Inside Colorado’s Caribou Ghost Town, Which Once Had 3,000 People



For many abandoned mining towns across America’s West, the only remnants are crumbling buildings, historical images, and articles depicting what once stood there. The same rings true for Caribou, Colorado.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

A view of the interior of a building at the Caribou ghost town.

Monica Humphries/Insider


Caribou was once a silver mining town that boomed with 3,000 people, according to Western Mining History. Today, stone buildings, a wooden cabin, and a boarded-up mine entrance are all that remain.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

Only two stone buildings remain at Caribou, Colorado.

Monica Humphries/Insider


Source: Western Mining History

As I passed the small mountain town of Nederland, I hopped on Caribou Road and headed toward the former mining town.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

Caribou Road leading to the abandoned Caribou mine.

Monica Humphries/Insider


I noticed several clues to Colorado’s past and present mining industry along the road. I spotted abandoned mine chutes in the distance and the entrance to the active Cross Mine.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

The entrance to the Cross Mine near Nederland, Colorado.

Monica Humphries/Insider


But when two crumbling stone buildings came into view, I knew I had arrived at the Caribou ghost town.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

A view of the two stone buildings.

Monica Humphries/Insider


I parked my car and quickly learned there wasn’t much to investigate. Signs signaled that much of the former mining town is now on private property, so I only explored two stone buildings sitting at the edge of the public road.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

A close-up of a stone entrance to a building at the Caribou ghost town.

Monica Humphries/Insider


I walked along the road and spotted bright orange fencing and “KEEP OUT” signs cautioning curious explorers to stay away. It was an entrance to the old mine.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

The fenced-off area where the entrance to the Caribou mine is located.

Monica Humphries/Insider


I was surprised at how little was left of Caribou considering how large it once was. As 4×4 Explore reports, the town was once bustling with people and had more than 100 buildings.

Views of Caribou taken in the 1880s.

Views of Caribou taken in the 1880s.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: 4×4 Explore

According to Ghost Towns, the Arapaho Indians discovered the area’s wealth long before the miners arrived and named the nearby mountain “Treasure Mountain.”

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

A view into the valley at the Caribou ghost town.

Monica Humphries/Insider


Source: Ghost Towns

The story of how it then became the Caribou mining town varies by source. As the National Register of Historic Places reports, most agree that Samuel Conger was the first American to find silver in the Indian Peaks area.

A view of Caribou, Colorado.

A view of Caribou, Colorado.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: National Register of Historic Places

When gold was discovered near modern-day Denver in the mid-1800s, the pressure from Americans to relocate Native Americans increased, according to the National Park Service, and the Arapaho tribe was forcefully removed from states including Colorado.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

The site currently has two stone buildings remaining.

Monica Humphries/Insider


Source: National Park Service

 

In 1869, Conger headed to the now-deserted mountains for a hunting trip where he found minerals, according to 4×4 Explore.

A lump of silver.

A lump of silver.

Oat_Phawat/Getty Images


Source: 4×4 Explore

According to the National Register of Historic Places, Conger told Martin and Lytle the location of the silver. With funding from two others, Martin and Lytle set out to stake their claim and uncovered two veins of silver ore, the same source reports.

A view from the summit of Arapaho Pass, near Nederland, Colorado.

A view from the summit of Arapaho Pass, near Nederland, Colorado.

Sparty1711/Getty Images


Source: National Register of Historic Places

Martin and Lytle headed back to Central City to share their discoveries with Conger and the two men who funded the expedition, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

A view looking down into the Caribou mining town.

A view looking down into the Caribou mining town.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: National Register of Historic Places

The group filed claims for two mines: Conger took a mine named Poor Man all to himself and the other four shared the claim of the Caribou mine, the same source reports.

Miners with tools standing in front of the Racine Boy Mine, Silver Cliff, Colorado. (Poor Man and Caribou mines not pictured.)

Miners with tools standing in front of the Racine Boy Mine, Silver Cliff, Colorado. (Poor Man and Caribou mines not pictured.)

Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Source: National Register of Historic Places

The group returned and for the rest of 1869, they built mines and extracted ore, the National Register of Historic Places reports. That spring, word of the silver spread and miners flocked to Caribou, according to 4×4 Explore.

Men on horses, on the balcony, and standing along Potosi Street in Caribou in 1883.

Men on horses, on the balcony, and standing along Potosi Street in Caribou in 1883.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: National Register of Historic Places, 4×4 Explore

In 1871, Caribou’s owners sold the mine and its new owners invested heavily to maximize production, the National Register of Historic Places reports. Profits were high, and the Caribou mining town formed.

A street in Caribou. Men standing in front of stores.

A street in Caribou. Men standing in front of stores.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: National Register of Historic Places

 

By 1872, Caribou was booming. There were 100 houses, a three-story hotel, a bakery, a brewery, a meat market, a billiards parlor, a newspaper publishing company, a church, several saloons, and three hotels, according to 4×4 Explore.

A view of Caribou, Colorado.

A view of Caribou, Colorado.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: 4×4 Explore

Without a mine, Caribou’s residents left and by 1885, only 140 people remained, the National Register of Historic Places reports.

A post office box left behind in Caribou, Colorado.

Post office boxes left behind in Caribou, Colorado.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: National Register of Historic Places

Somewhere was an old cemetery, according to the Carnegie Library for Local History.

Images of the cemetery in Caribou, Colorado.

Images of the cemetery in Caribou, Colorado.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: Carnegie Library for Local History

And I wondered if anything remained of the former post office, which was one of the last buildings of Caribou that closed in 1917, according to 4×4 Explore.

Men and boys standing on the porch of the J. Loyd Dry Goods and Groceries business. A Post Office sign hangs over the entrance.

Men and boys stand on the porch of the J. Loyd Dry Goods and Groceries business. A Post Office sign hangs over the entrance.

Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection


Source: 4×4 Explore

But as far as I could tell, nothing more than a few stone buildings remained. It was fascinating to envision how a place with so much life could become so overgrown by nature, as I observed.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

A view of one of the remaining buildings at the Caribou abandoned mine.

Monica Humphries/Insider


And I was thankful for the few buildings, historical images, and articles that I had access to, which shine a light into Caribou and the ghost town’s past.

The Caribou ghost town near Nederland, Colorado.

The author near one of the crumbling buildings of the Caribou ghost town.

Monica Humphries/Insider




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