Thursday, August 18, 2022

Boom and Bust: Leadville, Colorado


Earlier this month, my friend Bruce and I traveled up to Leadville, Colorado, for a photography trip and respite from the hot weather in New Mexico.  Located in central Colorado about 77 miles southwest of Denver (as the crow flies), at an elevation of 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville is always considerably cooler.

You've probably never heard of Leadville, but at one time in the late 19th century it was the second largest town in Colorado (next to Denver) because it was an incredibly productive mining boom town.  

Leadville was founded in 1877, barely a year after Colorado became a state.  Placer gold had been discovered in the area in 1859, and in 1874 miners discovered that the heavy black sand that clogged the sluice boxes contained large concentrations of lead and silver.  Thereupon, the silver boom began, aided significantly by the U.S. government's 1878 decision to purchase large amounts of silver to support the national currency.

By 1880 Leadville had nearly 30,000 people, gas lighting, water mains, 28 miles of streets, five churches, three hospitals, six banks, dozens of saloons and brothels, and schools for 1,100 students.  It all came crashing down in 1893, when the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed and the Panic of 1893 hit.

Leadville recovered slowly in the early 20th century with the mining of lead, zinc, and copper.  Eventually, mining for molybdenum (used as an alloy for strengthening steel) became the primary extractive industry, but even that has gone through multiple boom and bust cycles.

Over the past forty years, Leadville has become a center for outdoor adventure tourism in the Colorado Rockies, featuring hiking, fishing, skiing, camping, and other activities.  The main street is dotted with coffee shops, bicycle shops, and restaurants appealing to the wilderness crowd.  Population of Leadville in 2020 was 2,639.

In 1966, seventy square blocks of Leadville's downtown area were designated as a National Historic Landmark, and many original buildings and houses are well-preserved.  Here are some examples:

Tabor Grand Hotel Building, built in 1883-85

Dearborn Hotel, opened in 1886

"The Old Church" (Presbyterian), built 1889

St. George Episcopal Church, 1880

Temple Israel synagogue, 1884

One of the most significant buildings in Leadville is the Tabor Opera House, which opened in November, 1879.  At the time it was said to be the finest opera house between St. Louis and San Francisco, a proud sign of culture and civilization in a frontier environment.

There are many stories surrounding the Opera House.  For example, the twenty-seven year old Oscar Wilde appeared there in 1882 on his transcontinental U.S. speaking tour, dressed in a velvet coat, silk  stockings, and lots of lace.  

Wouldn't you love to have been in that audience?!

The Opera House's namesake, Horace Tabor, was originally a shopkeeper who grubstaked a couple of miners who luckily struck it rich.  Virtually overnight, Tabor became incredibly wealthy, and invested in several other mining companies, including the aptly-named Matchless Mine, eventually becoming the equivalent of a billionaire in today's money.

Horace Tabor

Tabor became known as The Silver King.  He was elected Lieutenant Governor of Colorado and served very briefly (30 days) as an appointed United States Senator in 1883.

However, Tabor was seduced by his wealth.  After opening the Opera House in Leadville in 1879, he spent lavishly on an even bigger opera house in Denver, which opened in September of 1881, and lasted only nine years.  Tabor's more business-minded wife, Augusta, was unhappy with his profligate spending, and they became estranged, especially after Horace met a beautiful young divorcee, Elizabeth McCourt Doe, known as "Baby Doe," and fell in love with her in 1880.  He was 50; she was 26.

Elizabeth McCourt Doe ("Baby Doe")

Horace and Baby Doe were secretly married in St. Louis in September, 1882.  Augusta divorced Horace in January, 1883, and two months later Horace and Baby Doe were publicly married in a lavish ceremony at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, while Horace was serving as a U.S. Senator.  Baby Doe wore a white satin gown that cost $7,000, and a $90,000 necklace that originally belonged to Queen Isabella of Spain.  Some accounts say President Chester A. Arthur attended, but due to the scandalous circumstances of the marriage -- two divorced people -- many invitations were declined. 

The Tabors took up residence in Denver, but their fortunes began to decline in the early 1890s, and when the Panic of 1893 struck, Tabor was wiped out.  Horace moved back to Leadville and worked as a  common mineworker.  Baby Doe and their two daughters lived in a boarding house in Denver after selling off all their property and her jewelry.  To save them from total destitution, some of Horace's political friends arranged for Horace to be appointed postmaster of Denver in 1898.  Fifteen months later he died of appendicitis.

The remaining years of Baby Doe were even more tragic.  She and her daughters moved back to Leadville around 1900, where she took up residence in a former tool shed on the grounds of the once-productive but now exhausted Matchless Mine, which Horace had once owned, in hopes of restarting it.

Here's a photo of Baby Doe at the cabin in 1933:

Here's what the cabin looks like today:

According to the Wikipedia entry about Baby Doe, "she wandered the streets of Leadville, rags on her feet, wearing a cross, and came to be known as a madwoman. . . . She often walked the empty streets at night, dressed in a mixture of women's and men's clothing, wearing trousers and mining boots.  She protected the mine from strangers with a shotgun, and 'she became a sad spectre of Baby Doe to old-timers; a spectacle to the young.'"

During the winter of 1935, after an unusually severe snowstorm, neighbors noticed there was no smoke coming out of the chimney at the cabin.  They broke into the cabin and found Baby Doe dead, her body frozen on the floor.  She was 80 years old.

The story of Horace Tabor and Baby Doe has all the makings of a tragic opera -- a love triangle; happiness; death; a sad denouement -- and in fact it became the basis for an actual opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe, written by American composer Douglas Moore.  The opera premiered in Central City, Colorado, in 1956, and was performed in 1959 by the New York City Opera, with Beverly Sills as Baby Doe.  (I had never heard of Tabor, Baby Doe, or the opera until this trip.  For you opera lovers, click here for a video of Sills singing one of the arias from the opera.)

Baby Doe was also featured on the cover of "Life" magazine the same year (1959), touted as a legend among women of the mining West.

Needless to say, the mines around Leadville devastated the landscape and were all eventually abandoned, leaving collapsing structures . . .

dangerous open mine shafts . . .

and tons of toxic material of unearthly color:

In 1983 the EPA designated the California Gulch (Leadville) area as a "superfund" reclamation project, and since 1995 the EPA and other entities have conducted removal and remedial activities to consolidate, contain, and control over 350,000 cubic yards of soils, sediments, and mine processing wastes.  Clean up is about 90% complete.

In contrast to the environmental devastation surrounding Leadville, there's plenty of beauty in the Rocky Mountains.  On our way home, we took a brief side trip into a canyon near Mt. Princeton.

Lush forests of evergreens and incredibly tall aspens . . .

and of course a sparkling clear mountain stream great for fishing!

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

South-Central New Mexico Church Tour, Day 2

This is an account of Day 2 of our photography tour of village churches in south-central New Mexico.  You can read about Day 1 in the post below this one or by clicking here.

Here's a map of the five villages northwest of TorC that we visited on Day 2.

After overnighting in Truth or Consequences, NM, our first stop on this day was Cuchillo, NM (pop. approx. 35).  Cuchillo was settled in the late 1800s, and its San Jose church was built in 1907.

One of our party investigated the outdoor confessional.

Right next door to the church was a sign and other icons in a more fundamentalist vein:

From Cuchillo we traveled west to the eastern edge of the Gila National Forest to visit the almost-ghost town of Chloride.

Chloride began as a tent city boom town in 1880 when silver was discovered in the canyons and mountains to the west.  At its peak, Chloride had a population of about 3,000 -- mostly hard working, hard drinking miners.  There were nine saloons, three general stores, a hotel, an assay office, and a red-light district . . . but no church.

Chloride survived the Panic of 1893, but by 1900 the ore had been exhausted and the town became a quiet little village.  Population today is about 20, with some descendants of original settlers.

One of the original buildings -- the Pioneer Store -- has been converted to a museum housing all manner of artifacts from the early days of Chloride.

We were able to look around for about an hour inside the museum.

From Chloride we backtracked 2.5 miles to Winston.  Like Chloride, Winston was originally a mining town, founded a year after Chloride by miners who thought Chloride was "too rowdy."  But after the Panic of 1893 Winston evolved into a farming community, population 64 in 2020 census.  Accordingly, its St. Jude Mission church is small, but clean and well cared-for; the interior is filled with religious icons.

Next stop was Placita (not to be confused with Placitas, NM, north of Albuquerque).  The village was founded in the 1840s primarily for farming and ranching in Cottonwood Canyon where water was available.  (Any time you see cottonwood trees in New Mexico, you know there's a source of water nearby.)  Population in 2020 was recorded as 576.

According to some accounts, Placita was founded in the 1840s by the Sedillo family.  The San Lorenzo Catholic church, similar in style to the church in Cuchillo, was built in 1916.

We were able to enter this church and look around.

Two miles up the road from Placita, our last stop before lunch was Monticello, NM (pop. 84).  Founded by farmers and ranchers in Cottonwood Canyon in 1856, its San Ignacio church was built in 1867.  These days Monticello is known for its organic farms.

There were half a dozen more churches on the tour, but three of them I had photographed previously, and I knew they were best photographed in morning light, not afternoon.  In addition, my traveling companion, Alan, and I were "shot out" (meaning we were out of enthusiasm for photographing anything!), so after a delicious lunch of green chile cheeseburgers at the Buckhorn Cafe in San Antonio, NM, we headed for home.  We'll shoot those other churches another time.

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


Monday, July 11, 2022

South-Central New Mexico Church Tour, Day 1


In May I went with a group of photographers on a two-day trip to visit and photograph churches in small towns in south-central New Mexico between Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences.  The trip was organized by the Corrales Arts Center, and planned and led by Mark Werner, Dennis Chamberlain, and Lynda Chamberlain.

In addition to the churches, along the way we spotted a few abandoned gas stations, an abandoned school building, and a museum filled with artifacts from the almost-ghost town of Chloride, NM (no church there, though).  And we learned some New Mexico history, too!

This post is an account of the first day of the trip; the second day's adventures will be recounted in a separate post.  Here's a map of our Day 1 route.

Our first stop was Iglesia de San Isidro on NM 337 between Ten Points and Chilili, southeast of Albuquerque.  

San Isidro is the patron saint of farmers, so there are a lot of San Isidro or San Ysidro churches scattered about New Mexico . . . including one in the village of Corrales where I live.

Many of the churches also feature a shrine to the Virgin Mary on or near the church grounds.  Here are a few we saw along the way:

There was even one -- a specific version, the Virgin of Guadalupe, commemorating an appearance of the Virgin Mary in Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531 -- carved out of (into?) the trunk of a dead tree:

A few miles down the road our next stop was the village of Chilili and its San Juan Nepomuceno church which featured a really unattractive front portal:

Fortunately, there was a nice gateway arch I could use to block out most of the portal structure and still get a glimpse of the church:

The church was built in 1841, 71 years before New Mexico statehood, in honor of John of Nepomuk (1340 - 1393), who was born in Bohemia.  According to a mural on the back outside wall of the church building . . .

Nepomuk (Nepomuceno) was tortured and martyred for refusing to reveal the confession of Queen Sophia of Bavaria to her husband, King Wenceslas IV . . . preserving the confidentiality of the confessional (for which he was canonized in 1729) and, in a way, preserving a woman's right to privacy.

The land on which the church sits is supposedly protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) which ended the Mexican-American War and ceded Mexican territory (including what is now New Mexico) to the United States.

Interestingly, however, if you check the treaty itself, there is no "Sect. 5" in Article 2, and nothing in Article 2 relates to preservation of land rights . . . frontier legend, I guess.

Across the street from the church we photographers also gravitated to an abandoned gas station -- the first of three we saw:

Continuing south on NM 337, then turning west onto NM 55, we came to the San Antonio church of Tajique.

Next stop . . . Our Lady of Sorrows in Manzano, built in 1829.

Our next stop was the San Vicente de Paul Catholic church in Punte de Agua, established in 1878.

And across the highway was another abandoned gas station!

Our last stop before lunch was the oldest church on the tour:  Quarai Mission Church, one of the three structures in the Salinas Mission National Monument.

The church and related buildings were constructed between 1627 and 1632, but were abandoned in 1678 due to a combination of disease, drought, famine, and raids by indigenous Apache people.  You can read more about Quarai and the other two mission churches in the vicinity by clicking here.

From Quarai we motored on into Mountainair, NM, to eat lunch at the Shaffer Hotel dining room decorated in what might be diplomatically called "Pueblo Deco."

The hotel and restaurant were built in 1923, and have been opened and closed multiple times over the past 99 years.  Fortunately for us, for now they're back in business.  You can read more about the hotel's origins in J.M. House's "City of Dust" blog by clicking here.

And right across the street from the hotel, there was another abandoned gas station/garage, complete with a vintage 1954 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe parked in front.

After lunch we headed southwest to the villages of Contreras and La Joya.

In Contreras we photographed the tidy, well-kept church, as well as an empty old adobe house nearby and an abandoned school building on the main road:

In the village of La Joya, the Our Lady of Sorrows church was undergoing repairs, but was still available for photographs.  Following my "walk around the teacup" strategy, I shot it from a few different angles.

And there was even a joyful Jesus tree carving reminiscent of the "Touchdown Jesus" at one end of the Notre Dame football stadium.

From La Joya we hopped on I-25 and went south to the village of San Acacia to see the abandoned and overgrown Chapel of St. Acacius.

This was the only church we were able to enter on the first day of the tour (other than the Quarai Mission church).

Our last stop for the day was the Sagrada Familia church in Lemitar, NM.

By this time in the afternoon, the wind had picked up and everyone was tired, so we skipped the San Miguel Mission church in Socorro (which looks a lot like the Lemitar church) and headed for our hotel and dinner in Truth or Consequences, NM.

If you would like to see these images (and a few others) in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.