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A Brief History of Lake City:
The Mining Era, 1874-1904

Civic & Social Organization

Civic-minded residents shaped Lake City's early political, religious, educational, social, and cultural institutions.

From its first years, the town had several churches and civic buildings.  The first two houses of worship were established in 1876.  Reverend George Darley organized the Presbyterian congregation and dedicated the church building at 431 Gunnison Avenue on November 19, 1876, becoming the first church on the Western Slope.

The following year, the Episcopalians moved into the carpenters' workshop built by Turner & Lyon at 501 Gunnison.  At the south edge of town, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church went up in spring 1877.

Writing in August, 1896, Lake City TIMES observed "Services were held in the five churches of Lake City last Sunday, morning and evening, the Presbyterian, Baptist, Christian, Episcopal and Catholic, good audiences being present at all meetings. For a town of only a thousand people, this speaks well for Lake City, and shows that a majority of our citizens are church-goers and a Sabbath-observing people."

Hinsdale County Courthouse, completed in 1877, is now the oldest courthouse in continuous use in the state.  Susan B. Anthony spoke there in September 1877, to promote women's suffrage in Colorado.  In 1883, it gained national prominence as the location of Alferd Packer's trial for murder.

Townsfolk spearheaded the construction of the Lake City School in 1880, designed by prominent Denver architect Robert Roeschlaub.  The first licensed architect in the state, Roeschlaub designed many public facilities and private buildings and residences around the state.

A group of local businessmen coordinated construction of the Armory Building in 1883, which also served as the Lake City Opera and headquarters for the Lake City Men's Club.

Lake Citians established an array of social and fraternal organizations, providing the social network seen in most small towns of the day.

 In 1876, the I.O.O.F. was also formed; it was the first secret order on the Western Slope.  The Masons formed "Crystal Lake Lodge, No. 34" in 1878, named for the lake one mile west of town on Crystal Peak.

Fraternities and lodges gathered in rented halls or church buildings.  Several fraternal lodges raised funds to erect permanent facilities in the 1880s and 1890s.  Reverend Darley organized the Miners Library Association in August 1877 to help in his temperance efforts, locating it in a small log building in the 300 block of Gunnison in 1877 and 1878.  The building became a hospital in 1879.  A local state militia unit organized as the Lake City Guards in 1876.  Renamed the Pitkin Guards in 1878, the organization remained active until 1904.

Social past times were typical of those in towns of similar size.  Lake Citians organized the Lake City Literary Club, Lawn Tennis Association, a music club, dancing school, and archery club.  The Lake City Brass Band provided musical entertainment.

Townsfolk turned out for celebrations on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and the Christmas holiday season.

"Dances, balls, social 'hops,' and promenades made up a greater part of the Lake City social calendar," notes historian Dr. Thomas G. Thompson.*  The Firemen's Masquerade Ball benefited the hook and ladder boys.

People partook in a host of outdoor activities, such as fishing, boating, horseback riding, mountain climbing, and gathering wild flowers.  In winter, they enjoyed sledding, sleigh rides, and snowshoeing (skis were called Norwegian snow shoes.)  Ice skating was a favorite recreation with people gliding on ice on the Lake Fork, Henson Creek, Lake San Cristobal, and on man-made ponds in town.

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*   Thompson, Thomas Gray, Ph.D., Lake City, Colorado - An Early Day Social and Cultural History, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: METRO PRESS, Inc., 1974, 46.
 Town of Lake City, PO Box 544, Lake City, CO  81235.  970-944-2333.  
Fourth of July, 1897, Silver Street in Lake City, Colorado.  Drilling contest.  Click on image to larger pop-up version.
First Congregational Church, Lake City. (Presbyterian Church, before construction of the steeple).  Detail of a stereoview card from the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, New York Public Library. Click on image to larger pop-up version.