Pen and ink drawing of Idaho Springs circa 1860
Henry Plummer left his native Maine as a young man and came to the West, poor and alone, journeying from one place to another, seeking his fortune. He came to Idaho Springs during the Colorado gold rush of 1859 and and made a claim on Chicago Creek. With hard work, panning in the creek, Plummer extracted gold amounting to about $30,000, which became the foundation of his independent fortune. He served as the town’s first banker as well as one of the first City Council members. In the early 1880s, Plummer purchased and developed commercial properties along Miner Street such as his own business at 1518 Miner St., Henry Plummer & Co., Flour, Hay, Grain & Coal. This building is now occupied by Mainstreet Restaurant. Next time you come in for breakfast, take just a moment to read the historic marker on the Plummer Building. Rich history is all around in Idaho Springs.
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 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!
Nowhere in Colorado is the state’s mining history more obvious than in Idaho Springs. Gold was first discovered in Colorado here in 1859. If you’re looking for a fun-filled destination for a day trip, the town is full of family-friendly activities sure to entertain you. Idaho Springs – as an old minig town teeming with history to be savored in museums and tours, is also the home of quaint shops, art galleries, locally-owned restaurants and more. You can tour a gold mine, pan for gold, or even go river rafting in Cleer Creek.
Several mine tours give visitors insight into local mining history. In town is the Argo Gold Mine and Mill, where you can see what a working mill looked like. And not far from town is the Phoenix Gold Mine, a working mine, where you can learn about modern and historical mining techniques and do a little gold panning yourself.
Adjacent to Idaho Springs is Mount Evans. The road to the peak is a 14-mile ascent on the highest paved road in North America, rising to 14,200 feet above sea level. It’s a beautiful drive above timber line, and if you keep your eyes open, you might see some local mountain goats.
And if your pace tends to be slower, or you’re just looking for a day to unwind, imagine pampering yourself with a therapeutic and relaxing treatment at Indian Hot Springs Healing Waters and Spa. At this century-old destination, you can enjoy a massage or just relax in the hot springs mineral waters (for which the town is named), which have been rated as one of the top ten mineral hot springs in the world.
So much to do, and so little time. Maybe on your way home, you’ll find yourself planning your next trip!