Colorado History and Genealogy Project





Clear Creek County Colorado ~  1870

Is the principal silver-producing county of Colorado, and second to none in important and successful mining enterprises. A portion of the northern, the entire western, and about one-half of the southern boundary of this county is defined by three curves of the main range that indent the southeastern boundary of Summit County. The balance of its northern, it's eastern, and the other half of its southern boundaries lie along spurs of the main range on the north, and along the foot-hills east and south. The political boundaries of Clear Creek are Summit and Gilpin counties on the north; Gilpin and Jefferson counties on the east; Park and Summit on the south, and Summit on the west. The area thus defined is pear-shaped; the stem of the pear formed by the extreme western point of the "county, surrounded almost completely by the main range; the body, by that portion enclosed by spurs of the range, the foot-hills, and the range itself. The greatest length of the county, east and west, is about thirty-five miles; its greatest breadth, north and south, about fifteen miles. The area, thus embraced, encloses South Clear creek and its tributaries entirely, except the point at which the creek breaks through the foot-hills and join its northern fork, which drains the gold regions of Gilpin County. The valley of this beautiful stream, which gives its name to the county, is one of its most important physical features. It extends from the junction of two of its principal tributaries at Georgetown, to the carton near the boundary of Jefferson County, a distance of over twenty miles. Its width varies from a few hundred feet to over one-half mile. Its surface is quite level, except its eastward trend, and is clothed with luxuriant grass and other species of mountain-valley vegetation.

The soil is excellent, and produces the hardier cereals and vegetables abundantly. Besides these advantages, gold has been found in paying quantities in the sands of the valley; and gulch and placer diggings have been actively worked, at different points, along its eastern third, since 1859. The first settlers of the county were prospectors in search of precious nuggets, which were first found by Americans, George Jackson and party, in the spring of 1859, on Chicago Bar, now within the limits of Idaho Springs. That gold was taken out previous to this, by Spanish or Mexican explorers, from Spanish Bar, near the mouth of Fall River, is probable, but not well authenticated. However, the value of the placer and gulch diggings of South Clear creek have long since been fully established.

Another important, and perhaps the most valuable feature of Clear creek and its beautiful valley, is the excellent water-power and mill-sites that are continuous from its source to its mouth. The stream affords ample supply of water at all seasons, and the valley peculiar facilities for the construction of mill buildings and manufactories. The fall of the waters are sufficient, in every 500 or 600 feet of the valley, to insure ample power to drive massive machinery, and the existence of a smooth bed rock at no great depth, at all points, makes the construction of dams, and the foundations of manufactories, comparatively easy. The declivities of the ranges and mountains which border this valley, and arise above it to elevations of from 1,000 to 4,000 feet, are covered with dense forests of mountain pine, suitable for all lumber and fuel purposes, and are traversed their entire extent by lodes bearing the precious metals, and copper, lead and iron, in great abundance. The slopes of these mountains, besides furnishing abundance of pine lumber, afford good pasturage, as they are covered, nearly to their summits, with the mountain grasses peculiar to the region. Altogether, the advantages and resources of Clear Creek County are unsurpassed for mining, milling, manufacturing and grazing purposes, and these have been improved- already by many thousands of industrious and enterprising citizens.

The first settlers of the county were gulch miners, who worked in the valley along Clear creek only, but these were soon followed by prospectors in the mountains, who made numerous lode discoveries. These were first worked for gold only, with but little success, except inland about Empire, in Upper Union district, where gold lodes of great value are still successfully operated. At this time, the existence of silver in the ores of Colorado had not been defined; but after this important fact was established in 1864, the great value of the mining districts of Clear Creek County was fully confirmed, and from that fortunate event dates the present prosperity and importance of the county. Idaho Springs was the first town surveyed in the county. This very soon became the most populous portion of the county, and the county seat and archives and offices were located here until 1867, when they were removed to the more populous town of Georgetown, near the head waters of Clear creek. This town was first settled in 1860, by the Griffith family, but did not commence a healthy and rapid growth until the discovery of silver in the extensive belt of lodes that traverse the surrounding mountains. This event secured the future prosperity of Georgetown, and it has already taken a place in the front rank of mining towns in Colorado, and may, ere long, rival that great centre of the mining industries of the Territory, Central City, of Gilpin County.

The town next in importance to those above named is Empire, in Upper Union district. This beautiful mining camp is most pleasantly located, on the North Fork of Clear creek, in a beautiful valley at the base of Silver Mountain. It was first settled, in 1860, by gold miners, who had made important discoveries of gold lodes in the adjacent mountain. The first house was built by D. J. Ball and D. C. Daily, who are still residents of the town, and among the prominent citizens of the county. The former (D. J. Ball) is agent of the Star Gold Mining Company, and notary public for the district. He is completely identified with the mining interests of the county, thoroughly well-informed in all mining matters, and a most reliable person from whom to gain information concerning these industries.

His cabinet of minerals, metals, and fossils, is among the most carefully; selected, extensive, and best arranged in the Territory, and should be examined by all visitors to Empire. Mr. D. C Daily is also largely interested in mining enterprises, and thoroughly competent to give reliable and valuable information concerning the interests of the district. To Mr. August Guiber and his son, gentlemen also thoroughly conversant with mining matters, and largely interested in those here and in Summit County, we are under especial obligations for valuable statistical information and urbane courtesies. Will they please accept our grateful acknowledgments?

The present population of Empire is comparatively small, on account on the suspension of work in nearly all the mines in the vicinity, from causes which receive due notice in our chapter on mines; but, in the earlier an more prosperous days of the district, the town had over 1,000 inhabitant and numerous stores, hotels, etc.

A pleasant feature of this town, besides its beautiful location and surroundings, is the apparent attention paid by its citizens to religious and educational privileges. This is exemplified by a beautiful little church (Episcopalian), built under the direction of Bishop Randall, of Denver; Methodist church organization, and a good school, all of which receive liberal support.

Other towns, exclusively mining camps, now almost deserted, but formerly populous, located in the valley of Clear creek, are: Mills City and Downieville, between Idaho Springs and Georgetown; Silver Plume (a new town), Brownville, and Bakerville, above Georgetown, on the middle tributary of Clear creek; and East Argentine, on the south branch of the creek, all above Georgetown, on the main range. Besides these, there is a beautiful little embryo city, nestled in the valley of Fall River, about five miles from its mouth, at Spanish Bar, which is named in honor of J. Mahaney, Esq. Georgetown, and has peculiar facilities and advantages, both in regard to location and wealth of the surrounding mines, that will, eventually, insure: growth and population. Mahaneyville may, at some future day, be the center of vast mining enterprises, and count its population by tens of thousands. At present, however, it is only the abiding place of a few miners.

A full description of the mines and mills of Clear Creek County, historic of Georgetown and Idaho Springs, and complete statistical information concerning the resources of the county, appear in their appropriate chapter. The altitude of the valley of Clear creek, at Idaho Springs, is 7,800 above sea level; at mouth of Fall River, 7,930 feet; and at Georgetown 8,452 feet. The highest points on surrounding mountains average from 9,000 to nearly 15,000 feet, the latter the summit of Gray's Peak. Notwithstanding these great elevations, the climate is unusually mild, and great falls of snow seldom occur.

The principal branches of Clear creek are its North, Middle and South branches. Fall River, and Chicago and Soda creeks. These are all skirted by pleasant valleys, covered with grasses which afford excellent pasturage, and flow through ranges of mountains traversed by belts of silver and gold lodes, and covered with pine forests.

The valley is reached by excellent wagon roads from Denver and Central City, and will, no doubt, soon be linked to the rest of the world by a continuation of the Colorado Central railway, which already reaches the base of the mountains, at Golden City. The practicability of this railway connection has been fully defined by recent surveys, and its completion is only a matter of time. With railway communication with the plains, this county will possess unrivalled attractions for capitalists seeking profitable mining investments, and miners seeking paying returns for their labor.

Rocky Mountain Directory & Colorado Gazetteer

Source: Rocky Mountain Directory and Colorado Gazetteer, 1871, S. S. Wallihan & Company, Compilers and Publishers, Denver, 1870.


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