PHOTOS: Visit an 1880s Colorado ghost town; St Elmo is one of best preserved ghost towns in state

Posted at 5:21 PM, Mar 02, 2016

Have you visited a Colorado ghost town?

There are hundreds of ghost towns with buildings left behind when miners, and others, set up towns quickly, then moved on.

In the 1880s, nearly 2,000 people settled in the town of Forest City, later renamed St. Elmo. Many came in search of gold and silver, while others came to run boarding houses, stores and other businesses.

At its peak, the town had a telegraph office, general store, town hall, five hotels, saloons, dancing halls, a newspaper office, and a school house, according to Wikipedia.

While St Elmo is called a ghost town, people still live here. There's even a Bed & Breakfast. Let's go exploring...

The Miner's Exchange may be the most well-known and photographed building in town.

It was once a saloon, but is now the St. Elmo General Store. In summer, thousands of tourists flock here for snacks and drinks, and to feed the chipmunks outside. Visit in the winter and you'll find a St Elmo that is more deserving of the title, "ghost town."

The St. Elmo General Store is open from May to September/October.

This one-room cabin next to the General Storeis available to rent.

It's $79 per night with a two-night minimum.

It sleeps three people.

This is the Pawnee Mill Stable c. 1892.

In an 1892 article, the Colorado Democrat said the mill was a 20-stamp mill that was operating night and day.

The writer called the owner, John McBride, one of the "most successful as well as one of the cleverest gentleman we met in the camp."

Next to the mill is the Pawnee Mill Blacksmith Shop, c. 1892.

Across the street from the mill, near the beginning of town, is the McKenzie Ottoson house c. 1885.

The Society of Architectural Historians says the home, "is made of peeled logs joined in saddle notches with mud chinking. It has gable ends dressed with vertical planks, showing an Anglo propensity for making the gable end the facade."


This is the Ghost Town Guest House, a Bed & Breakfast that's open year-round.

The guest house has three rooms and the bathrooms feature antique claw-foot tubs with modern showers.

This home has a fascinating architecture.

This is the Savard Building and Evans Firewall c. 1881-1900.

That brick wall looks like it should stop a fire.

The Society of Architectural Historians says two fires during the 1890s destroyed much of the business district, including the opera house.

While this may look like a school house, the Buena Vista Heritage website says this was the Town Hall/Jail building. It was destroyed by a fire in 2002 and is being rebuilt. They are furnishing the town hall/jail as a museum.

Let's wander around and look at some homes.



The Whitney Fobes Maine House c. 1882.

Dan Clark Home c. 1881 (pink building) and Russell Thorp Building c. 1880.

The sign on this home says, "Williams House Shoemaker c. 1880"

Not sure if shoemaker is part of the original owner's name or his profession.

This was the St. Elmo Mercantile in 1892.

Heightley Cottage c. 1881.

Pushmor Building c. 1885

Here's something you don't see very often in old cabins -- a duplex. This was the Wild Carlen Duplex c. 1885.

The Helmer Sauard House c. 1885.

As you wander around, look at the curtains in the windows. While many are fading and disappearing, it's fascinating to see what's left.

This was the Stark Bros. Mercantile. They sold groceries and dry goods, according to a sign in the window. Their goods included everything from shirt collars and lace dress trimmings to dynamite, blasting caps and medicine.

Mrs. Stark ran a 16-room hotel with brass beds, wash stands and rug floor coverings. The Home Comfort Hotel never officially closed, but it didn't have many guests after 1930, a sign in the window says.

At one point, there were 150 patented mining claims in the St. Elmo area. Learn more about the area on the Historic St Elmo Facebook page.

However, the majority of the people who lived in St. Elmo worked at the Mary Murphy, Teresa C., The Molly or the Pioneer Mines, according to Wikipedia.

The Mary Murphy Mine was the largest and most successful mine in the area. The Mary Murphy Mine recovered over $60,000,000 worth of gold while it was in operation.

Check out more Colorado ghost towns:

Note: While St Elmo is accessible in winter, many ghost towns are not.

Directions to St. Elmo: From the intersection of Highway 285 and U.S. 34 in Johnson's Corner, south of Buena Vista, continue south on Highway 285 about 5.7 miles to the 162/Chalk Creek Drive turnoff. There should be signs for Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. The hot springs are a great place to stop on your way back from St. Elmo. From Highway 285 to St Elmo is about 15.7 miles. In the winter, expect the road to be icy and snowpacked.


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