Haunted St Elmo
was originally settled in 1878 and was made official in 1880 when gold
and silver began to bring many people to the area. Though it was
first called Forest City, the small town's name was changed when the
post office objected because there were too many towns with the same
name. The new name was derived by Griffith Evans, one of
the founders, who was reading a romantic nineteenth-century novel by
the same name.
The town was laid out in six feet of snow
and provided for the miners working in the nearby mines. Beginning with a high moral character, the settlement went the way of
other booming mining towns, reaching a population of more than 2000
and taking on all the trappings of a single male population with
saloons, dance halls, and bawdy houses. When the
was under construction, St. Elmo
became the scene of raunchy Saturday night sprees.
In 1881 it became a station on the Denver,
South Park and Pacific Railroad line where the tracks continued
through Romley, Hancock and through the historic
Alpine Tunnel. The
settlement was considered a main source of supplies arriving by train
for the area settlers and eventually included several merchandise
stores, three hotels, five restaurants, two sawmills and a weekly
newspaper called the Mountaineer. The miners worked at several mines
throughout the area that were rich in silver, gold, copper and iron. The principal mines were the Murphy, the Theresse C., the Molly and
the Pioneer. The Murphy Mine, situated high upon the mountain,
2000 feet above the railroad, shipped as much as 50-75 tons of ore per
day to the smelters at Alpine. Altogether, there were over 150
patented mine claims in the immediate area.
In 1881 Anton Stark, a cattleman
brought a herd to the railroad and was so taken with the town that he
and his family quickly took up residence. Anton became a section
boss for one of the local mines and his wife, Anna, ran a general
store and the Home Comfort Hotel, which later became home to the post
office and telegraph office. Anton and Anna raised three
children - Tony, Roy and Annabelle, who worked in the hotel and the
store. The hotel was said to have been the cleanest in town, the meals
the best, and the supplies at the store more plentiful than the other
Stark family were part of St. Elmo's elite, a high-class group that
attended church regularly. Anna was said to have been a humorless
woman who severely controlled the children, believing that they were
better than the other townsfolk - miners, railroad men, prostitutes and
hard women. The children were rarely allowed to leave home,
forbidden to attend local dances or social activities and had only each
other for company. In 1890 a fire destroyed the business section and the
town was never entirely rebuilt.
survival of the town was largely due to the Stark family and their
descendents, who remained the sole year-round residents for many years. According to local legend, perhaps at least one of them, Annabelle Stark,
still keeps a ghostly watch over the town.
failure of numerous mines, and the closure of the
Alpine Tunnel in 1910
started the decline of St. Elmo. Though mining continued at the Mary Murphy mine up until the 1920's, many
of the miners moved away in search of new gold strikes. The railroad
continued to run until 1922 and it has been said that the rest of St. Elmo's
population rode the last train out of town, never to return. In
1926, the railroad tracks were torn up and the railroad grade was used to
drive from Nathrop to St. Elmo. But, the Stark family stayed, believing that St. Elmo
would thrive again, buying up property at tax sales.
Mary Murphy Mine, August, 2003, Photo by Kathy Weiser
For many years, Roy and Tony stark tried to influence developers in
re-opening the mines, but when they were unsuccessful they turned to
tourism, leasing the empty cabins to vacationers and continuing to run the
general store. After Anton Stark's death, Anna realized that the
tourism trade was not providing for the family and sent Annabelle to work
in the telegraph office in Salida, 20 miles south of St. Elmo.
lonely and attractive girl was finally able to escape the prison that her
mother had made for her in
St. Elmo. Before long, she met a young man named Ward and in 1922 they decided to
get married, sending a telegram to her family that they were moving to
Trinidad. Though no one seems to know why, the marriage didn't work
and just two short years later she returned to
where she spent the rest of her life.
three eccentric Stark children, along with their mother, maintained their
existence by continuing to run the general store and rent cabins to
tourists, though the general condition of the town deteriorated. By
1930, the population of
St. Elmo had
dwindled down to only seven.
In 1934, Roy Stark passed away and his
mother, Anna, died a short time later. The only residents left
were Annabelle and Tony who lived in the dead town without indoor
plumbing or electricity. Rarely bathing or changing clothes,
they neglected the old hotel, letting the place pile with trash and
discarded items, but continued to run the Home Comfort Store. The
store, said to have been "sour-smelling", contained faded tins of
outdated food and stale tobacco.
1947 when the book
Stampede to Timberline was published by Muriel Sibell Wolle, which stated that
was a ghost town, Tony and Annie were incensed claiming that it was
not the tattered store or their eccentricities that drove away
business, but rather Mrs. Wolle's statements in the book.
Though Annabell was always said to have been kind and generous to the few who
still frequented the store, the locals began to call her "Dirty Annie"
because of her filthy clothing and tangled hair. She was
also known to have roamed the old town, with rifle in hand, to protect
her property. The town officially died on Sept. 30, 1952, when the
post office closed.
Eventually, Tony and Annabelle were sent away to a mental institution,
for their own safety and that of others. However, after just a
few weeks, a sympathetic friend convinced the authorities that they
were of no harm to anyone and they were released. Tony died a
short time later and Annabelle was sent to a nursing home in 1958
where she died in 1960. Their property was left to the
sympathetic friend who had helped them.
Shortly after Annabelle's death, the
friend's grandchildren were said to have been playing in a room of the
hotel, when suddenly all the doors in the room slammed shut and the
temperature dropped nearly 20 degrees. The terrified children
refused to play in the hotel again.
Another one of the grandchildren, a young woman in her twenties,
decided to take on the hotel as a project, cleaning out the rooms,
making minor repairs, and washing down the walls and floors. After cleaning up for the day, she and her friends would put away
their tools and cleaning supplies, only to find them in the middle of
the floor when they returned the next day. After this continued
to occur, they started placing the items in a padlocked closet, but
still they would be in the middle of the floor when they came back.
On another occasion, a skier was said to have
seen a very attractive woman in a white dress framed in the second story
window of the old hotel. The owner was away on vacation, so who
could it have been? The young woman's eyes were focused on something
in the distance and when the skier followed her gaze, she saw a group of
snow mobilers who were riding through the street. The skier flagged
down the group, informing them that snowmobiling was illegal in
St. Elmo. The group apologized and rode away. When the skier looked back at
the hotel, the woman nodded to her, then turned away and vanished.
The legend of Annabelle's ghost lives on with
the part-time residents of
believing that she continues to protect her property from vandals or
today has numerous structures that have been preserved and are all
privately owned. It is one of the best preserved ghost towns
anywhere in Colorado and still has a few residents. The
remaining structures include a general merchandise store, which still
operates from May through October, a church, a school building, and
many other business structures and cabins.
Unfortunately on April 15, 2002, a fire in
destroyed six of the buildings, including the old Town hall and Jail
and the Stark family dwellings.
On July 6, 2002 the
Property owners passed a resolution to donate the Town Hall, as well
as the Saint
Elmo School House, to the Buena Vista Heritage Museum.
The Museum plans to work closely with the Association and residents to
preserve and protect
The Museum is seeking donations to rebuild
the Town Hall and to restore the School House. All donations are tax
deductible. If you would like to donate money or services to this
great cause please contact the Buena Vista Heritage Museum at:
All that's left of the town hall today after
the fire in April, 2002, Kathy Weiser, August, 2003.
There are many great four wheel drive trails throughout the
area, rock hounders will find quartz and aquamarine, and camping and
upper-mountain fishing abounds.
To get to
from Buena Vista, take US 285 south to Nathrop, and then County Road
162 west for approximately 16 miles to
of America, updated April, 2013.
St. Elmo-Alpine Tunnel, Colorado Slideshow:
All images available for
photographic prints and editorial downloads
Legends' General Store
Towns (America's Lost World) 2 Disc DVD
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