From Mining to Recreation: The Development of the Fall River Area
Updated: Apr 29, 2019
Describes the development of the Fall River area with emphasis on the various mines, their owners and recreational development
Fall River flows into Clear Creek about 2 miles above Idaho Springs. Its entire ten-mile southeasterly course lies in Clear Creek County. The upper Fall River area borders Gilpin County. The area’s development has been somewhat obscured by the flurry of activity in nearby Central City, Idaho Springs and Georgetown. Little has been published specifically on the Fall River area.
Fall River’s history generally corresponds to the development of the Clear Creek-Gilpin County area. After a rush of prospecting in the 1860’s, more serious mining took over in the ’80’s and ’90’s. The turn of the century brought harder times for mining and only a few hopeful developments. There was a gradual decline in the ’20’s and one last burst of hope in the ’30’s. Recreation started to come into its own in the ’40’s and developed more in the ’50’s. Dude ranches, horse-back riding, and swimming paved the way for modern subdivisions and mountain sports through the 60’s and 70’s.
In 1860, an estimated 8000 prospectors scoured the Fall River area, only a year after Jackson’s ’59 discovery, filing thousands of claims. One prospector, either William Ritter or Mr. Wheeler (accounts disagree), worked the streams from Central City west. He came over Yankee Hill into the upper Fall River area and made one of the first discoveries of silver in the area. The valley has names that bear this discovery out. Silver Lake, Silver Creek and the ghost town of Silver City all lie in the upper Fall River area. Lee H. Seaton, in July of 1861, also discovered silver on the lower Fall River. The 1863 Georgetown silver boom overshadowed these discoveries largely because, before 1863, techniques for processing silver were too expensive and inefficient.
In the 1880’s, ten years after most of the area’s placer gold had worked out, the Alice Mining Company secured seven placer claims from the United States. The claims ran the length of Silver Creek, a tributary of Fall River, totaling roughly 900 acres. R. 0. Phillips, the company’s president, was also secretary of the Lincoln Land Company, a subsidiary of the Burlington Railroad, which surveyed and platted many northeastern Colorado towns: Brush, Akron, Yuma, Fort Morgan and Haxtun, to name a few. Phillip’s County in northeastern Colorado bears his name. (This might help to explain why in 1902 the Burlington Railroad financed the electric lines from Idaho Springs to Alice and Yankee Hill.
The placer claims at Alice were mined hydraulically. (Acres of barren and yellowed land still attest to the extent of the operations.) The method proved profitable through the 1880’s. The Alice mining property was leased twice in the early 1890’s. In 1896 the Alice mine was listed as one of the top eight mines in the Idaho Springs area, with an annual production of $400,000.
In 1897 the property was sold for $250,000. The Glory Hole at Alice deepened as the surface gold worked out and tunnels were driven into the sides of the pit in search for rich ore carrying gold, silver, or lead. However the Alice mills and mines proved unprofitable in the late 1890’s and were abandoned in 1899. The enterprise went up for public auction, was bought and sold four times before another steady phase of development could occur. 1908 to 1915 the Alice Gold Mills Corporation tried their hand mining the area and initially met with success. However, their profits didn’t behave consistently and they couldn’t meet their financial obligations. In 1915 the sheriff intervened and declared the legal owner of the land to be Silver Creek Mineral who had owned the mine previously. Silver Creek owned the area from 1902-1908 and retained possession until 1929.
The thirties began a time of depression and hope for the Alice area. There was little activity in the early thirties. But in 1935 Porphyry Mines leased the property from the Yukon Gold Mining Company, a new owner, and the Alice Mine started producing ore at a profit. Then American Smelting and Refining, a large nationally known mining company with capital of $100,000,000, became interested in Alice and bought into the claim. Porphyry retained a 30% interest. A.S.& R. launched a half million dollar program to expand the mill from its milling capacity of 80 tons daily to 300-500 tons. In 1938 the Post reported that A.S.& R.’s operation gave all the appearance of permanency. However, the mining wasn’t permanent and the area was sold for taxes in 1946.
In the late thirties a Kansas couple were hiking in the upper Fall River area, looking for St. Mary’s Glacier. As they approached the Silver Lake area they were awestruck at the surrounding beauty and vowed to retire there every summer. Mixing business with pleasure, G. L. Taylor and his wife bought the surrounding acres and built St. Mary’s Glacier Lodge in 1948. It was a secluded western dude ranch with a hotel and restaurant capacity of 50. A half hour morning horseback ride primed the vacationers for a breakfast of ham and eggs, coffee and flapjacks. Hiking, fishing, swimming, horseback-riding and wildflower picking were options the rest of the day. Special programs of western songs and humor entertained the guests at night.
In the early sixties the ownership again changed. The acres that provided seclusion and rest for the guests of G. L. Taylor were subdivided into 100’s of small cabin sites designed for a city dweller’s mountain dreams. Many lots were sold initially, but in general the developers were not successful. However, in 1967 a new developer, Bullert Investment Company, succeeded. Dave Bullert used the lodge as his headquarters, naming it “St. Mary’s Glacier Lodge and Country Club.” He encouraged people to drive up Fall River Road by offering each inquiring family a free dinner at the Lodge. And he encouraged people to buy his cabin sites by offering each buyer free membership in the lodge and country club. After selling most of the nearly 1000 lots in five years, Bullert sold his interests.
The buyer, Peter Van Der Jagt, was primarily interested in promoting the recreational enterprises that Bullert had begun: a ski area, the lodge, etc. But his plans also included wider interests, such as an Olympic luge run for the ’76 Colorado Olympics, a narrow-gauge railroad from Central City to Silver Lake, and the construction of a modern Central City Opera House to replace the old one. Van Der Jagt met with little success, and the ownership of the lodge passed from his hands. Subsequent owners have attempted to develop recreation in the area, hoping that the beauty of the surrounding mountains would make the lodge an ideal hub for mountain sports, both winter and summer. Mining, the major industry of the Rocky Mountains at the turn of the century gave way to recreation, its current major industry.
Written by Steve Gillespie, 1980