It all started with this picture of my great grandparents, in front of their homestead in what is now the ghost town of Freeland, CO. On a quest to see if we could find the location of the house in the photo, we took a detour on our way back from Georgetown.
To get to Freeland, you need to go through Idaho Springs - located in Clear Creek Canyon, approx. 30 miles west of Denver, and 13 miles to the north of Georgetown. Founded in 1859 by prospectors during the early days of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, Idaho Springs was at the center of the region's mining district throughout the late nineteenth century. The town today is squeezed along the north side of I-70, with a historical downtown (there's a great little museum of local history in the heart of town) on its western end and a strip of tourist-related shops on its eastern end. Travel under the highway, and the road will take you past mine-dotted hills, covered in aspen and pine, to what was once Freeland, CO.
Freeland was established in 1880, with some rich gold strikes nearby. It soon grew to a population of more than four hundred with some eighty cabins and frame houses, two stores, a saloon and a public school. My grandmother Hazel (on the far left, in front of my great-great Grandma Margaret Lory), and her siblings, were born there to immigrants from England (Elizabeth and William Nicholls). It was a peaceful, industrious community - the perfect place for this young, hard-working family but, as with most mining towns of the day, Freeland depended upon the mines for its survival. When the mines faded, so did Freeland.
My mother could remember family picnics in a meadow when she was a child, long after the house was gone. On a mission to find the sight, we stopped at a local residence and asked permission to do a little exploring (a friendly reminder – people are always a little more willing to let you tromp around if you ask first). The bottom photo was the one original building left at that site...the one visible on the left of the upper photo is a newer addition.
We found what my Mom seemed to remember as the location, and even managed to snap a photo of a hillside that looks very similar to the angles of the one behind the house, albeit a little closer than the original photo...perhaps it is. In my mind, at least, we found the exact spot! It's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.
On up the road, past Freeland (you will definitely want a 4-wheel, or off-road vehicle), sits the Lamartine Mine…we didn’t make the trek up that day – we knew our limitations and took the easy way out. Originally prospected by 4 miners from Idaho Springs, a large fissure vein was discovered which produced several million dollars worth of gold, silver and lead, before closing in 1905. My great-grandfather, and several other relatives worked the mine in it’s heyday.
As with any of these old mines, as tempting as it is, it is extremely dangerous to just walk into the openings. Old, weak timbers, unseen deadly gases, HOLES, (not to mention jumping through a window of an opening and landing with your foot on a large rusty spike that emerged through the top of your shoe…not me, but someone with us in our younger/“should have known better” years). DON'T DO IT! Take the path we did this day, and seek out one of the mines with guided tours. They are plentiful in the hills around Idaho Springs. One of the best happens to be the one we took that day, on the road back down from Freeland – the PHOENIX GOLD MINE…stay tuned...it's up next.