We stopped in Silver Plume a couple weeks ago on a plein air excursion. We felt we had been transported back in a time-travel adventure, having driven there from Conifer, Colorado for a day of outdoor painting. Of course we had been aware of this tiny mountain hamlet because it is just up the road from its big sister Georgetown, but we had never wandered its dirt road Main Street or explored its character with any depth.
We decided to go back., and we are so delighted that we did.
Silver Plume enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in the years from 1864 to approximately 1893, when unfortunately the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed, the USA abandoned the silver standard and the price of silver drastically declined. Until that historic defining event the mountains around Silver Plume were being mined as if there were no tomorrow for plentiful high grade ore, primarily from the precarious heights of 13,587′ Mount McClellan, where the locals would tell you that the silver veins were so rich that silver flakes broke from the rock in feather-like patterns giving the town its name.
During its heyday Silver Plume was transformed from a dirt road lined with temporary ramshackle miner’s huts into a bustling town of 2000 people, where miners, businessmen, tradesmen, shop owners and working class families from as far away as Wales, Ireland and Italy settled, believing they would make their fortunes in silver. It is easy to imagine the activity along that strand – music coming from the saloon, ladies watching the street action from open second-story windows above, probably some horses tied in front of the shops and miners, when they got a day off from their 10 hour shift, $2.50 a day, highly dangerous jobs. Mules were required to carry men and supplies up the mountain to the mines; cooks, laundrymen, doctors and hardware salesmen were probably in short supply. There was a fine Opera House, a saloon and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church….until 1884 when a fire swept the eastern end of town stopping just short of that church…. a true blessing that the entire town was not up in flames.
The public school, red-bricked and rather grand, constructed in 1874 at the opposite side of town, was spared from the fire. The interior rooms reveal authentic, just as they were, classrooms and desks. The school quickly became a hub of activity and a source of comfort and assistance in the community when there were mining deaths in families and widows and children needed help and emotional support. The school has since become a museum, and the ladies who guide the tours are more than happy to share with you the history and the legends of that time and that place. Of course the school is haunted – strange things still do happen from time to time.
Silver Plume is a quaint and funky village – Main Street is still lazy and unpaved sending clouds of dry dusty dirt into the air when occasional vehicles drive by. Kids ride bikes down the middle, lazy dogs bark once in a while and everybody says hello to everybody else. People want to know, in a friendly way, where you are from and why you came to visit there. Gurgling Clear Creek runs along the perimeter of town on its way down to Coors brewery in Golden, where it is indeed the clean, clear water used in that famous beer. Houses are painted in purples, pinks, teals and yellows, with wildly contrasting trims of Victorian style. There is a local bar, in a weather-worn white-ish clapboard building with the word BREAD painted on the front.
I do think you must visit Silver Plume. See this 2 room jail which I did manage to paint in watercolor! There are more pictures on FB and Instagram.
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