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

Metropolis of the San Juan

Lake City's rapid growth and development during its 1875 - 1878 settlement period resulted from this intense interest and speculation.  Platted in fall 1874 and incorporated August 16, 1875, Lake City grew rapidly, first with log huts then with more substantial buildings.

Promoted as the "Metropolis of San Juan," the town flourished as a distribution point for goods and supplies forwarded to mines and camps in the northern Hinsdale County mining districts.  The initial influx of pioneers, prospectors, and miners attracted scores of merchants and dozens of lawyers and assayers to provide goods, supplies, and services.

Merchants profited by outfitting the surge of prospectors who flooded into the area in 1876 and 1877 and by supplying dozens of mines in the outlying mining districts.  The boom also substantially boosted local construction.

Lake City quickly gained a pivotal role as the first milling and smelting center in the San Juans.  In 1876, two ore processing plants operated at the south edge of town - the Crooke Brothers Mining and Smelting Company and the Van Gieson Lixiviation Works.  The Ocean Wave Mining and Smelting Company opened a plant in 1877.  Soon several others mills were also erected adjacent to outlying mine sites.  Significant mining development began with the Crooke brothers "the first eastern capitalists that showed their appreciation of the region by putting their money in it by acquiring mines and erecting mills."*

Despite this promising activity, northern Hinsdale County's mining districts lacked the three key factors in mining development - year-round transportation, abundant ore, and capital to finance development of underground workings.  By 1879, the boom had subsided.  The three mills operated intermittently and local boosters eagerly awaited the railroad to transport Hinsdale County ores to processing plants elsewhere, but the train didn't arrive for another decade.

Finally finished in 1889, the Lake City Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad line spurred a flurry of mining activity.  Mineral extraction continued through the 1890s, with a mid-decade slump brought on by the Silver Panic of 1893.

By 1904, the major ore deposits had been exhausted and the mining era closed.  Although prospecting and intermittent mining continued throughout the twentieth century in northern Hinsdale County mining remained a weak economic factor, reflected by the county's sparse population and diminished property values and property tax revenue.

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*  Fossett, Frank.  COLORADO Its Gold and Silver Mine, Farms and Stock Ranges, Health and Pleasure Resorts/  A Tourist's Guide to the Rocky Mountains.  New York: Arno Press, 1973 (first edition New York: C. G. Crawford, 1879), 517.
 Town of Lake City, PO Box 544, Lake City, CO  81235.  970-944-2333.  
Detail of a stereoview card of Lake City, Colorado, looking west.  Card is mistakenly titled "Rio Grande" but was taken by Lake City photographer Dansford Noble Wheeler.  Photo from the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, New York Public Library.  Click on image for a larger pop-up view.