to build and was used for three years. Truly an architectural and engineering phenomenon.

Our next stop was at the Gateway Auto Museum. A truly outstanding collection of rare American cars, not primarily “oldies”, but some almost everybody could relate to and had a story about. Lunch was at Gateway, which is a fabulous resort, very unusual for the high desert. Then it’s on to Enstrom’s Candy (need we say more?) in Grand Junction. Next came Kathryn’s Cellars for wine tasting. Our stop for the night was Wine Country Inn where we were treated to a wine pairing dinner – three courses paired with appropriate local wines.

The next day we departed Palisade and were given a tour of an operating shipping warehouse and orchard with many samples, so it was natural to come home with lots of fresh fruits and other goodies.

As we pulled into the Hotel in Denver where some people had left cars and the trip was over, we realized how much history we have had the opportunity to learn and hopefully have made people curious enough to revisit these places on their own.

Cardinal Mill and Nederland Mining Museum on September 12, 2018 at 9:00a.m.

FIELD TRIP REPORT COMING SOON…

We will have a trip to Nederland on September 12th to Cardinal Mill just outside of Nederland. We’ll meet at 9:00a.m. at the Nederland Mining Museum, 200 North Bridge Street, Nederland, Colorado. Some members of the GTC did some work on this mill a number of years ago to stabilize it. It will be very interesting to see how it has been restored.

Please note that only 20 people can be accommodated on the tour this year. Please indicate if you would like to be in the first or second trip. The only way to the Mill is by a van provided by Nederland Mining Museum. The van holds ten people and the attendees will be divided into two groups. The first group will leave the Museum for the Mill at 9:30a.m. The other will tour the Mining Museum. The second group will leave the Museum for the Mill at 11:00a.m., then the first group will visit the Museum.


Field Trip Planning Session

The Steering Committee conducted a productive and exciting field trip planning session at the January meeting. Several ideas were presented by those in attendance and were written on large sheets of paper which were then hung around the room so that everyone could look at the ideas and indicate interest by placing blue sticky dots on trips they’d like to do. Pegi Emmett has taken that information and consolidated it to one sheet for future planning and for volunteering to put together field trips based on the ideas presented. If you would like to work on a field trip, contact someone on the Steering Committee for further help or direction. When you are ready to schedule the trip, give Lee or Joanie a call and the field trip will be put on the calendar. Let’s make this the best field trip year ever!

Do you enjoy our field trips? Have you ever thought about leading one?

It’s easy! Find a friend, team up, and plan a trip for the club. Field trips can be for a few hours, a morning or afternoon, a full day, a weekend, or a week long excursion.

Want more information? Check out our printed guide on planning field trips for a step-by-step how to guide. Remember it’s always easier and more fun to work together. Some of our greatest field trips were been led by people who had never planned a trip before. Let’s go exploring together!