A Hidden Ghost Town Off the Beaten Path
Vicksburg is off the beaten path. There aren’t any fancy signs pointing travelers in the direction of the once 700-resident strong mining settlement. At its peak, there were some 40 buildings, including a post office, school, blacksmith, a general store, two hotels, two billiard halls, an assay office, a livery stable, and a handful of saloons. There was a daily stagecoach transporting people to and from Granite and beyond. In current times, Vicksburg is effectively a ghost town, even through there are several cabins which remain seasonally occupied by residents who are descendants of some of the original settlers.
Vicksburg is on the National Register of Historic Sites. A small museum facility is maintained by the Clear Creek Canyon Historical Society, with a couple preserved buildings and old equipment which was used in the heyday of the small settlement. The museum is only staffed by volunteers in the warm months, but as early as April, it was accessible.
Vicksburg is located due south of Twin Lakes, on the other side of Quail Mountain, accessible by Chaffee County road 390. Immediately off the highway, on the way to Vicksburg, is Clear Creek Reservoir, a popular reservoir for fishing. Chaffee County Road turns into Forest Service Road 390 at the National Forest boundary, but remains accessible by 2WD vehicles in the warm months. In as late as late spring, the high mountain gravel road may have snow, making the upper road potentially hazardous for even well-equipped vehicles.
Additionally, further up the road is another ghost town, Winsfield, thought to have been 1,500 people strong at its peak. There are actually four ghost town sites along this road. We were not able to access the other sites past Vicksburg due to lingering April snow at 10,200ft in the valley.
A Classic Colorado Gem, Founded by Seekers of the Classic Colorado Riches
Named after Vick Keller, Vicksburg was a silver mining settlement. Vicksburg was first settled in 1861, when prospectors discovered gold and lead when they traveled up the valley looking for their runaway burros (a type of pack animal). In 1879, during the Colorado silver boom, the townsite exploded to an estimated 600-700 residents, as abundant silver deposits were found in the area. And just as quickly as the silver boom drew thousands to the greater Sawatch Range area, the site was nearly abandoned as the price of silver dropped.
At the town site, there is a small parking area, with room for not more than six or seven cars. All that indicates anything is here is a rather sudden lowly forest service brown sign indicating “Vicksburg Museum Parking”. There isn’t any fancy advertising on U.S. 24 either telling travelers there’s a ghost town up the road (actually there are four ghost towns on CR/FR 390). Though there is another relatively innocuous sign right after turning from U.S. 24 on to CR 390 with distances for Vicksburg and Winfield, respectively.
A gate blocks vehicle access to the main town site, with a sign indicating that the road is a private road, closed to public access. You can, however, walk through the museum and into the old Vicksburg main street, where Balsam Poplar trees brought in over a dozen decades ago still stand, lining the main artery of Vicksburg once called “Broadway Street” by residents. Also evident are the ditches dug to water these trees as well as provide residents with water.
It is hard to imagine that this now quiet group of vacation cabins was once a thriving mining settlement, and a fairly prominent one in the area during the Colorado mining boom. It is hard to imagine 40 buildings at this now small town site that once was home to over 600.
Relics of the Once Thriving Mining Settlement
Exploring the town site, it was obvious that it was once much larger, and had many more buildings than currently stand. There are clear remnants of old structures. There is even an old automobile chassis that has clearly been sitting abandoned for quite some time. Otherwise, there are other numerous artifacts scattered about the forest floor, such as old pieces of scrap metal, food cans, aerosol cans, old tools, and probably much more that we didn’t bother looking for.
A handful of the still seasonally occupied cabins are in pretty good condition (i.e. livable condition), while others are in clear disrepair. One even had lawn chairs out front and empty beer bottles we can only presume were somewhat recent as the owner must’ve come up there for a weekend getaway. There is no running water, electricity, or any other modern utilities serving Vicksburg, so cabins must be lit by battery power or oil lamps. Each cabin had its own outhouse in back. It is amazing that even though Vicksburg is effectively a ghost town, some of the current property owners are direct descendants of the original settlers of Vicksburg over a century ago.
A commemorative plaque on a bench in the museum area pays tribute to a life-long resident of Vicksburg, who lived there for all 106 years of her life.
Such a once-prominent settlement in this historic area now lies unknown to all but the explorers who discover it, oftentimes by accident. Places such as Vicksburg don’t receive much media attention. Places such as Vicksburg are effectively forgotten in history, remaining elusive to all but those willing to seek out these historic areas, that indirectly or directly, are responsible for drastically shaping the youthful state of Colorado. These once prominent industries, are now no longer the industries which dominate the west. Settlements such as Vicksburg at one point were numbered in the thousands across Colorado and the west, and many are elusive.
BackwoodsWanderers.com is not affiliated with the Clear Creek Canyon Historical Society.