Colorado ghost towns: Visiting Douglass City, near Leadville

LEADVILLE, Colo. - Imagine a town where so-called "ladies of the evening" too jaded for Leadville were welcome.

A town where the eight saloons where mostly in tents, but there were a few buildings, including a dance hall.

Welcome to Douglass City, Colorado -- one of the many short-lived towns built to house working men. Some "towns" were built for men working in mines, but there were also towns for men working on new towns or railroads. Douglass City was a railroad town. Men living here in the early 1880s were building the Hagerman Tunnel, trestles and the Colorado Midland Railway tracks.

A sign at the Douglass City site near Leadville says "Typical of the short lived Ghost Towns of the Colorado Rockies was Douglass City. The remains of which you see here. Douglass City however was built for a different purpose -- to house the Italian construction workers who labored on the Colorado Midland in this area and who helped construct the Hagerman Tunnel, trestles etc."

The sign says Douglass City was a one street "city."

The sign explains that at the Dance Hall, "the Professor played the piano while the Ladies of the evening, too jaded for Leadville, entertained and took the laborers money."

And don't miss the last sentence on the sign, "The wild city was the scene of drinking, shooting, fighting,
knifing and other innocent pleasures."

To get to Douglass City, you'll have to drive a dirt road, then hike about 1.75 miles each way.

MORE | See slideshow of Douglass City

Directions: From Leadville, go south on Highway 24. Turn right on McWethy Road, across from the entrance to Colorado Mountain College. Take McWethy Road about 3.1 miles to where it turns into County Road 4. Stay on County Road 4 another mile as it reaches the Tourquoise Lake Dam and goes around the lake. About 7.5 miles from Highway 24, veer left at a Y in the road onto a dirt road. From here, it’s about 4.6 miles to the trailhead. Do not park at the Windsor/Native lakes trailhead about 3.6 miles down the dirt road.

The hike starts at the Hagerman Tunnel trailhead. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see a sign that says Colorado Midland Centennial Trail. The sign here explains that Colorado Midland Railway had less than 350 miles of track and never made any money.

The trail starts on a single-person wide, dirt path through the trees and a meadow before turning left on to the old railroad grade. The trail goes through some spots where the railroad bed was blasted through rock. Because you’re hiking an old railroad bed, the trail isn’t very steep. And I especially enjoyed the views of the mountain cirque in the distance. At one point along the trail you may spot a parking lot/trailhead below you, that's the trailhead for Windsor and Native lakes that you passed on the drive up.

MORE | See more ghost towns in our Discover Colorado section

You’ll hike on the old railroad bed about 1.4 miles when you suddenly come to a big dropoff. Just before the dropoff, you may notice a steep trail to your right.

The dropoff was likely the spot of the old Hagerman Trestle. It was 1,110-feet long and 84-feet high. Now, the only remnants are some wood logs below.

After looking at the the remnants, go back to that steep trail.

Hike about a quarter mile up the hill to a four-way trail split. While there’s a pond here, this is not Douglass City yet.

There is a sign here, with an arrow, but it's hard to read. Stay on the same path and a short distance away you’ll start seeing the remnants of old buildings.

The first few buildings are just a couple logs high, but you can see some of the outline of how big they were.

Then you’ll arrive at the Douglass City sign. Read the whole thing -- it’s pretty funny. Then keep on exploring in the area. You should spot several foundations, but there are no full buildings left here. You'll have to use your imagination to determine which building was the dance hall, which were saloons and which buildings may have been homes or a store or something else needed in the community.

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