Colorado ghost towns: Exploring Winfield, Silverdale/Rockdale, Vicksburg, Beaver City, Banker Mine

CHAFFEE COUNTY, Colo. - If you like exploring ghost towns, then County Road/Forest Road 390 near Buena Vista is a must see place. The road travels through Clear Creek Canyon -- a place that was home to several silver mining camps in the late 1800s.

County Road 390 is off Highway 24 between Buena Vista and Leadville (directions below). Drive the dirt road about 6.2 miles to a brown sign that says, "Special Interest Area" and explains some of the history of the area. On the other side of the sign is a small pull-off. Park here.

Welcome to part of Beaver City. Founded sometime around 1880, there was once some 20 cabins in this area. The Clear Creek Canyon Historical Society says Beaver City was the first established mining camp in the canyon. According to GhostTowns.com, some prospectors from Leadville founded this first settlement. Just a few steps from this parking area you should see a standing cabin. This was a large home.

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After checking out this first cabin, return to your car and drive about a tenth of a mile to the turnoff on the right with a sign that says "Dawson Cabin." Turn right and drive about 100 yards to the front of the cabin. As you stand here, you may think that this cabin doesn't look like it's from the 1880s at all. According to HistoriCorps, the cabin has been remodeled to become a rental. It is possible that this side road may be blocked to visitors in the future, if someone is renting the cabin. If you get to explore here, look behind the cabin. It appears there is a historic outhouse and what appears to be a new outhouse or storage building.

Photos on GhostTowns.com from 1999 show a schoolhouse here, but we did not see that.

Back on the main road, drive about 1.4 miles to Vicksburg. There's a parking lot on the right side of the road with a sign. Park here and walk up the path to several buildings in a meadow.

Vicksburg was an active mining camp off and on from sometime before 1882 until 1918. It's believed up to 600 people lived here at its peak. The first area you come to is preserved by the Clear Creek Canyon Historical Society. Here you'll find remnants from various mines with information signs. There's an air compressor and hoist from the Rockdale Mine, a tram drum from the Fortune Mine, a smelter pot from Winfield and other items. There's also three buildings in this area -- what appears to be an outhouse, a barn or storage structure, and a cabin. The cabin appears to be a museum, but there is no sign explaining when it is open.

Walk around to the back porch or the cabin/museum and there is a button for a recording that explains the history of the area. You may also notice a road behind the cabin/museum and several other cabins. Seven of the original log cabins remain at Vicksburg and are privately owned, some by descendants of the original owners, according to the recording.

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You may notice the street back here is lined with trees. The trees are Balm of Golead trees that were purchased by the town residents who wanted shade, according to Kenneth Jessen's book, "Colorado's Best Ghost Towns." After listening to the recording and exploring, return to the main road.

Drive 2.2 miles to a turnoff on the left with a sign that says Crescent Mining Camp. I'm not sure why it's called that when a sign on the first cabin here says Rockdale-Silverdale and I was looking for Rockdale. I guess this is it. The sign goes on to say Silverdale was constructed in 1881 and that some of the foundations are buried under nearby beaver ponds. There are four cabins here. The Forest Service website says two of them can be rented. The rentable cabins are very rustic, you have to bring cots, bedding, a cook stove, drinking water, etc.

The next town is Winfield, about 1.8 miles away. Winfield was the "big city" in Clear Creek Canyon. Some articles say 1,500 people may have lived in Winfield.

As you arrive, you'll see a cabin on your left and a large structure on the right. Find a parking space off the road and start exploring. The cabin on your left is named the Ball Cabin and it is a museum with historic photos and items inside. If it's closed when you visit, look through the windows to spot a table, bed, sewing machine, wash stand and other items.

A sign here explains that the town site of Winfield was 120 acres split into lots of 50x100 which were free to anyone willing to build. It's believed the first cabin may have been built here as early as 1861, but Winfield reached its peak population in 1890. At the time, it had three saloons, three stores, a post office, mill, smelter, church and school.

The Winfield School is across the street. It's one of the rare schools with a false front. Normally, only stores had a false front to give customers the impression the building was larger than it was. Look inside the windows and you'll see a classroom setup. Look for a button that plays a recording about Winfield.

The Colorado Historic Society says four of the original log buildings remain including the Ball Cabin and the school. There are also five other cabins built around the 1930s on site. It appears they are privately owned.

If you'd like to camp in the area, there's a large camping area next to Winfield, Just turn left in the town, drive about 0.1 miles and turn left into a large meadow. The meadow also has a primitive bathroom.

If you have a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle, there is one more mining camp to explore -- Banker Mine. From Winfield, turn left on that road that takes you to the camping area. But instead of turning at the camp meadow, continue on the county road about 1.5 miles to a turnoff on your left where you can see some old cabins up a hill. Warning, this road is extremely rough, rocky and rutted. That's why I recommend a high-clearance vehicle.

Banker Mine operated from the 1890s to 1927, according to Jessen's book. He said the area had a couple bunkhouses, separate cottages for the married miners, and office-type buildings. There are at least two structures partially standing here. Below the buildings, there is some old mining equipment.

After exploring the area, return to Highway 24.

Note: This road gets rough and rutted and while a 4-wheel drive is not required, it is preferred.

Directions: From Buena Vista, take Highway 24 north about 24 miles to the turnoff for County Road 390. From Leadville, take Highway 24 south about 19.5 to the County Road 390 turnoff. Drive west about 6.2 miles to a brown sign, which is the first stop on this tour.

River, the camp is associated with early mining history in the Clear Creek Canyon area.  By 1882, the camp consisted of nearly forty buildings.  Population apparently peaked in 1885, with the total estimated to have been between 150 and 600.  Seven of the original log cabins remain intact on the site.  The silver market crash of 1893 temporarily halted mining in the canyon.  Mining activity resumed in the early 1900s, and the last ore was hauled out of the canyon in 1918.  The property is associated with the Mining Industry in Colorado Multiple Property Submission. - See more at: http://www.historycolorado.org/oahp/chaffee-county#sthash.yExP1gB3.dpuf
Located eight miles from the Arkansas River, the camp is associated with early mining history in the Clear Creek Canyon area.  By 1882, the camp consisted of nearly forty buildings.  Population apparently peaked in 1885, with the total estimated to have been between 150 and 600.  Seven of the original log cabins remain intact on the site.  The silver market crash of 1893 temporarily halted mining in the canyon.  Mining activity resumed in the early 1900s, and the last ore was hauled out of the canyon in 1918.  The property is associated with the Mining Industry in Colorado Multiple Property Submission. - See more at: http://www.historycolorado.org/oahp/chaffee-county#sthash.yExP1gB3.dpuf
Located eight miles from the Arkansas River, the camp is associated with early mining history in the Clear Creek Canyon area.  By 1882, the camp consisted of nearly forty buildings.  Population apparently peaked in 1885, with the total estimated to have been between 150 and 600.  Seven of the original log cabins remain intact on the site.  The silver market crash of 1893 temporarily halted mining in the canyon.  Mining activity resumed in the early 1900s, and the last ore was hauled out of the canyon in 1918.  The property is associated with the Mining Industry in Colorado Multiple Property Submission. - See more at: http://www.historycolorado.org/oahp/chaffee-county#sthash.yExP1gB3.dpuf
Located eight miles from the Arkansas River, the camp is associated with early mining history in the Clear Creek Canyon area.  By 1882, the camp consisted of nearly forty buildings.  Population apparently peaked in 1885, with the total estimated to have been between 150 and 600.  Seven of the original log cabins remain intact on the site.  The silver market crash of 1893 temporarily halted mining in the canyon.  Mining activity resumed in the early 1900s, and the last ore was hauled out of the canyon in 1918.  The property is associated with the Mining Industry in Colorado Multiple Property Submission. - See more at: http://www.historycolorado.org/oahp/chaffee-county#sthash.yExP1gB3.dpuf
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