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.”
Letter from the President, Ethan Knightchilde, June 2018
A Storied Past
As a child and early teen, I had far less enthusiasm than I do now for the subject of history, primarily due to most teachers’ emphasis on committing to memory the who, where, and when.
Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown in October 1781…
As such I was bored when I should have been enthralled. With the transition to prep classes and university, two additional points came into play that revealed history as a fascinating arc of interconnected events. They are the why and how, and they allow the imaginative to ponder the what if.
The Visigoths sacked the city Rome in 410 CE…
…But why and how did the Roman Empire–the greatest the world had ever seen–fall? And what if it hadn’t? What if General Ewell had carried out his orders at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, and secured the high ground for the Confederacy? What if reparations had not been imposed on Germany after the Great War?
Adding the why and how ensures complete engagement for they fill out the list of elements required for a captivating story. And history is full of events that can be told as stories for “edutainment.” Farce, tragedy, adventure, mystery, and suspense all hold a place in the great arc.
Late in the afternoon on Sunday, June 14, 1903, unusually violent thunderstorms unleashed torrential rain and hail in north central Oregon. The saturated earth could not absorb the deluge, and the overgrazed hillsides had little vegetation to impede runoff and erosion. Floodwaters raced down Willow Creek and its tributary Balm Fork, gathering mud and debris along the way. Downstream, just beyond where the two join, lay the small town of Heppner. The storm surge halted only briefly when a steam laundry built across the river served as a temporary dam. But within moments the structure failed, and a wall of water two to four stories high slammed into and roared through the unsuspecting town. Sources list the death toll at 247—approximately 1/5th of the population.
Though all the elements previously mentioned are present, that one story is summarily told and only hints at the dozens or perhaps hundreds of individual tragedies and triumphs one might discover with further research.
By now I’m sure you may be asking yourself where I might be going with this, other than to explain some childhood issues with history class and mark the 115th anniversary of what was both the deadliest natural disaster in Oregon history and the second deadliest flash flood in the US.
In 1958 a gentleman stood before the audience of a history program and asked all those interested in ghost towns to remain after the presentation. They formed a club that became so wildly successful that new would-be members remained on a years-long wait list. The group still meets every month as they have for the last 60 years.
Again just one story (barely) summarily told and suggesting the hundreds of tales club members could tell about their time visiting ghost towns over the better part of a century. But when stories and history aren’t written, they are eventually lost. And who is left to say what actually happened?
In the February Gazette I shared with you a story about one of my most memorable ghost town visits. Now I await yours. Whether it occurred during a GTC field trip or on one of your own adventures as mine did, I again implore you to do your part in making the rich history of our club and the experiences of its members something more permanent than a fading oral tradition.
~ Ethan Knightchilde, June 2018
Letter from the President, Ethan Knightchilde, May 2018
In early April while I was drafting this letter, the Ghost Town Club’s redesigned website went live with a new, clean look that invites exploration. Those who have authored even a single, rudimentary web page know how getting everything just right, particularly the look-and-feel, is very time-consuming. Coding is tedious, excruciating work, and even customizing pre-built templates requires painstaking attention to detail. A developer spends weeks if not months creating and maintaining a quality website.
To our immense good fortune, Carla Johns (Joanie’s daughter) has donated her time and expertise to reimagine our web presence. I urge everyone to take a look at her efforts. Right this instant in fact. So take your Gazette, power on your computer or tablet, and visit ghosttownclub.org. Go ahead, I’ll wait… Looks pretty awesome, right? As you peruse our revamped site, make note of any suggestions that come to mind or any bugs that you see, and forward them to your website committee chairs.
While you’ve got your browser open–I promised at the February meeting that I would get to you several ghost town-related sites I had named. Since I’m fulfilling that promise a bit later than expected, the list below includes some additional sites for you to explore. (See why I said to take the Gazette with you?) Browse and enjoy the photos, info, and posts. Register/follow/like/sign-up at your favorites. Give the GTC a mention in conversational comments if the opportunity presents itself. (For example, “When I traveled here in ’86 with the Ghost Town Club of Colorado, yadda yadda yadda….”) Let’s just be sure not to spam, overtly advertise ourselves, and/or toot our own horn!
Bodie.com – How can you not fall down a rabbit hole at this site? There are even some vintage movie clips, including silent era footage that show J.S. Cain in front of the U.S. Hotel, and scenes from the 1929 talkie Hell’s Heroes, directed by the great William Wyler. See what it was like to ride down Main Street on horseback before the great fire of June 1932 destroyed most of the town! Click on “Videos” about ¾ of the way down the menu on the right side of the page.
Exploreforums.com – Ask, post, discuss, and engage ghost towners and adventurers from all over.
GhostTownGallery.com – Contemporary photo galleries organized by state and site. For stories behind the photos, visit Facebook.com/GhostTownGallery
Ghosttowns.com – There is A LOT of info here: much of it is out-of-date and some has been lifted straight out of older books without citation. Still it is a valuable resource to get an idea of what might remain at a given site, as well as the best seasons to visit, restrictions to access, and travel conditions of which to be aware.
SouthParkCity.org – The official website of South Park City Museum in Fairplay, Colorado, includes info on operating hours, special events, and more. (Psst… there is even a dis-count coupon for admission!) Also visit them at Facebook.com/SouthParkCityMuseum
Facebook.com/CityofDustNM – I know this guy! Author-photographer John Mulhouse travels around New Mexico, photographing and sharing history and stories from the road. Other states too! Check it out.
Facebook.com/LegendsofAmerica – This isn’t exclusively about ghost towns, but it’s definitely for the history-minded.
Facebook.com/Rhyolitesite-149461465085742 – Rather than type that URL, it may be easier to just search Facebook for Rhyolite and then select “Rhyolitesite” from the results. Either way it’s worth the effort. See historical photos of the town, including several street views taken during its glory years and the incredible depot with a train stopped in front of it.
Facebook.com/WesternMiningHistory – The page name kind of says it all.
And finally, now that I’ve shared with you (and since you’re at your computer anyway)—how’s your ghost town memory story coming along? Start writing–I’m looking forward to reading what you have to share when I return in June.
~ Ethan Knightchilde, May 2018