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    Ghost Towns of Colorado



The images of ghost town ruins presented on this page, were mostly made on infrared film using red or infrared filtration. Some were made with a large format (4"x5" film sheets) view camera, some with a medium format (2x2 ) camera, and a few with a 35mm camera. Several of the non-infrared images were made with panchromatic film.

These images are records of the abandoned buildings, ghost towns as it were, that as recently as a century ago were once thriving communities inhabited by the families of the men who worked the mines. Many of these town, such as Animas Forks and Summitville, were established circa 1870 near the high elevation mines at altitudes as high as 11,200 feet only to be abandoned around 1893 when the price of silver crashed.



Please click on images for larger view.



      
© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Summitville Home 2008

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Summitville Home
Bronica SQ-Ai Medium Format, Zenzanon 85mm lens
Ilford Delta Pro 100, red filter                                  Silver Print
Print Pricing

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Sad Memories

© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Sad Memory
Bronica SQ-Ai Medium Format, Zenzanon 85mm lens
Ilford SFX Infrared film, red filter                             Silver Print

Other towns, such as Ironton and Idarado, continued to exist into the mid-20th century as the nearby mines were not dependent solely on the recovery of silver and gold, but were able to remain profitable through the recovery of other minerals.

Most of these homes and cabins were very modest, having at most two or three rooms. Many appear to have only a bedroom and a kitchen. As they weathered over the years of abandonment, a number have collapsed into piles of lumber. The state of disrepair is evident in the photos.

Home construction varied from town to town and it also varied according to the time it was built. Homes in Animas Forks and Summitville were built with 1x10 or 1x12 sheeting covered with tar paper. The interior walls were usually some form of fiberboard. There is no indication that there was any form of insulation within the walls. As the sheeting boards became seasoned, they shrank, leaving gaps between the boards. These homes

were likely very drafty, at least until the snows buried the exterior walls.

The houses in other ghost towns, such as Ironton and Idarado, were constructed later. They were also occupied for a much longer period. These homes were larger and had lapboard siding covering the tar paper and sheeting. Overall, they are in much better condition.

In most of these towns, the structures were built in rows along narrow streets that have since been reclaimed by nature. These communities attracted other enterprises such as newspapers, churches, and, of course, saloons. While gold was discovered in small amounts, the many gold mines made the Summitville District reputed to be one of the richest in Colorado. There was enough ore to support nine operating mills. From its initial founding, Summitville had a population of 600 with 14 saloons and a newspaper called the Summitville Nugget.

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Cabin at Treeline

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Cabin at Treeline
Bronica SQ-Ai Medium Format, Zenzanon 85mm lens
MACO 820c Infrared film, infrared filter               Silver Print

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- House on the Hill 2008

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- House on the Hill
Bronica SQ-Ai Medium Format, Zenzanon 85mm lens
Ilford SFX Infrared film, infrared filter                      Silver Print

Constructed above 11,200 feet, the population of Summitville bloomed to around 1500. But by 1893 the town had become abandoned and was nearly destroyed by a forest fire. Most of the recoverable gold had been mined out and silver prices were depressed due to the 1993 silver crash. There were many later attempts to continue the mining, circa 1906 and later around 1935. By 1956 there were only 12 remaining miners.

In 1984 Galactic Resources took over the site using sodium cyanide to leach the sparse gold out of the remaining ores. Acids from the exposed rocks along with the cyanide polluted Wrightman Creek and then the Alamosa River, poisoning these waters and killing all of the fish. Galactic Resources went bankrupt in 1992 and the cost of the cleanup has been borne by the American taxpayers. Today Summitville is a Superfund site.

Animas Forks is a popular destination for drivers along the Alpine Loop. It can be reached by passenger vehicle from Silverton, making it the most accessible ghost town along the loop. In 1883, nearly 450 people lived here, some year-round despite the long, harsh winters which occur at 11,200 feet.

The miner families were very hardy souls. A plaque in the Gustavson House in Animas Forks, donated by the children whose parents built it, tells of the home construction during the late months of the year while the family with a new born dwelled in a nearby tent. Once moved into the home, their mother would open the window during the winter to dig out snow to melt for water.

Most of these structures have stood for over a century, stubbornly resisting the ravages of weathering and heavy snows. Recent winters, however, with above average snowfall have caused more roofs to collapse. The weathered roofs make interesting photographic subjects. The photograph below was made the year before its collapse.

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Summitville Roofline 2007

© 2007 A. C. Olson -- Summitville Roofline
Nikon F100 Camera, Tamron 28-300mm lens
Fujicolor X-tra 400 film
Silver Print ... converted from color to monochrome


© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Storm A'brewing

© 2009 A. C. Olson -- Storm A'brewing
Bronica SQ-Ai Medium Format, Zenzanon 200mm lens
Ilford SFX Infrared film, infrared filter                      Silver Print


The example on the left as well as the roof below show how the tar paper has been stripped from the siding by the weather with only small fragments remaining.


© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Ruined Roof

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Ruined Roof
Bronica SQ-Ai Medium Format, Zenzanon 85mm lens
Ilford SFX Infrared film, red filter                             Silver Print

Minnie Gulch is another example of the remains of the mining activity from this era. The road up Minnie Gulch is located about three miles north of Howardsville. There are no ghost towns as such, but there are several houses and cabins on the way up to the mines. The road has severe drop-offs of several hundred feet to the creek below on the right and high steep slopes on the left. The house on the right is situated next to the road with a small stream running behind it.

Based on the size of the house and the number of rooms, it is likely that this was a boarding house used by the miners working the mines farther up the mountain. The Kitty Mack Mine, up near the ridge, has foundations apart from the mine structure that could also have been used for miner housing. Without housing near the mines, miners would have had to live in Howardsville, which would have been a substantial trek to work the mines every day.


© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Mine Sluice at Minnie Gulch

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Mine Sluice at Minnie Gulch
Bronica SQ-Ai Medium Format, Zenzanon 85mm lens
Ilford SFX Infrared film, infrared filter                      Silver Print

On the right is an image of an old mill in Howardsville. There is not much left of the old town in this vicinity, although a number of homes have been developed around the periphery to be used as summer homes or retirement homes. There is still some mining and ore processing activity in the valley nearby. This old mill is a reminder of the methods used for processing ores in the nineteenth century. The lines in the right part of the photograph are for a tramway that carried ore to the mill.

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Minnie Gulch House

© 2008 A. C. Olson -- Minnie Gulch House
Toyo Super Graphic (4x5) Camera, P-Toyonon 127mm lens
Efke 820c Infrared film, infrared filter                      Silver Print

Located between the Minnie Gulch House and the Kitty Mack Mine is the mine sluice shown on the left. It is not clear if this was used to process ore from the Kitty Mack Mine or if it was part of another mining operation. Its existence, however, is not noted on topographic maps.


© 2006 A. C. Olson -- Howardsville Old Mill

© 2006 A. Olson -- Howardsville Old Mill
Nikon F100, Tamron 28-300mm lens
Kodak High Speed Infrared, infrared filter               Silver Print