A Brief History of Lake City:
Recreation & Tourism, 1915-1954
1920s: The Automobile & Tourists Arrive
In the 1920s, tourists consisted of a growing number of automobile travelers. The first automobile arrived in Lake City around 1910; Thomas Beam owned the first auto in Lake City and Dr. Cummings the second.
Developers of the Lake Shore Inn anticipated a steadily increasing number of travelers arriving in their own automobile. Improvements to auto highways through western Colorado and the local roads south from Gunnison and Sapinero gradually encouraged auto tourists to visit Lake City.
Major road construction projects initiated after World War I included paving the highway over Monarch Pass and through Cochetopa National Forest, completed in 1922 and upgraded in 1939.
In August 1922, the road between Creede and Lake City was improved as a state highway although it remained a rough road for the next several decades. In the 1920s, the highway west from Cañon City to Salida and on through Gunnison to Grand Junction was developed as a segment of the coast-to-coast Rainbow Route (later U.S. 50).*
During the 1920s, the Lake Shore Inn published a colorful brochure touting the wonders of the Lake City vicinity and detailing scenic landmarks enroute from Denver to Hinsdale. In 1926, a scenic highway from Gunnison through Cathedral opened, bringing motorists to Powderhorn where tourists "flocked to the hot springs resort."
The Silver World and Lake City Times disparaged a "bumpete-bump" nine-mile stretch of road south from Powderhorn into Lake City, yet noted numerous fishermen on the lower Lake Fork: "All along the river banks tourists are seen in great numbers, some afoot, some in camp and others halting with automobile, all 'casting in their net' for the splendid specimens of trout so abundant this year."**
Lake City merchants planned a gala Fourth of July celebration in 1926 with baseball games, Ye Old Time Ball at the Armory, a BBQ at the schoolhouse, horse races, and drilling and mucking races. The festivities attracted a disappointing turnout on account of floods the week prior, which washed out a bridge on the Lake City Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad line. The bridge was rebuilt just before the event, but lack of rail service created a food shortage. Only one horse race took place on the muddy track and a steady drizzle dampened the ball games.
The Silver World and Lake City Times reported on fishing parties from Denver or Grand Junction and routinely noted the arrivals and departures of summer people from Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and other locales.
Among summer visitors were owners of mining claims who returned to Hinsdale County to performing the annual labor assessments. Visitors also included former residents from Lake City's mining period, or their children and grandchildren, who returned for extended stays.
Increasing tourism in the late 1920s prompted opening of two new tourist lodges. The Vickers family developed a dude ranch in 1928 on the Lake Fork three miles north of town. The following year, John and Emma Liska established Lake City's first auto tourist court at the south edge of town - a grouping of rebuilt miners' dwellings brought down from Sherman, an abandoned mining camp south of Lake San Cristobal.
* Historic Highways Context. Denver: Colorado Historical Society, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, 2003, E6, E29, E30. "Lake City, Hinsdale County, Colorado," circular printed by a "committee selected by the commercial and mining interest of Hinsdale County, Colorado," 1922.
** "On to Powderhorn Only to Receive Jars and Jars," Silver World and Lake City Times, July 29, 1926, 3.