Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip to Leadville Colorado & Baby Doe's Matchless Mine

Leadville, Colorado, high up in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 10,350 feet, is the highest incorporated city in the United States.

Gold was discovered in California Gulch in 1860 bringing a stamped of prospectors to what was then called Oro City.

The gold miners found themselves hampered by heavy black sand that clogged their sluice boxes.

By 1870 only a few people remained in Oro City. One of them was H.A.W. Tabor, who was to become part of a famous American saga of romance and rags to riches, immortalized forever in the opera "The Ballad of Baby Doe."

That heavy black sand turned out to be carbonate of lead and was full of silver. By 1878 Oro City had become Leadville and was again a boom town of over 30,000, with the now wealthy Mr. Tabor the town's mayor. Tabor bought up as many mine claims as he could in the Leadville Mining District, including the Matchless Mine, which brought in around $100,000 a month at its production peak.

Tabor become a money spending machine, thoroughly enjoying his wealth. This annoyed his austere wife, Augusta. Soon Tabor took up with a young beauty named Elizabeth McCourt Doe, more popularly known as Baby Doe. Tabor divorced Augusta and married Baby Doe, then moved to Denver to begin his career as a public servant.

H.A.W. Tabor lost his fortune in the Panic of 1893, but held on to the Matchless Mine. On his deathbed, in 1899 Tabor told Baby Doe to "Hang onto the Matchless." And so she did, til Baby Doe died in abject poverty in 1933.

While visiting Leadville you can get out of your vehicle and take a scenic, narrated railroad trip through Colorado mining country, from Leadville to Climax, on the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad Company train.

If you want to learn more about mining you can visit Leadville's National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, located in a Victorian style school built during the silver boom. Exhibits trace the history of mining all the way back to the ancient Egyptian forward in time to large scale mechanized modern mining operations.

When it was built in 1879 the Tabor Opera House was billed as the "largest and best, West of the Mississippi!" The Tabor Opera House retains the look of its "last show," when wealthy miners were willing to spend a lot of money to experience the talents of famous performers from New York City.

All the highways in Lake County, of which Leadville is the county seat, are part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway. You have a couple highway choices to Roadtrip into Leadville. US 24 takes you to Leadville from the Minturn exit from Interstate 70. Colorado State  Highway 91 connects Leadville to Interstate 70 near Copper Mountain. This would be the route you'd take to Leadville if you were coming from the Denver direction.

The map below shows you where Leadville is located, south of Interstate 70....

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