Animas Forks, Colorado: a ghost mining town for history buffs

STAFF, 4x4ing, Interesting Towns — By on February 7, 2014 at 01:11

Story by staff writer Teresa Davis. Photos Copyright © Teresa Davis.

THERE ARE TWO PLACES in Colorado always worth visiting. One is St. Elmo and the other is Animas Forks. Both are ghost mining towns established back when gold and silver were found, it seemed, under every rock and in every stream.

Cinnamon Pass, Colorado

Cinnamon Pass, Colorado

You can get to Animas Forks three ways: through Silverton, over Cinnamon Pass or over Engineer Pass. We chose to go over Cinnamon Pass. Do not attempt any pass unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. As you can see from the photo, Cinnamon Pass has some really great switchbacks.

Looking from Animas Forks back up to Cinnamon Pass.

Looking from Animas Forks back up to Cinnamon Pass

Where Cinnamon and Engineer Pass come together, you’ll find the once-bustling town of Animas Forks. Today, there are buildings and homes being preserved by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and private owners wishing to keep this town open for visitors.

Another view of Animas Forks, Colorado

View of Animas Forks, Colorado

Usually even if you go in the summer, there’s always a little chill in the air, so dress in layers, keep an umbrella handy and bring plenty of water to keep hydrated. Don’t worry about a restroom because there are two nice BLM restrooms there.

History tells us that in 1883 around 450 people were living in Animas Forks during the summer. The town held several stores, saloons, a hotel and two assay offices. The town had electricity, telephone and telegraph. I should have been born 100 years ago. There’s just something about the spirit of these old mining towns that makes a history buff like me jump for joy.

Looking at the Duncan Walsh house from behind

Looking at the Duncan Walsh house from behind

Animas Forks sits at 11,200 feet above sea level and once laid claim to the title “The largest city in the world”—with the small print reading “at this altitude.” Looking out over the town, you try and imagine just how hard life was there. The people struggled with gathering enough wood to keep warm and enough wood to cook with on a wood stove all year round while dealing with snow in the winter so deep it buried most of the homes. Snow could get as deep as 25 feet. People reported digging tunnels in the snow to move from house to house.

The original Bay Window house as it was called back in the day

The original Bay Window House, as it was called back in the day

The most impressive and most photographed building in Animas Forks is the Duncan/Walsh house. While we were there, a private owner was having the Walsh house restored. The house was built in 1879 by William Duncan, a postman and miner who struck it rich in the surrounding mountains. The house was purchased some years later by Tom Walsh for his daughter, Evalyn. It’s said she eloped with Edward Beale McLean, heir to The Washington Post, and she never actually lived in the house. The two-story Walsh home was said to have been the largest building in town. The house is also known as the Bay Window House because of the prominent bay window at the front.

The staircase in the Bay Window house, very steep and narrow.

The staircase in the Bay Window House is very steep and narrow

Besides the bay window, you will immediately notice the steep narrow staircase just inside the front door. We walked up stairs which led to the tiny three rooms, probably bedrooms once. In one of the rooms we could see the remains of what once was a fireplace. The building felt a little shaky, but what can you expect for a home over a 100 years old? When you stand in the small living room downstairs and look through the bay window, you’ll know why Tom Walsh built the house facing the way it does. The majestic mountains will take your breath away.

When you walk into these old homes, you wonder how they could have raised so many children in these houses with rooms the size of our modern-day bathrooms.

The Gustavson house built in 1906. The first house with an indoor outhouse.

The Gustavson house, built in 1906. The first house with an indoor outhouse.

Speaking of bathrooms, the other impressive house is the Gustavson’s home. Charles and Alma Gustavson, Swedish born, were known to have an impressive “indoor toilet,” the only one ever heard of at that time. Actually, it was just a large outhouse with a hall that connected it to the main house. Can you imagine the smell on a warm day?

History in a frame, inside the Gustavson house

History in a frame, inside the Gustavson house

Hanging on an inside wall is a picture frame with mementos, pieces of wallpaper and the story of the original family. The Gustavsons raised four children in that small two-bedroom house. They were one of the few families who lived year-round in Animas Forks.

The Hip-Roof House as it was called was a boarding house for the local miners

The Hip-Roof House, a boarding house for the local miners

Among other buildings and homes still left standing is the “hip roof” boarding house. This was the place where the miners hung their hats after a long, grueling day in the mines. It housed over 150 miners. (A hip roof, according to Wikepedia, is a type of roof where all sides slope downwards to the walls, usually with a fairly gentle slope.)

If you choose to go into the buildings, always watch your step and please do not take or leave anything. There’s a box if you’d like to donate to help out, but a donation is not required to visit Animas Forks.

An original log home just outside Animas Forks  heading back into Silverton, Colorado

An original log home just outside Animas Forks heading back into Silverton

Heading to Animas Forks is a relatively easy road to travel if you come in from Silverton. So grab the nearest 4×4 and check out this gem in the back country of Colorado.

———

Teresa Davis

Teresa Davis

TERESA DAVIS was born and raised in Texas. She is a writer on HubPages (tjdavis), tweets as gypsyheart4ever and blogs at teresadavisblog.com. She works at Lufkin Industries, LLC, has a great family—husband of 18 years, two daughters and a wonderful granddaughter—and she loves travel and adventure!


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    2 Comments

  • Estrella Azul
    Twitter: EstrellaAzul
    says:

    Such gorgeous views of and around this ghost mining town. I can only imagine how beautiful these homes will be once they’re restored!

    We’ve seen the “before” so to say, and I really hope you’ll visit again when the restoring of the town is done, so we can peek into the “after” as well.

    • Teresa Davis
      Twitter: iluvmnts4x4
      says:

      Estrella,
      Animas Forks is a place I always go back to, so I will in the future take more photos.

      There is so much more of Colorado I want to share with everyone lol.

      A gypsy at heart 🙂

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