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

Residential Growth

Early Lake City residents included lawyers, assayers, mining engineers, and surveyors who aided prospectors in staking, evaluating, and recording mining claims.

Merchants provided an array of groceries, supplies, lodging, meals, and transportation services to the steady stream of newcomers.

Carpenters, contractors, and stone masons found employment constructing business buildings, houses, stables, warehouses, and Lake City's three ore processing mills.

Local residents included a few miners; many miners also lived in boarding houses or in small cabins in outlying camps, visiting town for supplies and for Saturday night entertainment.  Hundreds of prospectors camped in tents or bunked in crude cabins scattered throughout the outlying mining districts.

Population figures from the Colorado Business Directories reveal striking fluctuations.  Like other mining towns, the number of residents rose and fell during boom and bust cycles and also swelled in summer and shrank in winter.  Lake City's population peaked at 3,000 in 1878.*  The town dwindled to 600 residents by 1887.  During the 1880s and 1890s, population hovered between 1,000 and 1,200, but dropped to 405 by 1912.

Residential neighborhoods lay north, west, and south of the commercial district in the 200 - 300 block of Silver Street.  There were a few houses interspersed with business buildings on the 200 - 300 blocks of Gunnison Avenue.  Reserved as the railroad right of way, Henson Street remained relatively undeveloped except for the Hinsdale County Courthouse, the D&RG train depot, and a few railroad workers homes.  Industries operated at Henson Street near the Lake Fork River - the Schaffer Sampling Works, the Youmans Planing Mill at Fourth and Henson, and the Ocean Wave Smelter at Ninth Street.  The townsite expanded to the south with the Foote & Richardson Addition (1881) and to the west with the Casco Addition (1877), Westlake Addition (1883), and Bluff Addition (1891).

Lake City's neighborhoods soon took on an established appearance.  Yards were edged in picket or wrought iron fences and boardwalks connected houses to the street.  Shade trees lined the street edge - narrow-leaf cottonwood saplings transplanted from the banks of Henson Creek and the Lake Fork.

To convey a sense of prominence and permanence, residents built numerous dwellings with features from popular architectural styles of the late Victorian era, including Greek Revival, Italianate, and Carpenter Gothic.

Citizens prided themselves on flower and vegetable gardens.  For example, frequent newspaper mention is made of Mrs. May's flower-growing talents at her residence at 421 Gunnison Avenue.  Sunflowers, "some as large as small washtubs," were observed in the Mays' yard in 1893 and in September, 1895, editorial gratitude was extended to Mrs. May for a "beautiful bouquet of sweet peas, pinks, bachelor buttons, pansies, phlox, mignonette, poppies, etc., grown in her flower garden at this place, and the largest and handsomest bunch of flowers ever seen in town."

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*   The Colorado Business Directory reported a population of 1,500 in 1877 for Lake City "and its immediate suburbs," 3,000 in 1878, and 2,000 in 1879.
 Town of Lake City, PO Box 544, Lake City, CO  81235.  970-944-2333.  
Thompson-Ewart House. 513 Silver Street.  Click on image for larger pop-up view.
Roach-Higgins Cabin. 420 Silver Street.  Click on image for larger pop-up view.
Williams House.  628 Silver Street.  Click on image for larger pop-up view.