My husband, Dave, and I were visiting our friends Dave and Kathleen Anderson in Colorado, when the four of us decided to drive up to Leadville, enticed by brochures on the city’s mining history and interesting shops.
As we drove toward Leadville, we were surrounded by majestic 14ers (which is how Coloradoans refer to their mountains over 14,000 feet). Oftentimes, these towering mountains disappeared into the clouds.
Entering the city limits, we found a mixture of old, dilapidated houses in disrepair interspersed with vintage homes that had been refurbished into regal reminders of the city’s rich history. Leadville has 70 square blocks with 50 significant 1870s buildings, including the Tabor Opera House and the Tabor Grand Hotel. These buildings are included in the National Historic Landmark District of Victorian architecture.
The main street is lined with buildings constructed long ago and lovingly maintained. While walking through the historic downtown, we found interesting shops with gifts, clothing, fossils, gemstones, jewelry and antiques. We especially enjoyed the old-time hardware store that is full of antiques. Hardware items for many pieces of old furniture, such as trunk locks and latches, door knobs, etc., were plentiful. Friend Kathleen, being an avid antique shopper, said it was one of the largest and most interesting stores she’d ever been in.
We finally pulled her away to check out more shops. After we wore the two Daves out, we sought out Rosie’s BrewPub, which won a poll as Leadville’s favorite restaurant. Leadville is so high up that it lays claim to many of the highest points in North America, such as the highest airport and highest golf course. Rosie’s BrewPub boasts that it is the highest brewery in North America, serving American cuisine with handcrafted beer and root beer. We were fortunate enough to get served in the vintage upstairs dining room decorated in the style of a bygone era with beautiful old windows and lace curtains. The pub served mountainous portions of food. The Daves had buffalo entrees, which they greedily chowed down, but folks, let me tell you the pub’s special Rueben sandwich was to die for. Yumm.
After lunch we ventured outside of town to view the 20-square-mile mining district, including the old shack where the infamous Baby Doe resided during the last years of her life. Most Coloradoans are familiar with the story of Horace Tabor and Baby Doe. For those who aren’t, here’s a synopsis of their story and Leadville’s history.
Gold was discovered near Leadville in 1860, and a makeshift town of tents and cabins called Oro City sprang up. Gold was plentiful until it played out about five years later. The silver boom followed, and by 1880 Leadville had over 30,000 residents, many stores, hotels, boarding houses, and the inevitable saloons, dance halls, gambling houses and brothels.
Fortunes were made. Horace Tabor, who owned a general store with his wife, Augusta, invested in mining and became rich, developing the Tabor Hotel, the Bank of Leadville, and the Tabor Opera House. The opera house presented famous talents, including magician Harry Houdini, writer Oscar Wilde on a lecture tour, and actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Tabor is best known for the scandal that developed when he left his wife and married Baby Doe. He and Baby Doe lived a very wealthy life in Denver until 1893, when the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act caused the market for silver to collapse and spelled ruin for the Tabors. Leadville also went into decline.
In 1941, U.S. Army troops began winter survival and ski training at a site 17 miles north of Leadville. These troops became the famous Tenth Mountain Division, which spearheaded the advance of the U.S. Army in Italy in 1945. Many ski troopers returned to Colorado after the war and were instrumental in the development of the Colorado ski industry.
We toured the mining district in Leadville, and then planned to go four-wheeling. But we had started to feel the effects of the high altitude and decided instead to head back to lower elevation. Nevertheless, in our short visit, we had a great time learning about Leadville and its famous residents.
If you plan to visit Leadville, you can get more information from the Leadville/Lake County Visitor’s Center. Phone (719) 486-3900 or visit www.Leadvilleusa.com.
Marti French is a full-time RVer who spends the winter in Arizona.
About 20 to 30 percent of visitors ascending above 8,000 feet are affected by altitude illness to some degree, according to a Web site, www.highcountryhealth.com, operated by a Colorado medical group. The Web site offers these recommendations for avoiding altitude sickness:
Increase fluid intake
Decrease salt intake
Moderate your physical activity
Eat high-carb, low-fat meals
Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake
Seek medical help if symptoms become worse
Try the RV LIFE Pro Bundle FREE for 7 days