Sunday, February 9, 2020

St. Elmo Ghost Town


St. Elmo is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Colorado.  Founded in 1880, St. Elmo lies in the heart of the Sawatch Range, 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Buena Vista and sits at an elevation of 9,961 feet (3,036 m). Nearly 2,000 people settled in this town when mining for gold and silver started in Chafee County.  There were 150 patented mine claims within the area.  The Mary Murphy Mine was the largest and most successful mine in the area and recovered multi-millions worth of gold while it was in operation.  St. Elmo was originally named Forest City but was later changed because of the multitude of towns with the same name. The name St. Elmo was chosen by Griffith Evans, one of the founding fathers, who was reading a novel with the same title


The town was at its peak in the 1890s when it included a telegraph office, general store, town hall, 5 hotels, saloons, dancing halls, a newspaper office, and a schoolhouse. The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad line ran through St. Elmo.  The train traveled on through the Alpine Tunnel, located nearby, which was once the highest railroad tunnel in the world, at an altitude of 11,523 feet.  It was the first tunnel to be built through the Continental Divide. Unfortunately, the line was plagued with accidents and storms during its 30-year life until, finally, the railroad company gave up on the dangerous and accident-prone tunnel. The last train came through in November 1910, which along with many mines becoming depleted and closing, created a major decline in the population of St Elmo. 


When my husband and I decided to visit the town of Buena Vista for our anniversary in October to enjoy the hot springs of Mt. Princeton in nearby Northrop, Colorado--click here--to read that post, I was also excited to add on a drive to see St Elmo.  I follow many Colorado photography groups on Facebook and have always been enticed by photos that I've seen of this town.


The Chalk Cliffs


The 15 mile Chalk Creek Drive--Chafee County Road 162--from Nathrop to St Elmo is paved in the beginning and turns into a well-graded dirt road for the last five miles. 



It was a scenic drive through the mountains, where the aspen trees were just beginning to turn their autumnal gold color.  We were surprised, as autumn color usually arrives in late September at the higher elevations in Colorado, but we had an unusually warm, dry summer which seemed to delay the change.



When we arrived at St Elmo one of the first buildings we saw was the General Store It is operated seasonally May through October, weather permitting, and sells souvenirs, antiques and snacks, cabin rentals, ATV and snowmobile rentals and tours, and a bed and breakfast.  We learned that all of St Elmo's buildings are owned by a private foundation that is, thankfully, concerned with stabilizing and preserving them. The community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the St. Elmo Historic District



The School House and Town Hall are both owned and operated as museums by Buena Vista Heritage, but neither was open on our visit.


Some of the antiques for sale next to the general store.


Once the mining industry shut down, St. Elmo drastically declined in population. Miners searched elsewhere for gold and silver and the business district in St. Elmo closed down as well. Few people continued to live in the town. It was said most of the population rode the last train out of town in 1922.


The last original residents that did remain in town were a sister and brother, Annabelle and Tony Stark, who lived in the house above. Their father and mother ran a hotel and general store and later the post office was located there. As the town deteriorated, so did their lifestyle and health, and they were removed for their safety when they were elderly, around 1958.  You can read more about them on this link.  

Please click on to enlarge

There was a poster with a brief history of St Elmo in one of the building's windows and I was able to zoom in on a photo of Annabelle feeding the chipmunks.


When I saw this sign in the town I smiled as I thought it was a cute joke...


...until multiple chipmunks ran out from beneath the piles of wood and began climbing on me, begging for a treat!   Obviously, Annabelle's chipmunk friends' descendants still live in St. Elmo and are a popular tourist attraction.




One of the seasonal cabins for rent in St Elmo.  Chalk Creek runs through the town and offers fishing opportunities, there are many hiking trails in the area and the old mining roads are now used for ATV and Jeep recreation.



We really enjoyed our visit to St Elmo--it was a step back into time, and I'm glad that efforts are being made to preserve it and its history.

We returned to Buena Vista for the night, with plans on driving over the newly reopened and refurbished Cottonwood Pass to Crested Butte the next day.  More about that wonderful adventure in my next post.

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39 comments:

ellen b. said...

How fun to step back in time at this ghost town. Those chipmunks would have scared me. :)

riitta k said...

I am sure this was an exciting visit - to see a place where the history awakens alive. Also many Finns immigrated to the US during the gold rush. The location with mountains is stunning. Happy MM.

eileeninmd said...

Hello,

St Elmo's is a cute historical town. The houses and stores are cute.
I like the chipmunk crossing. Beautiful views of the mountains. Looks like a fun place to tour and visit. Great photos. Enjoy your day, wishing you a great new week!

Tom said...

...what a cool place, it's right up my alley.

Michelle said...

I would love to visit this town. Also, I think chipmunks are the cutest things.

Billy Blue Eyes said...

What a great place to visit, nothing like that here. Interesting to see along with the links. The Chipmunks weld have done well we me for treats, they are soo cute

Lydia C. Lee said...

Wow - the last residents stayed 48 years after most of the population left..how strange that must have been...

Ruth Hiebert said...

That is quite fascinating . So often these old places are left to deteriorate and finally are destroyed. Looks like a very scenic are as well.

Hootin' Anni said...

Reminds me a bit of Silverton Colorado. My home state is so picturesque...you captured its beauty perfectly!

Small City Scenes said...

What fun to explore St. Elmo. That is the most preserved Ghost town I have ever seen.
MB

A Bit of the Blarney said...

St. Elmo looks better today than it did 50 years ago when Ron and I were there. A weekend for us was visiting Colorado ghost towns. It was great fun! Thank you and have a wonderful week!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

You find the best places! St Elmo looks so interesting. We’ve been to Buena Vista, Bill reminded me when I showed him your post, but completely missed St Elmo. Next time (I wonder how many times I have said that to you !). I’m glad it belongs to people who are going to preserve it.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

That's pretty cool. I love that the town is being preserved. The west is peppered with old ghost towns that have fallen down and forgotten and old mines everywhere. In Utah as a boy scout when we hiking we encountered mines all over the place, some in some very remote and inaccessible areas.

My mother's father, who I never met was a "powder man" and lived all over Washington State and Idaho working various mines until he settled down at the copper mines in Butte, Montana.

Photo Cache said...

It would be really nice to stay in that cabin.

Worth a Thousand Words

Angie said...

Pat - it warms my heart that St. Elmo has been well maintained. This history is so important. I can see why you were enticed to visit here - your pictures capture the character of the town and the surrounding environment. Another spot for my bucket list! Thanks for linking to Mosaic Monday, my Colorado friend!

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Fascinating place - thanks for the history and great photos. I'd love to feed the chipmunks.

Lady Fi said...

What a charming place! Lovely shots.

Lea said...

Lots of history and beautiful scenery!
Love the chipmunks!

stevebethere said...

Great shots quite quaint too :-)

Shiju Sugunan said...

Charming post! Loved all the pics.

Jeanie said...

I always enjoy it when you visit ghost towns or places like this. And certainly the drive to get there looks as fun as the destination itself!

Barb said...

I love visiting ghost towns and imagining what life was like long, long ago. Most of the ghost towns in Summit County are dilapidated ruins, and you must hike to get to them. I aways get a strange feeling when I'm wandering in these places as if the ghosts of past lives are still there. Great photos, Pat!

betty-NZ said...

I love places like this that are so cared for and provide such great history of the place! The scenery of your trip is gorgeous to see, too. I'm glad you shared them all with us :)

Thanks for being a part of 'My Corner of the World' this week!

My Corner of the World

Barbara said...

Colorado truly has some fascinating places tucked into the mountains. This was a good description of one of them.

Su-sieee! Mac said...

That was a fun adventure, thanks. I enjoy learning the history of places I visit. You took great shots. My favorite is your last one. It’s like a painting.

diane b said...

I love how this cute little historic town is being so well preserved. Thanks for your history lesson.I like the boardwalks in front of the houses.

Dawn said...

Oh my goodness I could spend hours there, walking around, looking, taking photos, thinking about what life was like 200 to 300 years ago. Lovely and the chip! Oooh I love chipmunks.
Dawn aka Spatulas On Parade

Michelle said...

I used to go to Denver quite a bit with my husband for business. I miss Colorado! I need to return. I always, always enjoy your posts about day trips, etc... Thanks for linking up.

Spare Parts and Pics said...

What a picturesque ghost town! Looks like an outstanding job of preserving the original structures without changing them too much. Looks like a fun place to visit.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

It amazes me to see towns like this that you can still visit and get a glimpse of the past. So many have gone to ruin and we lose the history of our past. Thanks for sharing! I know you love getting off the beaten path! Hugs, Diane

~ Dixie said...

Such a wonderful well preserved town and in such a lovely spot too.
Looks like a great day.

MarilynsTreats said...

Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

Lowcarb team member said...

Looks such a good place to visit.
Lovely seeing your photographs.

All the best Jan

Lowcarb team member said...

How amazing about the chipmunks!

I did enjoy seeing all of your photographs.

All the best Jan

mano said...

a very interesting place! I only know those towns from old western films ;)!

Amy Johnson said...

Oh wow! This looks great! I would love to go here. Pinning for future vacations!

Unknown said...

This ghost town is so charming! I have never heard of it before but if I ever make it to this area, I will have to check it out. I so love the chipmunk crossing!!!!!!!!!! Just too cute!

R's Rue said...

Beautiful

William Kendall said...

What a marvelous place!