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Cripple Creek, Colorado, 1890

Cripple Creek, Colorado, 1890. Courtesy Denver Public Library.



Cripple Creek, Colorado 

Cripple Creek, Colorado today, Kathy Weiser, September, 2009.

This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE!




By 1896, the city boasted a population of 10,000 residents and on January 21, 1896, the Cripple Creek Stock Exchange was opened. The National Hotel, the largest and tallest structure was completed in February, 1896, complete with Turkish baths, an elevator and its own electric light plant. It contained 150 rooms, 40 suites, and a restaurant with fine cuisine.

1896 Fire in Cripple Creek ColoradoOn April 25, 1896 a fire wiped out nearly half of the city. Started in one of the many brothels, a dancehall girl named Jennie Larue, got into an argument with her lover and while quarreling, accidentally upset a gasoline stove. The wooden frame buildings of the camp quickly ignited and spread from one building to the next. Buildings in the fire’s path were blown up in an effort to stop the approaching flames. The fire departments of Victor, Florence, Colorado Springs and Denver dashed to the city’s aid but there was little that could be done.

Four days later, half of the city lay in smoldering ruins, when a second fire alarm went off. This fire began in the Portland Hotel on Myers Avenue and was believed to have been deliberately set because other fires were discovered simultaneously in other parts of the city. In this second fire, eight blocks of buildings were consumed, six lives were lost and nearly four thousand residents were left homeless. When it was all said and done, less than ten buildings were left to mark the site of the city. The firebugs who were suspected of setting the second fire were lynched and Cripple Creek began to rebuild. Within just a few months, modern businesses built of brick or stone rose on the foundations of the former camp.

Having survived the fire, the city continued to prosper and the Butte Opera House was remodeled, giving culture to the city in October, 1897.

By 1898 the mines were yielding greater amounts of valuable ore and production jumped to some 16 million dollars. By 1899, gold production had reached 21 million dollars and Cripple Creek was named the County Seat. By this time there were as many people on the streets at 3:00 am than 3:00 pm and the camp supported 75 saloons, 25 restaurants, four department stores, a business college, 40 stock brokers and 72 lawyers.


By 1900 gold production had reached some 23 million and over 500 mines were operating in the area. The Cripple Creek Times reported that the Mining District had grown to 55,000 citizens. Of those residents, Cripple Creek boasted 35,000.


Victor, on the south end of the District was home to 5,000. Another 11 towns with populations of a few hundred to over 2000 were scattered around the District.


On Sunday morning, hundreds of people crowded Cripple Creek's 16 churches. The Teller County School System was one of the best in the country.  At the time 3,849 students were enrolled in the District’s 19 schools, and 118 teachers were employed in Cripple Creek and Victor.


Cripple Creek-Victor Railroad

Cripple Creek-Victor Railroad, Kathy Weiser, September, 2009.

This image available for photo prints and editorial downloads HERE!


Soon, however, the gold would begin to play out and by 1920 there were only about 40 mines operating and production had been reduced to four million dollars. The 1930s saw a brief revival of mining, but this, too, waned and by 1945 there were less than 20 mines operating with only about one million dollars in gold produced each year.

Determined not to become a ghost town, the citizens of Cripple Creek began to promote its rich history to potential tourists. The Imperial Hotel began showing melodramas in the Gold Bar Room Theatre in the 1940s. In 1953 the Cripple Creek District Museum opened in the old Midland Terminal depot. In 1967 the Cripple Creek Narrow Gauge railroad began operation.

However, by the 1980s tourism began to drop in Cripple Creek and other historic towns of Colorado. As a result, Colorado passed a law to authorize limited stakes gambling in Cripple Creek, Central City and Blackhawk, saving these old towns from total extinction.


Today Cripple Creek offers a wide array of events and attractions for the vacationing visitor including summer celebrations, art shows, fall aspen tours, rodeos, symphony performances and craft shows. Old mine shafts, head frames and cabins still dot the landscape in the high country behind Pikes Peak where driving tours and hiking of the area abound. The biggest event in Cripple Creek event is Donkey Derby Days, always held the last full weekend of June. Nearby Victor holds Gold Rush Days every year, during the third weekend of July.

Though still labeled a "ghost town", because it's not nearly as large as it once was, and has lost its former mining status, it remain the county seat of Teller County. It is called home to almost 1,200 people. The Cripple Creek Historic District, which received National Historic Landmark status in 1961, includes part or all of city and includes surrounding area. Cripple Creek is 48 miles from Colorado Springs via U.S. Highway 24 and Colorado Highway 67. Shuttle services are available from Colorado Springs and Pueblo as well as local shuttles servicing Cripple Creek and Victor.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated April, 2013.



Also See:


Colorado Ghost Towns

Cripple Creek Photo Print Gallery

Ghosts of the Cripple Creek Mining District

Pearl de Vere - Soiled Dove of Cripple Creek

Victor - The City of Mines



Cripple Creek Cemetery

Cripple Creek Cemetery, Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photo prints and editorial downloads HERE!


Cripple Creek, Colorado Slideshow:



All images available for photo prints and editorial downloads HERE!


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