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Central City - Boom & Bust

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"By the first of June 1859, Gregory Gulch from North Clear Creek to the confluence of Eureka, Nevada and Spring Gulches was literally crowded with human beings huddled together in tents, wagons, log cabins, dugouts, houses made of brush, and of every conceivable material that promised shelter."

 

--Daily Central Register, June, 1859

 

 

Central City, 1865

Central City, 1865

 

 

 

On May 6, 1859, John H. Gregory followed Clear Creek upstream looking for gold. As he pulled a low tree branch out of the way and began to pan the creek, he discovered what was later called the "The Gregory Lode". Located in a gulch between what later became Central City and Black Hawk, he staked the first of many mining claims in the vicinity. Immediately prospectors flocked to the region and within two months, the population grew to 10,000 people seeking their fortunes. The Clear Creek Mining District was so rich with ore it became known as the "Richest Square Mile on Earth.” Gregory’s discovery is commemorated by a stone monument at the eastern end of Central City.

 

An article in the Daily Central City Register described the living conditions at the time as thus: "By the first of June 1859, Gregory Gulch from North Clear Creek to the confluence of Eureka, Nevada and Spring Gulches was literally crowded with human beings huddled together in tents, wagons, log cabins, dugouts, houses made of brush, and of every conceivable material that promised shelter."

Other gold deposits were found in surrounding gulches and several mining camps sprouted up, including Springfield, Bortonsburg, Missouri City, Nevada City, Dog Town, Eureka, Russell Gulch, Lake Gulch, Black Hawk Point, Chase's Gulch and Enterprise City. By the middle of July 1859, between 20,000 and 30,000 people were living in and around Gregory Gulch.

There are two popular stories about how Central City was named. The first involved William N. Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, who pitched his tent squarely in the center of the mining district in June 1859. Supposedly, he suggested that a town be laid out in that vicinity and since it was about half way between Nevada City (Nevadaville) and Mountain City, it should be called "Central City." The second is of a miner's supply store, which was in the same area and was called the "Central City Store." Either way, Central City was born --- its official name: The City of Central.

 

The first newspaper published in the mountains was the Rocky Mountain Gold Reporter and Mountain City Herald. In its first issue, dated August 13, 1859, it contained the following article regarding Mountain City:

 

"Although not three months old, it contains already some 300 buildings substantially erected, with a population of between 2,800 and 3,000, nearly all of whom are miners. Yet the arts and trades are well represented, we have about 25 stores, 2 jewelry shops, 3 tailor shops, blacksmiths, shoemakers, painters, etc."

 

Gregory Gulch, Colorado, 1865

Gregory Gulch, 1865, courtesy Colorado Historical Society
 

In late September, the first snow began to fall and most of the miners returned to lower elevations; however, a census taken just the next month revealed that nearly 2,300 men were still in the gulch area.

 

By the end of the year, the The Rocky Mountain News estimated that "From a million and a half to two millions of dollars in dust has been taken out, which has found its way to all parts of the Atlantic States and Territories..."

 

During the winter of 1859-60, many new gold discoveries were made throughout the mountains and by February, miners were beginning to return. During that month, there was "a report of the discovery of a six pound nugget near Gregory's." The discoverer was offered $16 per ounce for it, but refused to sell.

 

Also in February, 1860, the first steam engine was assembled in Mountain City. It was used to produce shingles and was ready to crush quartz as soon as the mines would begin delivering ore. This engine cost $1,500 when it was purchased at the foundry in Chicago in late 1859. In March 1860, it was sold at Mountain City for $15,000.

 

On April 25, 1860, the Rocky Mountain News reported, "The emigration is coming in at the rate of over one hundred men each day, and constantly increasing." Just a little over a month later, they reported that the emigrants were coming in at the rate of a thousand a day.

 

In June 1860, The Western Stage Company began running daily stagecoaches from Denver to Mountain City – the ride taking seven to eight hours. Only one year earlier, it had been a three or four day journey.  During the summer, the population around Gregory's Diggings began to stabilize. The 1860, the United States Census, listed Central City at 598, Mountain City 840 and Nevada City 879. About 5,000 people were in the immediate area and 34,000 in the mining region.

 

 

Continued Next Page

Central City today

Central City today, by Kathy Weiser, September, 2009.

This image available for prints & downloads HERE.

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