Long before my Singing Silver Mine historical fiction series came to pass, our family became fans of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a living museum attraction in Georgetown, Colorado. The three-foot, narrow-gauge railroad through the Rocky Mountains provided a delightful summer excursion only forty-five minutes west from Denver. Little did I know its importance in the history of Colorado would take a prominent place in a series I would write many years later.
In the summer of 1850, Lewis Ralston found gold at the confluence of the Clear Creek and South Platte River on his way to California and returned to the same site in present-day Arvada eight years later, touching off the gold rush to the Rockies in 1858. The discovery set off a chain of events that eventually sent Kentuckians George F. Griffith and his brother David T. Griffith up the Clear Creek Canyon to the South Fork of the Clear Creek in June 1859.
The Griffith Brothers set up camp on June 15th and found gold two days later. Not long afterward, they built a cabin on what is now Seventeenth and Main Streets in today’s Georgetown. By June 1860, they’d created their own mining district called the Griffith Mining District, and in the spring of 1861, David Griffith surveyed and platted the town of Georgetown with approximately forty residents and two mills.
Talk of a railroad in the Territory of Colorado commenced by the mid-1860s with the influx of migrants and a new ore on the scene that drastically changed the face of Colorado—silver! The Colorado and Clear Creek RR, incorporated in 1865 and reorganized as the Colorado Central and Pacific RR in 1866.
In 1867, John Evans and David Moffat incorporated the Denver Pacific Railroad to build a railroad between Denver and Cheyenne to connect with the Transcontinental between New York and San Francisco. The railroad was completed in June 1869, and more people descended on the territory.
As the mining districts of Central City-Black Hawk and Griffith Mining continued to grow, so did the desire to establish railroads to transport ore down the mountain. The Colorado Central and Pacific became the Colorado Central RR and laid 11 miles up the Clear Creek from Golden. By 1870, the Colorado Central had connected with the Denver Pacific and Kansas Pacific at Jersey Junction two miles north of Denver.
However, with the dawn of a new decade came Eastern interests and political wrangling among corporate entities, and the Union Pacific, Colorado Central, and Denver Pacific/Kansas Pacific jockeyed for control. Still, miles of track continued to be laid along the Clear Creek and into Central City and Black Hawk, and locomotives were delivered to Golden until the end of 1872.
Then the financial crisis of 1873 struck. The nation had already been hard hit, but now Colorado and the railroads were feeling the crunch. Though grading continued and routes were still laid, the Colorado Central found itself unable to pay its bills. Between financial woes, weather-related blockages, and corporate squabbling, the people of Georgetown had to wait another four years for the Colorado Central Railroad to reach them.
Despite the delay of a railroad, Georgetown continued to prosper and burst at the seams with people from all parts of the globe who’d made their fortunes in silver. There was every reason for the town to be optimistic as the train finally rode into town in August 1877. Georgetown had become the Silver Queen of Colorado and the people were riding high.
As it turned out, the title was short-lived when Leadville overtook Georgetown with its rich silver veins, and people began to migrate once again at the end of the decade. But the Georgetown Loop was an engineering marvel for its day, having devised “a system of curves and bridges, reducing the average grade to three percent…including three hairpin turns, four bridges, and a thirty-degree horseshoe curve from Georgetown to Silver Plume,” the Georgetown Loop RR website says. The $3 train ride became one of Colorado’s “must-see” attractions, and the tourists flocked to Georgetown for a Rocky Mountain High experience through the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Today, the Georgetown Loop RR still amazes and attracts people from all over the world who want an “old-time” experience on a narrow-gauge train through the astounding terrain of the Colorado Rockies. Along the route, the visitor can also disembark for a tour of the Lebanon Silver Mine—a once prolific source of silver in the district. They also offer a gold-panning experience. An Autumn Fest runs through the month of October, and beginning in November/December, they will run a Santa North Pole Adventure and Santa’s Lighted Forest trains.
For more information about the Georgetown Loop Railroad and its holiday events visit https://www.georgetownlooprr.com/. And if you are a train aficionado and interested in a historically immersive experience about train travel in Colorado, visit the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado https://coloradorailroadmuseum.org/.