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Area History

The purpose of this page is to help you learn interesting facts and tidbits about the history of Hinsdale County and Lake City.  This information is part of an on-going effort to record and share the history of the area on behalf of the Hinsdale County Museum, Hinsdale County Historic Society and Lake City DIRT with funding from the Preserve America Grant. If you would like to help by transcribing recordings, interviewing or writing stories for the project please  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We are also collecting personal stories and photography as part of the Lake City Memoirs project, to learn more click here

 

The Town of Lake City currently boasts more than 200 historic structures. Homes, outbuildings, barns, churches, public buildings, motor courts, the oldest operating courthouse and more tell stories of day gone by. The Lake City Historic District was designated so in 1978, honoring Lake City’s role in the development of the American West. The Hinsdale County Museum offers walking tours for visitors to travel through history.

For those interested in getting more involved with history will enjoy the numerous shops and restaurants located in historic buildings. A stroll through the downtown historic district takes visitors along 500 feet of boardwalk, past the beautiful garden plots at the Third Street Market and the multi-functional Town Park. The park is home to a playground for children of all ages, a sand volleyball pit, picnic tables, a grassy area perfect for tossing the football or Frisbee, and several special events. The Moseley  Arts Center in the historic Hough Building features musical performances, art shows, dance shows and more. Come to the Lake City Historic District and enjoy the living side of history.  

 

These are some external links to area history:

 

In the Beginning...

In the beginning the area now known as Hinsdale County and the town of Lake City was claimed by the Spanish around 1536.

The Spaniards were looking for riches in gold and silver between 1815-1845 during which the Indians and “mountain men” laid claim to the area for it’s natural resources of food, water, solitude and most especially for the mountain men; it’s abundant supply of valuable fur pelts. 

Life was simple, rugged and lived in solitude for most until the mountain men exhausted the fur resources, some returned to the civilized world as scouts for American government and military expeditions while others choose to remain uncivilized by joining the Indians. 

By the mid nineteenth century, reports of mineral assets in Colorado created a rising need for the Indians to put a defensive front to protect the land they claimed as their own. The US government attempted to make peaceful agreements with the Ute Indians by offering them a treaty in 1868 granting them 15,120,000 acres in Western Colorado promising that whites would not trespass and allowing Americans to settle the front range. 

This treaty however did not last for long as the lure of mineral riches called out from the Southern Indian Territory. 

Read more: In the Beginning...

Hinsdale County Ghost Towns

Sherman

Sherman was one of the many small communities in this region which boomed briefly, then slowly perished. Named for an early pioneer, Sherman was founded in 1877, four year after the U.S. government and the native Ute Indians signed a treaty which opened up the San Juan Mountains to mining and settlement.

Sherman grew slowly at first, then expanded quickly in the 1880s. The largest mine in this area, in addition to several smaller mines, was the Black Wonder. The Black Wonder was a primarily silver mine and was located on the hillside north of town. For many years, this mine was the mainstay of Sherman’s economy. Sherman, like many other mining towns in the San Juans, was basically a “one-mine town”. Like a roller coaster, Sherman’s population and prosperity fluctuated with the fortunes of the Black Wonder mine. 

During its peak in the mid-1880s, the summer population of Sherman reached about 300 people, mostly miners. During the fall, most residents left, and few stayed in Sherman over the winter.  Like many San Juan mining towns, Sherman’s downfall began in the 1890s. When the U.S. government went off the silver standard in 1893, the demand for silver dropped, creating a nationwide depression. The drop in demand for silver forced the closure of scores of mines in the San Juans, and several in the Sherman area. Sherman never recovered from its setbacks, and by 1925, the town was deserted.

Read more: Hinsdale County Ghost Towns

Lake City’s Historic Churches

St. James Episcopal Chapel on 5th Street in Lake City started out as a carpenter’s shop and was later used briefly as a public school building before being purchased by local Episcopalians in December, 1876. The chapel still uses a rare Estey organ, with “Philharmonic” reeds, which was purchased in 1910.

A Lake City Baptist organization was first formed in 1883, but it wasn’t until the early 1890’s that the local congregation succeeded in building their own church. A stylish Queen Anne-style frame church was completed by the Baptists on Bluff Street at the head of 4th Street in 1891. The church was unusual in Lake City in that it was the first, and for many years only, local sanctuary with leaded stained glass memorial windows. 

St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic Church on Colorado’s Western Slope, started with an organizational meeting hosted by Father Hays of Del Norte, Colorado, in Lake City on September 2, 1877. Funds were raised that fall and winter for a 30x60’ Gothic Style building which was formally dedicated on January 6, 1878. The church’s steeple was added to the building in the 1890’s.

Pioneer Western Colorado missionary George M. Darley assisted in constructing the Community Presbyterian Church of Lake City. Formally dedicated in November 1876, it was the first church completed on the Western Slope of Colorado. Total cost of the structure, which included adobe bricks for insulation within the frame walls, was $1,700. One of the structure’s most notable features is its steeple which was added onto the front of the original church building in 1882. 

 

Remains of Packer Victims

Alferd Packer

In the winter of 1874, Alferd Packer was hired to lead a group of prospectors through the San Juan Mountains from Ouray. This turned out to be a particularly harsh winter in the Lake Fork drainage area. Deep snow drifts and sub-zero temperatures slowed the party and supplies soon ran out. Wild game was non-existent, according to Alferd Packer, and these were no fish to be found in the frozen-over streams and lakes. By the time the men had reached the foot of Slumgullion Pass, the men had even chewed the leather from their bots. Starvation was upon them. What was a man to do to survive the winter of 1874?

Six weeks later, Packer appeared alone at the Los Pinos Indian Agency near Saguache. There he told the sad tale of loosing his fellow miners in a snowstorm, but he seemed well fed and was spending money freely from several wallets. The story began to unfold when strips of human flesh were found. A search party found the bodies of the missing men at the foot of Slumgullion Pass. They had apparently been murdered and showed evidence of being cannibalized. 

Packer escaped and was at large for many years, but when he was captured, he was tried at Hinsdale County courthouse in Lake City and found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to be hanged on May 19, 1883, but won a new trail in Gunnison. There he was convicted of five counts of murder and was sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary at Canon City.

Read more: Remains of Packer Victims

Lake City Cemeteries

City Cemetery

The City Cemetery, sometimes known as the Lower or Old Cemetery, came into existence in 1876. It is located on Cemetery Hill to the north of Lake City and just east of Colorado Highway 149 as it enters the town.

In February 1876, it was decided that a committee be appointed to select a site for a city cemetery.  T the Silver World newspaper observed: “ [The City Fathers] hope there will be no undue rivalry as to who shall be the first occupant, but if a certain party does not refrain from standing and reading copy on the case, this office will enjoy the honor of furnishing the first denizen of the ‘City of Dead.’”

The City Cemetery was started on several acres of hilly, pine covered ground north of Lake City which had originally been patented for a ranch. The land was never publicly owned and passed through several private ownerships, most recently the Carol White estate, before Hinsdale County acquired it in 1985.

There were apparently never any formal organization or records for the City Cemetery and burials took place on a haphazard basis and to this day, the majority of graves are unmarked. 

Read more: Lake City Cemeteries