Lake City, Colorado
|Town of Lake City, Colorado|
Lake City ~ 1880
Location in Hinsdale County and the state of Colorado
|County||Hinsdale County Seat|
|Incorporated (town)||September 19, 1884|
|• Type||Statutory Town|
|• Mayor||Bruce Vierheller|
|• Total||0.8 sq mi (2.2 km2)|
|• Land||0.8 sq mi (2.2 km2)|
|• Water||0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)|
|Elevation||8,761 ft (2,640 m)|
|• Density||447.5/sq mi (172.8/km2)|
|Time zone||Mountain (MST) (UTC-7)|
|• Summer (DST)||MDT (UTC-6)|
|GNIS feature ID||0188715|
|Website||Official Tourism Marketing of Lake City and Hinsdale County website|
The Town of Lake City is the Statutory Town that is the county seat and the only incorporated municipality in Hinsdale County, Colorado, United States. It is located in the San Juan Mountains in a valley formed by the convergence of Henson Creek and the headwaters of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Lake City is named after nearby Lake San Cristobal. This area lies at the southern end of the Colorado Mineral Belt and when rich and when rich mineral deposits were discovered the native population was pushed from their tribal lands and the town of Lake City was incorporated in 1873.
With the completion of the first road into the mountains in this region, Lake City served as a supply center for the many miners and prospectors flooding into the area. As a supply center, the town boomed to as many as 3,000 to 5,000 settlers. But as the first-discovered deposits were found to be only moderately productive and no new extensive or rich deposits of minerals were found, by 1979 the boom had subsided. With the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in1889, Lake City saw a second upturn in the economy that lasted into the 90s. The railroad cut the cost of shipping gold and silver ores to smelters, reduced the cost of shipping supplies into Lake City, and provided shipment of cattle and sheep into the area for summer grazing in the high Alpine meadows.
By 1905, the mining era was over and Lake City entered a decades-long period of economic decline. Population figures hovered at 1,000 then dropped to 400 after 1910. Although mining continued throughout the twentieth century, it consisted primarily of exploration and speculation rather than productive operation. Beginning in 1915, visitors began coming to Lake City for the entire summer season and by the 1930s tourism had emerged as a viable industry.
The Hinsdale County Historical Society formed in 1973 and began accumulating documents and photographs recording the town's history. In 1978, the Lake City Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Residents have restored many of the boom town mining era buildings and currently promote Lake City as a tourist destination. Restoration has not only aided the local economy by making Lake City a desirable tourist destination, it has served economic development with preservation projects creating jobs for local carpenters, craftsmen, and contractors. The town population was 408 at the 2010 United States Census. Lake City's educational needs are served by the Lake City Community School.
Prior to written history, the Ute people lived in this area of the San Juan Mountain Range where they hunted and fished in the high mountain valleys during the summers. Even though the land was owned by the Ute's as part of a treaty that that set the area aside as a tribal reservation, by the 1860s prospectors had begun to enter the region in search of minerals. When rich silver deposits were found in the Lake City area, word spread and pressure was put on the federal government to negotiate a new treaty with the Utes. Consequently, the native population was again pushed from their lands when in 1873 a new treaty was negotiated under which the Utes gave up their rights to the San Juan Mountains. In 1873 the town of Lake City was incorporated as a supply center for the prospectors and miners who were flooding the area.
Lake City was platted in fall 1874 during construction of the Saguache & San Juan Wagon Toll Road, which opened the San Juan region for settlement. Town developers chose this location for the townsite because of its flat terrain and abundant water. The broad valley provided a park-like setting which the optimistic town developers used to their advantage. They laid out a 260-acre townsite that occupied the entire valley floor - 72 blocks of 32 uniform city lots, 25' x 125' in size. To promote the speculative town, Otto Mears subsidized The Silver World newspaper and published the first issue on June 19, 1875. It was the first newspaper published on the Western Slope.
It was not unusual for mining towns to grow into boom towns within a matter of only a few months, and Lake City was no exception. 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 early boom years brought the usual red light district to Lake City as was seen in any male-dominated mining town of that period. Records from 1878 show that the city had two breweries and a "Hell's Acre" district with 20 saloons, dance halls, and brothels. Lake City had as many as 3,000 to 5,000 residents at one time. But 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 and by 1879, the boom had subsided.
Constructed of rapidly built wooden structures, a fire in 1879 destroyed much of the town. The town was rebuilt using brick and stone, and consequently many of the structures remain today. By this time Lake City was manufacturing its own building materials using local lumber, locally quarried stone, and bricks made from clay obtained at the nearby Slumgullion Earthflow. By 1884 the population was beginning to dwindle, but the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad on narrow-gauge tracks that were laid in 1889 cut the cost of shipping gold and silver ores to smelters and the economy saw an upturn which extended into the 90s. 
D&RG Railroad Lake City Branch
In 1889 the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad finished laying track from Sapinero to Lake City. The distance from Sapinero to Lake City was 36 miles, with 10 bridges. The "High Bridge" was 800 feet long and 113 feet high. The train averaged 12 miles per hour. According to local residents, "you didn’t want the Rio Grande engine to run over you because 'it was on you so long'." The final cost of the construction of the branch was $770,996.80, a considerable sum at the time. The local newspaper welcomed the arrival of the D&RG:
- "The town has awakened from its long sleep; new people and new enterprises are coming in at a rapid rate; outside capital is coming to the rescue, and Lake City is on the eve of a prosperity such as it has never seen before. Mines that have been practically untouched for years are now being profitably worked under the impetus given by ample shipping facilities and cheaper rates; the stores and residences that have been so long vacant are rapidly filling up, and the patient people who have endured the horrors and the hardships of business inactivity for years now wear the smile of gladness and joy."
The Denver & Rio Grande line also had other impacts. It expanded the availability of building materials, such as architectural trim applied to Queen Anne style dwellings in Lake City during the 1890s. The railroad also bolstered the ranching industry by shipping cattle raised on ranches along the Lake Fork and by bringing sheep for summer grazing along the Lake Fork valley in northern Hinsdale County.
Golden Fleece Mine
In 1874 Enos T. Hotchkiss filed a claim five miles south of Lake City which led to the development of the Golden Fleece Mine. Results from preliminary work in the mine were promising and assay determination indicated the property to be very rich in high grade telluride and gold ore at a short distance below the surface. But in November 1876, work on the Hotchkiss mine came to an abrupt halt when Hotchkiss was severely injured when he fell 30 feet down a mine shaft. After lying idle for many months, the mine was sold at sheriff’s sale. With new ownership, a rich vein of gold and a large vein of rich telluride ore were discovered in 1892 with one carload valued at more than $19,000. By 1904 it had produced $1,400,000 in silver and gold ore. The ruins of buildings at the Golden Fleece mine are still visible today. 
In 1875 Lake City gained notoriety when Alferd Packer was charged with murder and cannibalism. Due to the nature of the crime, it was sensationalized and gained national attention. There are several differing accounts of the story, but according to one account Packer was acting as a guide for a party of five men prospecting in the San Juan Mountains when they became snowbound for the winter.
When he eventually came out of the mountains in the spring, he said that the minors had abandoned him and that he had nearly starved. However, looking surprisingly healthy and first asking for whiskey rather than food, suspicions began to arise. Five bodies that showed signs of cannibalism were found southeast of Lake City at the foot of Slumgullion Pass and Packer was arrested and held in the Saguache jail, but he escaped. He fled to Cheyenne, Whyoming where he remained until 1883 when he was again arrested and brought to Lake City for trial. He was convicted of killing one of the five men and sentenced to be hanged. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the conviction in 1885, but he was retried and convicted again in 1886 with a sentence of 40 years. He was paroled and released in 1901. The area where the bodies were discovered is now known as Cannibal Plateau and Packer is remembered by holding an annual Alferd Packer Jeep Tour and Barbecue. The cafeteria in the student union at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is called the Alferd Packer Memorial Grill.
End of the economic boom days
Despite the several booms that were seen in Lake City, it remained a rather quiet and peaceful village. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Lake City was founded by the powerful men of the time, Otto Meirs for example, who were speculating on a mineral wealth not yet discovered rather than on actual discoveries of any vastly rich mineral deposits. Homes and businesses were built and families moved in rather than the usual boom crowd of prospectors having heard of a rich find and hoping to quickly strike it rich as well. Lake City had four churches, a ball park, and a school, but few saloons or brothels as common of other boom towns, such as Leadville.
By 1905, the mining era was over and Lake City entered a decades-long period of economic decline. Population figures hovered at 1,000 then dropped to 400 after 1910. Although mining continued throughout the twentieth century, it consisted primarily of exploration and speculation rather than productive operation. Beginning in 1915, visitors began coming to Lake City for the entire summer season and by the 1930s tourism had emerged as a viable industry. Although a number of properties were lost to fire or deterioration, the prolonged slump protected many of the town's historic properties from substantial alterations or from demolition as has occurred to many other 1870s buildings in Colorado. 
Lake City National Historic District
The Lake City Historic District contains a collection of intact buildings associated with the 1875 - 1881 boom, as well as buildings constructed during the second boom period of the 1890s. The town's remote location and decades of economic decline helped conserve the buildings from the mining era and the weak local economy discouraged new construction, thus Lake City avoided many of the modern "improvements" to historic buildings that often occurs in more prosperous towns. The Hinsdale County Historical Society formed in 1973 and began accumulating documents and photographs recording the town's history, and has been a strong advocate for preservation in Lake City since then. In 1978, the Lake City Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. 
In some cases restoration was as simple as removing a coat of paint from a brick building or removing a wood facade from an early building faced with stone, but in other cases the needed restoration was more involved. During the 1970s and 1980s, volunteers performed extensive preservation work on the Baptist church building, which had stood vacant and derelict in the 1930s. Hinsdale County acquired the John C. Bell cabin at 304 Third Street and restored it in 2000, removing stucco siding to reveal the 1876 log cabin that had served as the law office for Lake City's leading attorney in the 1880s. Also, many individual property owners have done restoration and upkeep to preserve their historic properties. Restoration has not only aided the local economy by making Lake City a desirable tourist destination, it has served economic development with preservation projects creating jobs for local carpenters, craftsmen, and contractors. 
As of the census of 2000, there were 375 people, 182 households, and 111 families residing in the town. The population density was 447.5 people per square mile (172.4/km²). There were 385 housing units at an average density of 459.5 per square mile (177.0/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 98.13% White, 0.53% Native American, 0.53% Asian, 0.27% from other races, and 0.53% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.60% of the population.
There were 182 households out of which 20.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples living together, 6.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.0% were non-families. 32.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 3.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.54.
In the town the population was spread out with 17.9% under the age of 18, 6.1% from 18 to 24, 31.2% from 25 to 44, 34.4% from 45 to 64, and 10.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 109.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 115.4 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $38,056, and the median income for a family was $39,583. Males had a median income of $29,583 versus $16,875 for females. The per capita income for the town was $23,392. About 4.3% of families and 8.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including none of those under age 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over.
Geography and climate
Lake City is located at (38.031946, −107.311940).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.9 square miles (2.3 km2), of which, 0.8 square miles (2.1 km2) of it is land and 1.18% is water.
Lake City is also known to many Colorado fourteener "peakbaggers" as the jump-off point for 5 of Colorado's 53 ranked 14,000' peaks - Sunshine, Redcloud, Handies, Wetterhorn, and Uncompahgre.
Lake City experiences a continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfb) that only just escapes being classified as semi-arid due to its relatively wet early springs and late autumns. On average, the wettest month is August, and the driest is February. Very large daily temperature swings are a regular feature of Lake City's climate, due to the elevation and aridity.
|Climate data for Lake City, Colorado|
|Average high °F (°C)||35
|Average low °F (°C)||−1
|Precipitation inches (mm)||0.78
|Source: Weather Channel|
- Outline of Colorado
- State of Colorado
- Slumgullion Pass
- Alferd Packer
- Alpine Loop National Scenic Back Country Byway
- San Juan Mountains
- Silver Thread Scenic Byway
- Uncompahgre Peak
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- "Lake City, CO". Denver & Rio Grande. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lake City, Colorado.|
- Lake City Hinsdale County Marketing Board and Chamber of Commerce, The Official Lake City Website
- Town of Lake City municipal website