Senior Scene : Gold Hill Tour

Serene Karplus, Nederland.

Gold Hill is rich in history, if no longer in surface gold. It was the first major gold source in the 1859 Colorado gold rush and the discovery there led to a thriving mining camp for the remainder of the century. Once populated by an estimated 1,500 or more residents, supporting a newspaper, post office, and several hotels, this two-square-mile area is now home to about 230.

A party of twenty under Captain Thomas Aikens followed an old Indian trail up Fourmile Creek in January, 1859. They discovered placer gold in Gold Run Creek just south of the current community of Gold Hill, which is above Lefthand Canyon at an altitude of 8,300 feet atop Sunshine and Fourmile Canyons.

Four months later, J.D. Scott found a gold-bearing quartz vein just west of the creek, the first such lode discovery in Boulder County in what became the Colorado Territory less than two years later. David Horsfal’s team found another lode on the hill above the current settlement just one month later.

Within a few months, the first iron quartz mill to travel across the plains began processing ore here. Within its first year, with $100,000 worth of gold extracted, the expanding population built a road up Lefthand Canyon (the Sunshine Canyon Road was built more than two years later), a water ditch from upper Lefthand Canyon, and over a dozen houses and a hotel on what later became known as Horsfal Hill. A fire in 1860 leveled the settlement and it was rebuilt a little lower to the east to protect from harsh winds and provide a better water source.

At this time, one year after the lode discoveries, the Gold Hill mining district supported five water mills, three steam mills, and one mill driven by a “Caloric Engine.” Babies were being born to families here and the graveyard was accepting those on the other end of life.

By April, 1861, The Rocky Mountain News weekly reported 150 leads discovered and 3,000 claims recorded in the Gold Hill mining district. But later that year, all the surface deposits of gold were played out and lower grade ores were mined to ship to the new smelters at Black Hawk.

The Civil War interrupted gold mining from 1861 to 1871. A post office opened and closed a few years later. In 1870, the population declined to six. In May of 1872, gold, silver, and tellurium ore were discovered at the Red Cloud Mine, the second known source in the world, and Gold Hill rose again, with a post office, general store, newspaper, hotel, and boarding houses, and a school built just over a year later.

Soon, telegraph reached the settlement.  The next decade brought electricity, a skating rink, and a brass band and yet another decade heralded the telephone. By the 1920s, Gold Hill had become a retreat resort for working women visiting from Chicago. In 1941, World War II interrupted mining again.

Officially labeled a census-designated place (CDP), Gold Hill is not considered a town because it is not incorporated and has no government. The people of Gold Hill manage their settlement with an active town meeting. Historic buildings have survived two fires and are celebrated by many visitors to the Gold Hill Inn, Bluebird Lodge, Museum, and General Store. The school is the oldest continually operating school in Colorado – since 1873 – and teaches grades K-5 in just two classrooms.

Please join us for a guided tour of Gold Hill and its Museum with Historical Gold Hill President Chellee Courtney, whose grandfather graduated in a class of three from the Gold Hill School. The tour is on Tuesday, August 12, at 10:00 a.m. and is at no charge (although donations are gratefully accepted).  Carpools depart Nederland Community Center at 9:15 a.m.  Enjoy a light lunch at the Gold Hill General Store afterwards.  Please call us so we know how many will attend – 303-258-0799.

Everyone is invited to the Nederland Area Seniors luncheon at the Nederland Community Center at noon. A donation of $4 is requested from those over 60 years of age and $8.25 all others, but no seniors are turned away due to inability to pay. Please make reservations by 4 p.m. Friday for Monday lunch and 4 p.m. Monday for Wednesday lunch at 303-258-0799.

Serene Karplus

About the Author: Serene Karplus – is the Executive Director of the Nederland Area Seniors, Inc. (NAS) which assists senior citizens in enhancing their quality of life, enabling them to live a life of respect and honor.  This is accomplished through the facilitation of nutrition, transportation, education, recreation, socialization and outreach programs for all seniors living in the Greater Nederland Area. Serene is a contributor to The Mountain-Ear with her Senior Scene column.