Written by Cynthia Southern
False front building in Silver Plume.
This charming town west of Denver on I-70 is a fine example of a 'living ghost town.' It earned its name due to the rich silver located in its mountains. The silver vein was so rich it was said silver flaked off in feather or plume like patterns.
The name of the town was chosen when Stephen Decatur, editor of Georgetown's 'Colorado Miner' was shown this feathery silver ore in a plume like shape. He was asked what to call this new town. He declared "The name? You've already got the name. It was written on the ore you brought me."
Decatur rhapsodized "The knights today are miners bold. Who toil in deep mines' gloom! To honor men who dig for gold. For ladies whom their arms enfold. We'll name the town Silver Plume." Thus the town was incorporated as Silver Plume in 1880.
Silver Plume was born when gold was struck at the Griffith Mine near Georgetown. As it turned out this would be the only mine where gold would be found.
|In the 1860s silver was discovered and for over thirty years this town prospered from its silver wealth. The Sherman Silver Purchase act was repealed in 1893 and the United States adopted the gold standard.
The famous mines of Silver Plume are the Argentine, The Seven-Thirty, The Pelican and The Burleigh. Over 100 million dollars of silver was mined in Silver Plume. There is still silver in Silver Plume but the effort and cost involved would be too high to make it a reasonable endeavor.
The Pelican was owned by William Hamill, the mining magnate. The Hamill House in Georgetown was his official residence and is a charming example of Victorian upper class architecture. It is now a museum and open for daily tours.
The Seven-Thirty is perhaps one of the most famous mines in Silver Plume. The Seven-Thirty was owned by two brothers, Clifford and Heneage Griffin. This was perhaps one of the most labor friendly mines since it allowed its miners to start at 7:30 AM instead of the usual 6:30 AM.
Headstone in Silver Plume cemetery.
The Burleigh was famous for its tunnel, which was 2650 feet long. The Burleigh Tunnel connected with the Seven-Thirty and many other mine shafts of the area. It is said the miners could travel from Silver Plume to Georgetown via the Burleigh tunnel without seeing daylight. The Burleigh Tunnel still stands as a rusty and forgotten ruin. It served as an essential structure in the mining heyday of Silver Plume's glory days.
Among the more fascinating historical aspects of Silver Plume is the 'Sunrise Peak Aerial Tramway.' This tramway operated from 1906 to 1915. It carried passengers up to the Sunrise Peak summit southwest of Silver Plume. Remains of the tramway support joists can still be seen on the sides of Sunrise Peak. This was truly an engineering marvel for its time.
The George Rowe Museum.
|Remains of the tramcars and mechanical equipment can be seen in the George Rowe museum in Silver Plume. A 'wooden faux telescope was located on the summit of Sunrise Peak.
It served as a tourist photographic 'prop' and delighted many. This telescope and examples of these 'tourist' photos can also be seen in the same museum.
Much can be learned about a town's history by visiting its cemetery. The Silver Plume cemetery is located on the other side of town. It can be reached by going underneath I-70 and up behind the parking lot for the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Mountain Street leads behind the parking lot to the cemetery. A sign reading, 'Road Closed. Local Traffic Only' greets the visitor. Ignore this. The cemetery is open to the public. Turn left on Paul Street, circle a turnaround and then park by a wall across from the cemetery.
|Many of the gravesites date from the 1850s. They are very intact and mostly retain their original features and are very legible. Fraternal and religious sections are quite obvious. Many children's gravesites can be seen. Large numbers of these children died in infancy. The Mary and cherubim carvings and statues remain intact in these sections. Many nuns rest together in the Catholic section. Pine trees surround the plots and a very remote feeling is evident when exploring this cemetery. It is best to take a companion with you. Wild animals are known to visit this cemetery too!
Silver Plume cemetery plot.
The most striking of monuments in the Silver Plume cemetery is a tall granite column dedicated to the memory of ten Italians who died when an avalanche struck their mining cabins on the slopes of Mt. Sherman on February 12, 1899. These miners had frozen to death in the wake of the avalanche. This monument reads, 'Sacred to the memory of the ten Italians, victims of an avalanche. February 12, 1899. Erected by the public.'
Off the beaten path is another monument of renown. On Silver Plume Mountain is the Clifford Griffin monument and gravesite. The co owner of the Seven-Thirty Mine was known as a wealthy loner who had lost his fiancée shortly before immigrating to the United States. He became wealthy when he and his brother, Heneage, discovered silver in what was to become known as the Seven-Thirty Mine.
Clifford Griffin lived in a miner's cabin on the slopes of Silver Plume Mountain not far from the Seven-Thirty Mine. Every evening he played melancholy tunes on his violin. The residents of Silver Plume became accustomed to hearing his haunting melodies. On the night of June 19th in 1887 a gunshot rang out after one of these violin arias. Startled miners discovered his body the next morning. The body of the 39 year old Clifford Griffin lie in a grave he had dug for himself. A suicide note was found near his body and in it Griffin requested that he be buried in the grave on Silver Plume Mountain, which he dearly loved.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church.
|Heneage Griffin took charge of the funeral arrangements and also the erection of a monument for Clifford. He and his fellow miners buried Clifford in this spot and erected an elaborate monument to his memory. The monument reads, 'Clifford Griffin Son of Alfred Griffin ESQ, of Brand Hall, Shropshire, England Born July 2, 1847. Died June 19, 1887. And in consideration of his own request Buried near this spot'
Many of the structures in Silver Plume many date from the 1800s. The most notable is the George Rowe Museum, which was Silver Plume's school from 1894 to 1959.
It became a museum in 1960 and gained its name from the 87 year old George Rowe who donated much of the museum's collection.
Other notable buildings include the Methodist Church, Brewery Spring, old stone jailhouse, bandstand gazebo, St. Patrick's Church, New Windsor Hotel and Sopp and Truscott General Store (now a bakery).
This town is well worth a visit and is a gem to the history buff. Enjoy the mountains too while visiting.
Silver Plume, Colorado, George Rowe Museum pamphlet
Silver Plume Walking Tour pamphlet, Tumbleweed Press.
Varney, Philip; John Drew. Ghost Towns of Colorado.
Voyageur Press. Stillwater, MN. 1999.
Womack, Linda. From the Grave. Caxton Press. Caldwell, ID. 1998.