A Brief History of Lake City:
Recreation & Tourism, 1915-1954
1930s & 1940s: The Allure of Lawlessness
Lake City's isolated location and deteriorating buildings gave tourists and summer residents a sense of escaping from civilization.
Muriel Sibell Wolle, author of Stampede to Timberline and other publications on the Rocky Mountain mining west, excited interest in the mining camps and ghost towns. Wolle frequented Lake City during the 1930s and 1940s, photographing and painting houses, hotels, churches, street views, and the Lake City cemetery.
As in other isolated mountain towns, bootlegging and gambling created the allure of lawlessness. In 1949, a Denver Post reporter marveled at the town's numerous slot machines: "Virtually every business place in Lake City has one or more machines… The post office and telephone office are almost the only exceptions."*
Tourism expanded further in the early 1930s. In 1933, Clyde Seibert developed the T-Mountain View Resort consisting of ten or so rustic log cabins scattered on elevated sites on the hillside northeast of the town.
Abandonment of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad's Lake City branch contributed indirectly to tourism by supplying building materials for tourist facilities. For example, timber from the bridges and other railroad structures was reused at the San Juan Ranch (no longer extant) north of Lake City on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Closure of the railroad also created an urgent need for improvements to county roads, a need that would go unmet until the 1940s.
Transportation enhancements helped boost Lake City tourism in the late 1930s. In 1935, Colorado voters approved a $2.5 million "anticipation warrant" for new road construction, which matched federal highway funds.
New Deal road building programs included improving six U.S. highways, three of which increased access to Western Slope communities. Two roads provided better accessibility to Lake City from the north - U.S. 24 through Ute Pass and on to Salida, and U.S. 50 from Cañon City to Grand Junction along the Arkansas River and Gunnison River Valley. A third route improved travel from the south - U.S. 160 west of Walsenburg over LaVeta Pass to Alamosa and on to Del Norte and North Fork.**
* Robert E. Holliway, "Lake City Booms Again," Denver Post, August 9, 1949.
** Historic Highways Context. Denver: Colorado Historical Society, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, 2003, E35. "Lake City, Hinsdale County, Colorado," circular printed by a "committee selected by the commercial and mining interest of Hinsdale County, Colorado," 1922.