James A. Payne

After George Jackson discovered gold in Clear Creek, he returned to the site with a team of 22 men. Within seven days, they discovered $1,900 worth of gold – the equivalent of $1 million by today’s standards! The population of the site quickly grew, first known as Jackson’s Diggings, Sacramento City, and finally Idahoe.  In June of 1859, the area was formally organized, the first recorded in Colorado history.  400 people lived in the settlement at that time. From 1860 until 1873, the city was surveyed three times with the last survey resulting in a town of 105 acres.

From the beginning, Idaho Springs attempted to display the best of culture. James A. Payne  who was part of that original party of 22,  brought his violin and performed for the residents of the city.  Payne’s was the first recorded marriage in Idaho Springs. Married to Hulda Payne, in 1863 the couple gave birth to Wesley, the first baby boy born in the Idaho Springs settlement.


A Mining Town

Miner Street 1889

Idaho Springs, Colorado

George Andrew Jackson – The Man Who Started it All

A Missourian by birth and cousin to Kit Carson, prospector George A. Jackson worked in the California goldfields from 1853 to 1857. He headed to Colorado when gold was discovered here in 1858. In January, 1859, he left his winter camp to go on a hunting trip. While on that trip, he camped at the junction of Clear Creek and Chicago Creek, and while panning some of the gravel with his drinking cup, he discovered gold! He became the first man to uncover the incredibly rich placer deposits on Clear Creek. Word spread quickly (of course) and prospectors rushed out to find their own fortunes. Small camps quickly sprang up, dotting the valley that is now Idaho Springs.

According to The Geo Zone, in 1867-1868, Jackson and a partner found another rich gold deposit somewhere near Walton Peak. The two prospectors organized a large party in Georgetown to return and work the deposit for as long as possible. They managed to mine and cache some $10,000 worth of gold but were driven out of the mountains by Chief Colorow’s Ute Indians. Jackson himself was never able to return to the mine – he accidentally shot himself to death before he had the chance. As far as anyone knows, the other prospectors were barred from returning by the hostile Utes. When they finally did come back, they were unable to locate the cache or even the site of their old camp. Apparently, a former employee of the U.S. Forest Service stumbled upon some old workings on Walton Creek believed to be from the Jackson party, but unfortunately there is very little gold in Walton Creek. The mine and cache remain hidden to this day. There is nothing like the allure of hidden treasure ~ practically in your own back yard!

Ride to the Graveyard

One of the best ways to see the beauty of autumn in the Rocky Mountains is on horseback. There are many horseback tours available, but one company local to Idaho Springs offers both guided and unguided tours and no age limits (children under five must ride double). One of the destinations available is a ride into 1800’s era cemeteries. Although mining history is at times glamorous – especially when we hear how someone ‘struck it rich’ – these graveyards attest to the hope and true sacrifice of mining families who buried many children in the Colorado mountains. 


There are day rides, full moon rides, and in the spirit of the season there is a Halloween Ride to the graveyards just around the corner. There are a limited number of riders for this ride, so if you’re interested, make your reservations right away.


“Learn to ride a horse and you can have one of the most thrilling experiences of your life.”


The Train to “George’s Town”

In the summer of 1859,  following the great gold rush, the Griffith brothers from Kentucky (George and David) traveled to Central City. Wanting a little more elbow room, they continued on following the south fork of Clear Creek toward present day Idaho Springs. Within two days, on June 17, George Griffith struck gold! News traveled quickly and a small and growing settlement began, known as “George’s Town.” After gold-mining collapsed, silver was discovered and Georgetown experienced another boom.

By the end of 1866, Georgetown was growing faster than any other Colorado community. Small hotels started opening up for tourists but the town still lacked a railroad to get them there! In addition, the system for transporting the millions of dollars of ore coming out of the region was inefficient, at best. It took several years, but in October, 1871, representatives from Georgetown met with officials of the Colorado Central Railroad to discuss the building of a railroad line to Georgetown.

In December, 1872, the first railroad line through Clear Creek Canyon reached Black Hawk. Five years later, in June, 1877, the railroad reached Idaho Springs and two months later the route made it to Georgetown. The completion of this railroad line was due to financier Jay Gould, the head of the Union Pacific Railroad, who supplied the necessary funds to get the train to these towns. The railroad could now take ore down the mountain. It could also bring people up. The Rocky Mountains were finally open for tourism.

The advent of car travel greatly reduced excursion train trips. In 1938, the last of the trains ran from Denver to Silver Plume. The line from Idaho Springs to Silver Plume was abandoned and the Georgetown Loop dismantled, ending a colorful era of railroad history. For many years, the gorgeous sights seen from the Georgetown Loop were only a memory. Then, in 1973, construction on the rail line began after the Union Pacific donated the track and ties for the reconstruction of the Georgetown Loop. 

1975 was the first operating season of the new Georgetown Loop which ran on a small portion of completed track. Today, the Georgetown Loop Railroad provides a historic, fun-filled outing for the family. The trains run through December. Check here for information to plan your day.



In January, 1859, George A. Jackson discovered gold at the confluence of what is today’s Chicago Creek and Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. This started the Rocky Mountain gold rush and almost overnight 50,000 men poured into Clear Creek Canyon, stretching from today’s city of Golden, West to Silver Plume and North over Seaton Mountain to Central City. These sites yielded over $1,700,000 in gold

After the easy placer gold was taken from the streams, the miners followed the trail of gold to its source in the mountain and the hard rock lode mining began. Over thirteen thousand mining claims were recorded in less than three years from 1859 to 1861. By 1902, there were over three hundred hard rock lode mines being worked in the Idaho Spring area. One of these mines was the Argo Gold Mine. Under the mine runs the Argo Tunnel, built in order to drain the deep mine shafts of water and enable the miners to raise up ore from depths of over one thousand feet.

The Argo Mill has been featured in many national publications and has been the set for several film productions. Because of the historic significance and impact that the Argo Tunnel and Mill played in local and state mining history, it was placed on the National Historic Register by the Department of the Interior in 1977.

The ArgoGold Mill and Museum is open daily. Schedule your tour today to see the operation of a historic 19th century gold mine.

Heritage Museum and Visitor Center

Idaho Springs is steeped in history. In its heart, it is a mining town which sprung up because of the discovery of gold and the possibilities that discovery birthed. Built in 1991, The Heritage Museum exhibits a number of artifacts from the 1860’s to the 1940’s that tell the story of George A. Jackson’s discovery of gold in 1859 and the resulting rush that transformed the valley. Additionally, the Museum has a collection of Indian artifacts, fire department equipment, 10th Mountain Division Ski Exhibit, Berthoud Pass Ski Area history, geological specimens, mining tools, and features early day life and hand crafts from the local people. It is a fabulous way to get a look at the heart of Clear Creek County. The Heritage Museum and Visitor Center is located at 2060 Miner Street in downtown Idaho Springs.