Take a step back in time by visiting some of Gunnison's historic sites. Many mining communities went through boom to bust cycles and are now ghost towns. Some of the more historic sites are the Alpine Tunnel, Gothic, Tincup, and White Pine.
The Alpine Tunnel Historic District consists of a two hundred foot wide right of way along thirteen miles of original Denver, South Park and Pacific railbed between the town sites of Quartz (in Gunnison County) and Hancock (in Chaffee County).
For years mail and supplies came back and forth over the mountains to Tin Cup and Gunnison through several treacherous and lengthy passes: Tin Cup Pass, Taylor Pass and Altman Pass. A tunnel was planned with Gunnison as its goal, starting two miles west of Hancock, and going under Altman Pass. It's cost? A mere $120,000! The tunnel, an engineering marvel, was the first to be constructed through the Continental Divide - completed in 1881. It was 1,845 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 17 feet high - supported and lined with California redwood. Its highest point was 11,608 feet. Both the east and the west portals have been closed, as the tunnel is extremely dangerous with rotted timbers. Excavation of the Alpine Tunnel began in January 1880. At an altitude of 11,523 feet, it became the first tunnel constructed through the Continental Divide, and was expected to be finished in only six months. However, due to unforeseen circumstances and construction taking place in the dead of winter, the task required nearly two years to complete. Fractured granite necessitated the expense of using over 400,000 board feet of California redwood to support and encase 1,427 feet of the 1,772 foot long tunnel with a total cost of around $300,000.
The first train went through the Alpine Tunnel in July of 1882 with the last one through in November of 1910. During its thirty-year life, the Alpine tunnel bristled with activity carrying freight for the many mining camps in the area, and tourists.
One magnificent site is the retaining wall at the "Palisades". Constructed of hand-cut stones without the use of mortar, the retaining wall is 432 feet in length and 33 feet in height. A longer retaining wall is just below this wall, but is only six feet in height.
A huge stone engine repair house that could house six engines was gutted by fire in early 1906. The remains of the engine house can still be viewed today.
The easiest route to the Alpine Tunnel begins northeast of Pitkin at the junction of the Cumberland Pass Road (FDR 765) and the Alpine Tunnel Road (FDR 839).
Learn more about the Alpine Tunnel at www.narrowgauge.org/alpine-tunnel/html/index.html.
Once a mining boom town, Gothic, Colorado has faded into ghost town status like many early mining communities. While vivid stories of the old days abound and historic buildings dot the landscape, Gothic also is rich in science and summer activities due to the longtime presence of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). Gothic brings together Colorado's mining history with cutting-edge, modern-day science.
Located eight miles north of Crested Butte at 9,500 feet, Gothic is situated at the confluence of Copper Creek and the East River in the shadow of the 12,625-foot Gothic Mountain. In 1879, two prospector brothers, John and David Jennings, discovered silver high above Copper Creek and the rush was on.
Gothic grew to more than 1,000 residents and was a major supply point for mining camps to the north. It was not uncommon to see 400 - 500 jacks packing supplies from the "City of Silver Wires" to Aspen over East Maroon Pass, still a popular and extremely beautiful hike between the two towns. By 1893, the year of the Silver Crash, the town was mostly deserted.
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
The town of Gothic was acquired by RMBL in 1928 through the initiative of Dr. John C. Johnson, a professor of biology at Western State College in Gunnison, located 38 miles south of Gothic. Johnson, his wife Vera Adams Johnson, and three other biologists founded the RMBL, a private nonprofit organization, to facilitate research and education in the biological sciences.
Today, the RMBL owns approximately 245 acres and more than 60 structures, including three buildings from 1880, several buildings from the early 1900s, and a number of buildings associated with the founding of the lab. The RMBL is one of the world's premiere field stations, promoting the understanding and protection of high-altitude ecosystems through research and education.
Learn more about the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at www.rmbl.org/home/.
Tincup, which changed its name from Virginia City in 1882, is a small community featuring many summer residences and beautifully restored structures that hint at its colorful past.
The name Tincup reportedly comes from the container Jim Taylor used to carry his newly found gold from Willow Creek in 1860. Soon after word of his discovery got out, Taylor was joined by other fortune seekers. A base camp that would eventually become Tincup was established on Willow Creek.
In its hey day in the late 1880s, Tincup had a population of 6,000, all of whom were dependent on the numerous and profitable mines that had been discovered in the area. The town flourished, accommodating 20 saloons, five grocery stores, two butchers, four hotels, a school and a number of shops….it also had a Red Light District!
No railroad was ever built to the bustling town, and that severely limited its chances for survival. In 1917, the Gold Cup Mine closed and the community dwindled before being reincarnated as a small summer community.
Tincup is located at the south end of Taylor Park on Willow Creek.
May 25, 1879 saw the first prospectors traverse Old Monarch Pass and open the Parole and Iron Duke Mines on Contact Mountain. The rush was on and three prospectors found the rich North Star, Carbonate King, Eureka and May Mazeppa Mines on 11, 592 high Lake Hill. The town was founded in 1880 on the west side of Tomichi Creek in a narrow gulch. By 1884, there was a population over 1,000 and the town boasted five stores, three saloons, two livery stables, three hotels, a barbershop, meat market and even a photographic gallery. The town was served by a circuit preacher, the Rev. Isaac Whicker, a Methodist minister, who traveled from Leadville & Salida to White Pine on foot! By 1885, the big boom didn’t occur and lawsuits between miners, and the failure of the sampling works at Crosden sealed the doom of the town. The silver panic of 1893 occurred and the town was deserted by 1894. A small boom occurred between 1902 and 1953 when Akron Mines Co. drove the Akron Tunnel 4000, into Lake Hill and mined Lead, Zinc and Cooper during World War I and World War II. Today it is a summer residence town in a predominately ranching area.
There are many ghost towns in the Gunnison area. This simple map points out the locations of many.
Gunnison Historic Walking Tour
See many historic downtown buildings, most built in the late 1800's, as well as Gothic Revival and Queen Anne houses. Take a walking tour of Gunnison.