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.”
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, 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.)