Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Carbon County Ghost Towns

I've been looking forward to Carbon County ghost towns and old mining camps -- geez, there must be two dozen different former coal mining camps in the county. Though, of course, there is always the history, there are unfortunately not a lot of remains of these many towns - most are entirely gone. Some of this must be due to continued active coal mining in the area, others may have been really small and entirely destroyed by the elements, more were destroyed by the highways; and, yet others have seemingly turned into little mini-resorts, at least around Scofield State Park and its lake. More, such as Winter Quarters and Hiawatha are on private property and cannot be accessed.

Well, all that being said, there are still a lot of remains. My expectations were too high, most likely. But getting past that, we head north from Price towards Helper, but detour at Consumers Road, headed westward to the coal camps of Coal City, National, Consumers and Sweet. Right off the bat, we see active coal mining and do find a few tumbling structures along the road. What camp they once were was impossible to tell. At the end of the road we see active mining once again. Another road continues past, but is muddy and snowy, so we turn around and make our way to Highway 191.

Next stop takes us to northwest on Highway 157 to the old mining camp of Kenilworth. Coal was discovered here in 1904. Two years later the mine was taken over by the Coal and Coke Company and Kenilworth became a company town. In no time, the town sported a company store and dozens of company houses for its mining workers. After the mine closed in the late 1950's, the Coal Company broke tradition and sold the homes to its workers. Today, Kenilworth is still occupied by several hundred people. The old company homes line the streets in various stages of renovation and the old company store still stands.

We then backtrack down the road and head north to Helper, the one time "hub" of Carbon County. Surrounded by coal towns and the local headquarters of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway, the town quickly developed into a transportation and supply center. With numerous historic buildings, a railroad and mining museum, and its rich history, Helper is worth exploring.

Next, we're headed west again on Spring Canyon Road, where six coal camps once stood, including Peerless, Spring Canyon, Standardville, Latuda, Rains and Mutual. It's difficult to tell where one mining camp ended and the next began, but we were able to identify several buildings in what was once Standardville, built in 1911 for the mine workers of the Standard Coal Company. Operating several area mines, which continued to produce until 1950, a number of structures continue to stand.

We then return to US-191 and head north. I am disappointed to find that there is nothing left of the old town of Castle Gate, famous for two historic events -- the robbery of the Pleasant Valley Coal Comapny in broad daylight by Butch Cassidy and Elza Lay on April 21, 1897 and the explosion of the Castle Gate Mine #2 on March 8, 1924, which killed 172 miners. Unfortunately, the town was entirely dismantled in 1974 and replaced with coal loading facilities. We can also find no remains of Heiner, Royal or Colton, which were also located along this route.

Taking a westward turn of Scofield Road, we then head up into the high mountains in search of Scofield and Clear Creek. After passing Scofield State Park and its large still snow-covered lake, we come to Scofield. This surprising little town is filled with pristinely restored miners' housing, large brand new homes, crumbling shacks, and several historic buildings. Though technically a ghost town, it is permanently called home to about 30 people and one can see that it is probably a beehive of activity during the summer months. However, on our visit to this high altitude little town, some of the homes still had snow halfway up their front doors and we saw nary a soul.
Continuing a few miles beyond, we come to Clear Creek, which is much like Scofield in its little rows of restored miners houses, but we find no historic business buildings.

In 1900, the nearby mining camp of Winter Quarters (not accessible as it is on private land) was the site of one of the worst mine disasters in American history. On May 1st an explosion in the Number 4 shaft of the Winter Quarters Mine, killed some 200 men.

Backing out of this high country, we then head on back to Price.

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