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.”
From Colorado Public Radio, Colorado Matters by Shanna Lewis with CPR’s Ryan Warner
October 31, 2018 – There Are 700 Ghost Towns In Colorado, And Ron Ruhoff Has Visited Many Of Them
Letter from the GTC President – The Time Machine, December 2018
Last month I touched upon some 19th and early 20th century events related to the common interest that created the Ghost Town Club 60 years ago. I intentionally stopped at 1918 so that this month our former president Patricia Quade and vice president Sally Alt could carry us into the mid-20th century with the following time capsule, first presented at the club’s 25th Anniversary Banquet.
The year is 1958. Ike is in the White House; McNichols is governor, not mayor; and no one has yet heard of E.T. or Pac Man.
Skirts are getting shorter — three inches below the knee. Although petticoats and full swept skirts are still popular, the smashing new look for Spring is: The Chemise. Gentlemen, you can purchase a handsome striped flannel suit at the May Co. for seventy dollars.
We are watching Garry Moore, Arthur Godfrey, and the Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Question. For the younger set, Sheriff Scotty and the Mickey Mouse Club reign supreme. These shows provide welcome diversion for those home suffering from Asian flu.
On February 17, 1958, the headline of The Denver Post shouts: “Nikita Perils Talks, Ike Says.” The second slide in 24 hours has blocked Berthoud Pass. And that evening, the State Historical Society is meeting at the First Baptist Church, 14th and Grant. Almost as an aside, anyone interested in forming a Ghost Town Club is asked to meet with John Farr following the meeting.
And so, on Monday, March 3, 1958, at the same Baptist Church, the Ghost Town Club of Colorado was born. The program for that first meeting was “San Juan Holiday” and “Jeep Trail to Timberline,” presented by Bob Brown.
In the 25 years since, we have shared many holidays and jeep trails. But we have shared much more. We have shared births and deaths, happiness and sorrow. We have shared and cherished timberline picnics, Indian paintbrush meadows, crystal skies, and boisterous mining camps alive again in our mind’s eye. Even flat tires, the thundering Rain God, and wrong turns have become fond memories.
Tonight, in celebration of this very special Club’s 25th birthday, we have asked some long time members to share a few nuggets of the Club’s early years with us. These terrific people, who have given so much to this club for so long, pitched in once again. If you were present for those years, we hope these sights and sounds will rekindle the embers of happy times forgotten. If you were not, we hope they will deepen your appreciation of our Club’s shared heritage. Either way, we hope you will enjoy it.
Like that night back in 1983, this year’s Gazettes have presented a variety of tales by your fellow members (not just me). These included: a heartbreaking love letter discovered in an Oregon ghost town (February); the allure of the road less traveled (March); an apocryphal story of a secessionist town (July); an anniversary celebration on a GTC trip (August); the club’s founding as seen through the eyes of a charter member (September); and, a supernatural terror in a long-vanished mining camp (October).
As you know all that did not just happen by accident. Early this year I invited the entire membership to share their stories in a form that endures; i.e. the written word rather than the spoken. To date twelve have done so, creating literary time machines capable of transporting us back to a bygone era and place. More of these tales will appear in future Gazettes; but if you would like them to be an ongoing feature, then YOU must participate!
Every person has at least one story in them. What (and where) is yours?
~ Ethan Knightchilde, December 2018
Letter from the GTC President – A Year of Anniversaries, November 2018
Over the last ten months of Gazettes (and in spite of the space given over to prodding you all into action), we have shared stories, reminiscences, and anecdotes about the discovery of gold on the American River; the secession of Rough and Ready, California from the United States; an unimaginable tragedy and a letter of lost love discovered in Oregon; the birth of the Ghost Town Club of Colorado; an anniversary picnic on a GTC field trip; and, the call of distant roads and the allure of those less traveled by.
In this penultimate entry for 2018, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at some notable anniversaries that are related to the focus of our club and mutual interests:
215 years ago April 1803: the United States seeks to purchase New Orleans and its environs for up to $10 million from France. Napoleon offers the entire Louisiana Territory – 828,000 square miles – for just $15 million dollars. The acquisition doubles the size of the U.S., which used $3 million in gold for a down payment. Later in the century, gold strikes around Helena, Montana alone would amount to more than double the purchase price.
190 years ago 1828: a) Gold is discovered in the Ortiz Mountains of New Mexico in what was then a province of Mexico. It takes approximately three months for the news to travel to St. Louis. b) Gold is discovered in Georgia. One of the first boomtowns is named Auraria, based on aurum, the Latin word for gold. Prospecting and mining operations would soon spread onto Cherokee land. Despite a favorable court judgment recognizing the Cherokee as a sovereign nation, President Andrew Jackson forcibly removes them from the gold fields.
170 years ago January – February 1848: James W. Marshall discovers gold in the tailrace of a sawmill he was building for Captain John Sutter in Alta California, Mexico. Nine days later, Mexico cedes the territory to the U.S. as part of the treaty ending the Mexican-American War.
160 years ago 1858: Gold is discovered in the interior territories that would eventually become Colorado, Arizona, and Montana. In early November a group of Georgian prospectors establish a camp named “Auraria” south of the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Kansas Territory. Later that month, “Denver City” is platted and named in honor of Territorial Governor James W. Denver. Auraria is incorporated into Denver 18 months later.
155 years ago 1863: Sheriff Henry Plummer is elected Sheriff during a “crime wave” of killings and stagecoach robberies in Bannack and Alder Gulch. Later that year a Vigilance Committee is formed and which eventually hangs Sheriff Plummer as the alleged leader of the outlaw gang.
125 years ago 1893: The repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in response to the Panic of ’93 results in the near-complete abandonment of many silver camps throughout Colorado and the West.
105 years ago October 22, 1913: The future ghost town of Dawson, New Mexico, experiences the second worst coal mining disaster in U.S. history when a dynamite charge ignites coal dust in Stag Canyon Mine #2. Only 23 of the 286 men arriving for work that morning survive. Less than ten years later, 123 men are killed in an explosion in Stag Canyon Mine #1. Decreasing demand for coal and the expiration of a 25-year contract with the Southern Pacific Railroad bring an end to the town in 1950 when it is sold and razed.
100 years ago 1918: Facing both labor and material shortages, many gold mines in the western U.S. shut down despite increased recovery using the cyanide process.
Next month we will take one last look back. Stay tuned.
~ Ethan Knightchilde, November 2018
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.