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A Brief History of Lake City:
Historic Context & Introduction

Location & Settlement
Lake City was platted in 1874 at the northeast edge of the San Juan mountains in what is now southwest Colorado.  The town is located four miles north of Lake San Cristobal in a park-like valley at the confluence of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and Henson Creek.  Settlement was spurred by opening of the San Juan region for mining and by discovery of the Hotchkiss Mine at Lake San Cristobal.

Roads & Commerce
Road building into the San Juans commenced immediately after the Brunot Agreement was signed by the Utes on September 13, 1873.  Discovery of the Hotchkiss Mine ignited interest in the upper Lake Fork (Lake San Cristobal, Lake City and vicinity) and prompted platting of Lake City in fall 1874.  The town grew rapidly as a distribution point for goods, supplies, and equipment forwarded to mining operations in the Hinsdale County mining districts.  Commerce flourished as merchants provided food, goods, and services to hundreds of prospectors, miners, adventurers, and fortune seekers flooding into the area.

Towns of the San Juans
Lake City was one of the first towns platted in the San Juan region.  Others soon followed - Silverton in 1874 (platted as Baker's Park in 1873), Ouray in 1875, Telluride in 1878, and Rico in 1879.  Lake City's 1875 - 1878 settlement period and 1880 - 1881 mining boom were followed by nearly a decade of stagnation and decline.  Richer mineral strikes elsewhere attracted capital investment and drew miners out of Lake City.  Although Hinsdale County's mineral production lagged behind that of its neighbors, Lake City remained one of the major cities in the San Juan region.

Railroad & Silver Panic
The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad completed its Lake City Branch in 1889, providing economical ore shipment and significantly boosting mining activity in northern Hinsdale County.  New investors re-opened the Hotchkiss Mine as the Golden Fleece in 1890, and a score of others mines soon went into production.  The brief boom ended with the Silver Panic of 1893 that devastated the silver mining industry throughout the Rocky Mountain West.  Closure of the Golden Fleece in 1904 marked the end of Lake City's major mining period, although sporadic production of minor amounts of gold, lead, zinc, and silver continued through the twentieth century.

Emergence of Tourism
As mining declined, outdoor recreation and tourism gradually emerged as viable industries.  From the earliest days, visitors recognized Lake City's scenic beauty and sporting opportunities.  The first summer residents and tourists came to Lake City by rail.  During the 1920s visitors also began arriving by automobile.  The Liska Cabins, Lake City's first "auto tourist camp," opened in 1929 at the south edge of town.  During the 1930s and 1940s nearly a dozen auto tourist camps sprang up in Lake City and north and south of town along the Lake Fork River.  Tourism and summer residences have continued as a major economic factors into the twenty-first century.

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 Town of Lake City, PO Box 544, Lake City, CO  81235.  970-944-2333.  
Lake City circa 1890. Photo courtesy Colorado Historical Society.  Click photo for large pop-up view.
Detail of the 1866 Johnson Map of the western territories.  Click photo for large pop-up view.